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Squirrel, ruffed grouse, woodcock seasons begins

This past weekend (Oct. 19) marked the opening of squirrel hunting season, the one-week muzzleloader season for antlerless deer, plus the ruffed grouse and woodcock season. These all coincide with the ongoing archery deer-hunting season throughout the Pennsylvania.

These multiple seasons pose a situation for all hunters in that muzzleloader hunters need to wear a minimum of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange at all times while hunting. And this requirement, says the PGC, applies to hunters who participate simultaneously in the muzzleloader and archery deer seasons. If strictly archery hunting, the orange may be removed while on stand but 100 inches of orange must be displayed within 15 feet of the stand location.

During the one-week early muzzleloader season, licensed hunters are permitted to carry both a muzzleloader and a bow or crossbow provided the hunter has both archery and muzzleloader stamps or a DMAP permit.

Additionally, the one-week early muzzleloader season includes a three-day overlap with the special firearms season for antlerless deer. During that season (Oct. 24-26), says the PGC, junior hunters (ages 12-16), senior hunters (ages 65 and older), hunters who are on active duty and certain disabled hunters, are able to use a variety of sporting arms to harvest antlerless deer.

Of special note, mentored youth hunters participating in the special firearms season, must possess a valid mentored youth permit and the mentor who accompanies a mentored youth must possess a valid antlerless deer license that can be transferred to the mentored youth when an antlerless deer is harvested. Only one antlerless license may be used by the youth.

The opening of squirrel season is a great opportunity to take a youth hunting. This time in the woods can teach valuable outdoor knowledge youths wouldn't get in school. Taking up a position by a tree to wait out a squirrel (who are very active right now gathering and storing nuts for the winter), can teach a youth patience, discipline, marksmanship and general nature happenings. As for the archery deer season, Bob Danenhower of Bob's Wildlife Taxidermy in Orefield, posted his "week two" rut report that indicated the rut may be shortly forthcoming. Danenhower opines that this may be the time to trophy hunt and to pass up lesser bucks until the rut fully kicks in when that biggie may be shot or even leave the area.

"Bucks have minds like some people who are homebodies. They live and raise their family in the same area where they were born. Others are nomadic and move from place to place. Deer work the same way," says Danenhower.

Field reports indicate that bucks are already chasing doe's, scrape and rub signs are becoming more abundant and bucks have been seen sparring.

With corn, soybeans and acorns relatively abundant, Danenhower says there's plenty of deer food and he see's it in the bucks he has skinned out last week. "They're layered in fat and the more mature bucks already have the telltale dark smelly tarsal glands that commonly mean the "rut" may be early. And with the colder weather being forecast, this week should create more deer movement," Danenhower opines.

As for grouse, our cherished state bird, veteran hunters hit the mountainous areas for them. More specifically, the Blue Mountain ridge from Carbon County east of Blue Mountain Ski Area, through Lehigh County and into Berks County game lands that border Hawk Mountain. These fast flyers of the woodlands are a real challenge. They are, however, cyclic in numbers. Some year's hunters get a dozen flushes per trip, other years no flushes.

According to the PGC, hunters experienced an average flush rate of 1.32 flushes per hour in 2011, which was six percent below the long-term average of 1.41 per hour. The good news is that while grouse trends in most neighboring states show a long-term decline, Pennsylvania flush rates have exceeded those of all neighboring states over the past 6-7 years.