Hunting Opportunities During Holiday Season

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Hunters who haven't had enough time outdoors yet and love to hunt in cold weather have a mixed bag of big and small game hunting seasons awaiting them the day after Christmas. They include three deer hunting seasons, as well as seasons for snowshoe hares, ruffed grouse, cottontails, pheasants, grouse, furbearers and waterfowl.

The statewide late archery and flintlock muzzleloader deer seasons, and late antlerless deer season for Wildlife Management Units 2B, 5C and 5D, run concurrently from Dec. 26 to Jan. 10. The small game seasons are as follows: squirrel, Dec. 15-23 and Dec. 26 to Feb. 7; ruffed grouse, Dec. 15-23 and Dec. 26 to Jan. 10; rabbit, Dec. 15-23 and Dec. 26 to Feb. 7; and snowshoe hare, Dec. 26 to Jan. 3. In addition, male and female pheasant hunting will be available from Dec. 15-23 and Dec. 26 to Feb. 7 in WMUs 1B, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 3A, 3B, 3C and 3D.

Hunters who participate in any of these seasons must have a general hunting license, which provides Pennsylvania hunting privileges through June 30, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Depending on the deer season hunters are participating in, they also must meet additional licensing and fluorescent orange requirements. Any hunter carrying a sporting arm during the deer seasons must have an unused deer harvest tag.

All antlerless deer taken by hunters in the late archery and special regulations area antlerless seasons must be tagged with an unused Wildlife Management Unit-specific antlerless deer license harvest tag. Flintlock muzzleloader season participants may harvest an antlerless deer with either a WMU-specific antlerless deer license or general hunting license deer harvest tag. Buck hunting in the late seasons is governed by antler restrictions and limited to only bowhunters and flintlock muzzleloader hunters who possess an unused general hunting license deer harvest tag.

"It appears hunters heading out in the after-Christmas hunts will have great opportunities," noted Vern Ross, Game Commission executive director. "The state's deer herd remains sizeable and we're in the second year of antler restrictions. Both factors should ensure hunters find excitement afield."

Last year, the two best days for deer hunting in the late flintlock season were the first and last Saturdays of the season, when hunters took about 7,500 antlerless deer and about 400 legal bucks. Overall, hunters took about 22,000 antlerless deer and 1,300 antlered bucks during the late flintlock season.

During the flintlock season, only single-barrel long-guns with a flintlock ignition system are permitted. The firearm must be an original or reproduction of a gun used prior to 1800, which is .44 caliber or larger, with iron, open "V" or notched sights (fiber-optic inserts are permitted). A flintlock ignition system consists of a hammer containing a naturally-occurring stone which is spring-propelled onto an iron or steel frizzen, which, in turn, creates sparks to ignite a gunpowder. Flintlock hand guns are not permitted. Flintlock muzzleloader hunters may use "any single projectile."

Pennsylvania's first flintlock season was held in 1974, the same year the flintlock muzzleloader deer license made its debut. During the season, held over three days on 37 different State Game Lands, 65 deer - including four bucks - were taken. In 1977, the season expanded to include 60 different State Game Lands and hunters reported harvesting 866 deer. The season went statewide in 1979, and hunters reported taking 2,459 deer.

The late archery deer season, given the range limitations bowhunters face, wasn't as productive. But bowhunters still had a respectable degree of success. The best days of the season were the last two, when bowhunters took about 900 antlerless deer and about 200 antlered bucks. For the season, archers harvested about 3,000 antlerless deer and 650 bucks.

Hunters are reminded that firearms limitations for special regulations counties - Alleghency, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia - remain in effect for the extended antlerless season in WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D. Those restrictions do not apply to those portions of Beaver, Berks, Butler, Lehigh, Northampton, Washington and Westmoreland counties contained in WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D.

For the 2003-04 seasons, 175,419 muzzleloader licenses were sold through Nov. 17, marking an eight percent increase from the previous hunting license year. Junior combination licenses, which provide muzzleloader privileges, also documented an increase of four percent. Created by the General Assembly in 1998, combination licenses afford 12- to 16-year-olds general hunting privileges, as well as archery, muzzleloader and furtaker privileges.

Hunters using archery or muzzleloader licenses, and hunting with those special sporting arms, are not required to wear fluorescent orange clothing while afield, but are encouraged to do so. Special regulations area hunters must wear 250 square inches of fluorescent orange clothing, unless they possess an archery or muzzleloader license and are hunting with a bow or flintlock.

The Game Commission will release pheasants in four regions of the state for the late pheasant season, according to Carl Riegner, chief of the agency's Propagation Division.

"Pheasant releases for the late season always take place just before Christmas to maximize their recreational value to young and veteran small game hunters home for the holidays and for those who will hit the fields on Saturdays," Riegner said. "It's a great opportunity to get outdoors and pursue one of the state's finest game birds."

A breakdown of counties receiving pheasants for late season hunting is:

* Northwest Region - Crawford, 300 birds; Clarion, 400; Jefferson, 200; and Venango, 200.

* Southwest Region - Armstrong, 550; Cambria, 300; and Indiana, 450 and Westmoreland, 300.

* Northcentral Region - Centre, 250; Clearfield, 300; Elk, 200; Lycoming, 300; and Tioga, 350.

* Northeast Region - Bradford, 250; Lackawanna, 180; Luzerne, 270; Monroe, 200; Pike, 230; Susquehanna, 160; Wayne, 150; and Wyoming, 160.

For a complete listing of areas where pheasant stockings are planned, visit the Game Commission's website (, click on "Hunters and Trappers," then choose "PGC's Pheasant Program," and scroll down to the "Pheasant Release Sites" section.

Furbearer seasons also continue through the winter months. Furbearer hunting includes: red and gray foxes, until Feb. 21, including Sundays; raccoons, until Feb. 21; bobcats, for those with special permits, until Feb. 21; and coyotes, skunks, opossums and weasels, until June 30.

Furbearer trapping includes: beavers, Dec. 26-March 31 (bag limits depend on WMU); minks and muskrats, until Jan. 10; raccoons, skunks, opossums, foxes weasels and coyotes, until Feb. 21; and bobcats, for those with special permits, until Feb. 21.

Dove hunters also will have late season opportunities when dove season reopens Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. Shooting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset, and the daily limit is 12.

Waterfowl hunters have a bevy of hunting opportunities to pursue in December and January. Canada goose hunters have the following upcoming or ongoing seasons: Atlantic Population Zone South, Dec. 15 to Jan. 20, daily bag limit is two; Atlantic Population Zone North, Dec. 9 to Jan. 14, daily limit is two, and Jan. 15-Feb. 14, daily limit is five; Southern James Bay Canada Goose Hunting Zone, Nov. 15 to Dec. 31, daily bag is two, and Jan. 15 to Feb. 14, daily bag is five daily; and Resident Canada Goose Zone, Dec. 11 to Feb. 14, daily bag is five.

Pintails and canvasbacks may be hunted in the Lake Erie Zone from Dec. 2 to Jan. 5. Their seasons in all other zones close before or on Christmas. All other ducks, sea ducks, coots and mergansers may be hunted as follows: Northwest Zone, Nov. 1 to Dec. 25; Lake Erie Zone, Nov. 4 to Jan. 5; North Zone, Nov. 15 to Jan. 8; and South Zone, Nov. 15 to Jan. 15.

There is a daily limit of six for ducks, and it may not exceed more than four mallards, including two hens; one black duck; one pintail; one mottled duck; one fulvous tree duck; two wood ducks; two redheads; one canvasback; four scoters; and three scaup. The daily limit for coots is 15 and mergansers, five.

In addition to a regular Pennsylvania hunting license, persons 16 and older must have a Federal Migratory Bird and Conservation Stamp, commonly referred to as a "Duck Stamp," signed in ink across its face to hunt waterfowl. Regardless of age, they also must have a Pennsylvania Migratory Game Bird License to hunt waterfowl and other migratory birds, including doves, woodcock, coots, moorhens, rails and snipe. All migratory game bird hunters in the United States are required to complete a Harvest Information Program survey when they purchase a state migratory game bird license. The survey information is then forwarded to the USFWS.