Hunting Season Is Also Wildlife Viewing Season

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If you don’t see deer at this time of the year, you’re not looking. And if you see a buck and does are around, he’ll likely be very reluctant to leave.
If you don’t see deer at this time of the year, you’re not looking. And if you see a buck and does are around, he’ll likely be very reluctant to leave.

Which states throughout the mid-Atlantic area and New England have hunting’s best values? That’s easy. New York and Pennsylvania have the lowest hunting license costs and offer the most hunting opportunities. Seasons are generous, bag limits are high — but even if you’re not a hunter now is the time to enjoy wildlife.

Low cost licenses and land galore

New York residents pay just $22.00, and Pennsylvanians pay only $20.90. Both licenses include a buck tag. Non-residents pay $100.00 in New York and $101.90 in Pennsylvania. The Keystone State’s license includes fall and spring turkey tags too. Resident and non-resident hunters in all other states in our part of the country pay more.

Pennsylvania’s system of State Game Lands, state forests, and national forest and New York’s Wildlife Management Areas, state forests, and state parks have no parallel. Pennsylvania has more than 6 million acres of public land, and New York has over 5 million acres. Other than Maine, no other state in the northeast has even 2 million. Hunters have it good here.

When you find turkeys, and snow is on the ground, go chase Thanksgiving dinner.
When you find turkeys, and snow is on the ground, go chase Thanksgiving dinner.

Deer are plentiful, too

New York hunters can shoot two bucks if licensed for both archery and firearms. Pennsylvania hunters can shoot one. But antlerless tags are abundant in both states. As a non-resident New York hunter I can get an antlerless tag for management unit 9J, and I have two antlerless tags for Pennsylvania. If I fill all of them in both states, that’s five deer. But my aim in hunting both states isn’t to kill lots of deer. It’s to have more options on where to go on a given day.

A drive along any rural roadway shows plenty of evidence that deer are everywhere this year. If you have access to a farm, you’re going to find deer. If you’re hunting the deep woods, the deer will be there. If you’re hunting public land or private land, expect to see deer.

Bears are big

Bear hunting is popular in New York and Pennsylvania — and bears are big in numbers and big in body size. In New York every hunting license comes with a bear tag, and both states have opportunities for hunters to take bears while hunting deer. In our region, the South Valley State Forest in Cattaraugus County offers good prospects of taking a bear, but it’s not the only place. In either state, oak ridges and bottomland swamps have good bear habitat.

The size of our black bears rival those anywhere in the country. Why? A good food supply and a relatively mild climate compared to states farther north mean bears have a long season in which to feed and grow big. Human development in rural New York and Pennsylvania is the sort that helps bears to thrive. Sprawling, well-managed forests and plenty of agricultural lands offer abundant acorns and other foods, and bears supplement their diets by feeding from dumpsters at many campgrounds and rural restaurants.

Bears need to get away from people too, and plenty of deep forest provides cover for hibernation. Bears that live farther north — all across the continent from Alaska and all the Canadian provinces to Maine — face harsher climates so they take a longer winter nap in those places than our bears do. Bears farther north must also cover more ground to stay fed, so while they search for fat-producing calories they also burn off more calories than our bears do, so it’s no wonder we have big bears.

So if you want a bear, New York and Pennsylvania give you pretty good odds if you do the scouting to find them.

Some seasons are over, but we’re just getting into prime time for deer, turkeys and bears.
Some seasons are over, but we’re just getting into prime time for deer, turkeys and bears.

Turkeys — the big game bird

Where are the turkeys? They can be anywhere. Especially when food is as abundant as it is this year. Turkeys are one of the big success stories in wildlife conservation, and hunters deserve most of the credit because of the money we pour into wildlife management.

To hunt them in fall, you’ll do best if you look for tracks and leaf scratchings wherever they feed. Two methods of hunting them are to find a flock, scatter them in all directions, and call them back for a close shot. That’s a lot of fun, but another way hunters approach turkey hunting is to find tracks in snow and follow them until the birds offer a shot.

Last year I was riding with a buddy and we saw four mature gobblers cross the road in front of us. I had other obligations the next morning, but he went out, hiked until he found their tracks, and brought home Thanksgiving dinner. Tracking animals is both an art and a science, and in this part of the country tracking turkeys can be far more productive than tracking deer or bears.

What if you’re not a hunter?

I don’t want to leave out the non-hunters who are reading this. Right now is a great time to take your camera and go for a drive on back roads. Lightly traveled rural roads offer tremendous opportunities for the non-hunter to get photographs of wildlife, especially deer. People spend thousands of dollars to travel to see wildlife, but you can burn a couple of gallons of gas and see some wonderful wildlife sights close to home.
A few weeks ago you may have enjoyed driving to view the colorful leaves. Those leaves were as colorful as they get this year. They’re gone now, and as you read this the woods have undergone dramatic changes. Everything looks different. Visibility in the woods is very good without leaves, so you’re going to see more wildlife. Photographic opportunities are greater because deer are moving to take advantage of changing food sources, and the rut is on so bucks are burning up energy all day long in search of cooperative does.

So grab a friend or two and get in the car before this week is out. Everyone should have a camera. Your objective shouldn’t be to cover a lot of miles, but to find rural roads where you can drive at about 25 mph and cover the miles well. The driver should keep an eye to the rear so you don’t interfere with other drivers whose main interest isn’t as much in wildlife as it is to get where they’re going. Passengers should have binoculars handy and be looking for deer. When you see deer, pull over and turn off the car so you get less vibration in your camera when you snap photos. A few hours on rural roadways should get you some good photos (or video) right now. But beware of soft berms so you don’t get stuck.

Water draws lots of animals so check out ponds and swampy areas. Raise your eyes to the treetops and the sky too, because you’re likely to see hawks, and you may see ospreys and bald eagles, especially if you’re near a waterway or the Kinzua Reservoir. We have more of them than most people realize. All wildlife is abundant in our part of the country. Although hunters pay the most to support wildlife, it’s not just for hunters. Wildlife is for everyone.

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Steve Sorensen
Steve Sorensen of Russell, PA is an award-winning outdoor writer whose column, The Everyday Hunter®, offers hunting tips, strategies, and insights on how to think about hunting. His byline has appeared in the nation’s top hunting magazines including Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, Deer & Deer Hunting, Pennsylvania Game News, Fur-Fish-Game, North American Whitetail, Bear Hunting Magazine and more. He contributes regular website content to Legendary Whitetails and Havalon Knives and is a field editor for Deer Hunters Online. Steve is also in demand as an event speaker, presenting programs on do-it-yourself Alaska moose hunting, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and eastern coyotes, with new programs coming. E-mail him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com to invite him to speak at your next sportsmen’s dinner (or to tell him where your best hunting spot is).