HARRISBURG – Autumn in Pennsylvania means a change of colors.
And, aside from the flaring fall foliage, that change includes the addition of hunter orange to the state’s fields and forests.
While hunting opportunities exist throughout the year in Pennsylvania, and some fall hunting seasons already are under way, the majority of seasons are entering their stretch runs toward opening day.
This weekend hosts four awaited openers – the first day of the regular squirrel hunting season, the opening day of the one-week muzzleloader season for antlerless deer, and the first day of the seasons for ruffed grouse and woodcock.
Those openers lead the way for the Oct. 26 opening day of a small-game season for pheasants and cottontail rabbits, as well as the opening days for foxes and other species. Several big-game seasons lie just beyond.
All of this means hunters will become a more common sight throughout the Commonwealth.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission reminds hunters that hunting with a firearm is not permitted within 150 yards of any occupied structure, school, farm building or playground unless prior permission is obtained from the building’s occupants or property owners. This perimeter is known as a “safety zone,” and possessing a loaded sporting arm within a safety zone is considered hunting and a violation of the law. Trapping furbearers, and chasing or disturbing wildlife also are prohibited within a safety zone, unless permission is given.
A similar law applies to hunters using bows or crossbows, but the safety-zone perimeter is smaller. Archers and hunters using crossbows must remain at least 50 yards from any occupied structure, school, farm building or playground unless they receive permission from the building occupants or property owners to hunt at closer distances.
Hunters also are reminded that the fluorescent orange requirements vary depending on the species being hunted. Illustrations depicting the requirements that apply in different seasons can be found in the 2013-14 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest issued to hunters at the time they purchase hunting licenses. The digest also is available online at the Game Commission’s Web site, www.pgc.state.pa.us.
Each hunter taking part in the upcoming early muzzleloader season for antlerless deer needs to wear a minimum of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange on the head, chest and back, combined. The orange each hunter wears must be visible from all directions (360 degrees) and must be worn at all times while hunting. This requirement applies to hunters who participate simultaneously in the muzzleloader and archery deer seasons.
During the one-week early muzzleloader season, properly licensed hunters are permitted to carry both a muzzleloader and a bow or crossbow. A hunter would need both archery and muzzleloader stamps, plus a general hunting and an appropriate antlerless deer license or Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) permit.
While hunters who are taking part strictly in the archery season are required during the early muzzleloader overlap to wear 250 square inches of fluorescent orange while moving, they are permitted to remove their orange once settled into a stationary position. Archery hunters who remove orange clothing are required to post 100 square inches of orange within 15 feet of their locations, and the posted orange must be visible from all directions.
Archery hunters who are simultaneously participating in the early muzzleloader season, however, must follow the orange requirements for early muzzleloader.
To participate in the early muzzleloader season, a hunter must have a valid Pennsylvania general hunting license, a muzzleloader stamp and valid antlerless deer license or DMAP permit.
Antlerless deer licenses in Pennsylvania are valid only within the Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) they are issued. Likewise, DMAP permits are issued for certain properties and are valid only on those properties. Maps showing the locations of WMUs are available in the Hunting & Trapping Digest.
Hunters during the early season may use in-line, percussion and flintlock muzzleloaders, and sporting arms may be equipped with scopes, peep-sights and other lawful sighting devices.
The one-week early muzzleloader season includes a three-day overlap with a special firearms season for antlerless deer.
During that season, which runs from Oct. 24 to Oct. 26, junior hunters (ages 12 to 16), senior hunters (ages 65 and older), mentored youth (hunters who are younger than 12, but who obtain a permit to hunt), hunters who are on active military duty, and certain disabled hunters are able to use a variety of sporting arms to harvest antlerless deer.
Permitted sporting arms include manually operated centerfire rifles, handguns and shotguns; .44-caliber or larger muzzleloading long guns; .50-caliber or larger muzzleloading handguns; long, recurve or compound bows; and crossbows.
To take part in the special firearms season, hunters must meet participation qualifications and possess a general hunting license and valid antlerless deer license or DMAP permit. Hunters also must wear a minimum of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange at all times.
Each mentored youth hunter taking part in the special firearms season must possess a valid mentored youth permit, and the mentor who accompanies a mentored youth afield must possess a valid antlerless deer license or DMAP permit. The antlerless deer license or DMAP permit can be transferred to the mentored youth upon the mentored youth’s harvest, and each mentored youth hunter may receive only one antlerless deer license and one DMAP permit by transfer during a license year.
For a more detailed look at the regulations pertaining to these and other seasons, or to view hunting season start and end dates, as well as bag limits, visit to the Game Commission’s Web site.
There’s a lot of hunting in store.
“Autumn is always a special time in Pennsylvania, and an absolutely beautiful time to spend outdoors,” said Carl Roe, the Game Commission’s executive director. “And there’s no better way to spend a fair-weather fall day than by enjoying a great day of hunting.
“While little is guaranteed on any hunt, it’s always a good bet that good times await afield and are there for the taking each fall,” Roe said.
While hunting in October often offers pleasant days afield, the warm weather also presents challenges for successful deer hunters in assuring harvests result in high-quality venison.
Especially in warm weather, harvested deer should be field dressed quickly, then taken from the field and cooled down as soon as possible. While hanging a deer carcass in a shady area might be fine in cooler temperatures, if the air temperature is above 50 degrees, hunters should refrigerate the carcass as soon as possible.
Information on warm-weather venison care, as well as instructions on deer processing and other tips, are available on the white-tailed deer page on the Game Commission’s Web site, www.pgc.state.pa.us.
Hunters are required to report deer harvests, and they are encouraged to do so soon after their successful hunts, so they don’t forget.
There are three ways to report harvests. Harvests can be reported online at the Game Commission’s website by clicking on the “Report a Harvest” button on the homepage. Reports also can be phoned in to 1-855-PAHUNT1 (1-855-724-8681), or mailed in using the harvest report cards that are inserted in the Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest hunters receive when they purchase a license.
Hunters who call should have their hunting license numbers handy, as well as additional information that’s required to be reported.
Hunters participating in the early muzzleloader season to begin Saturday or the special firearms season to begin Oct. 24 may harvest antlerless deer only.
Any hunter in any season who, by accident or mistake, kills an illegal deer is required to deliver the carcass – entrails removed – within 24 hours to any Game Commission officer in the county where the deer was killed.
A written statement must be provided to the officer, explaining when, where and how the accident or mistake occurred. The deer must be tagged with the appropriate deer harvest tag.
Rifle deer season
As it has traditionally, the two-week firearms season for deer will open statewide on the Monday following Thanksgiving.
The statewide season this year runs from Dec. 2 to Dec. 14.
Hunters in different parts of the state are required to observe different rules regarding the number of points an antlered deer must have and when during the season hunters may harvest an antlerless deer.
Information is available at the Game Commission’s Web site.