Hunter Access to Private Land
Article contributed by Managing Editor K. Slye.
It’s called hunting for a reason. There are no guarantees, and very rarely does it go exactly according to plan. But when everything comes together, culminating into a successful hunt and a freezer full of meat there are few things that compare.
Where I live in Pennsylvania there are an abundance of hunters, the local schools close for the first day of rifle season, and it’s uncommon to talk to someone that has never been exposed to hunting in one way or another. Needless to say there are times when the State Game Lands can seem a bit crowded.
I am fortunate to have the Allegheny National Forest within a relatively short driving distance from my house, where hunters have more of an opportunity to spread out. But so far, my attempts at taking a deer in the vast forested hills have been met with little else than failure. I am an advocate for public lands and access to those lands as a member of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, but with three kids at home, my hunting trips are now measured in hours instead of days. The practicality of me leaving for camp to hunt the national forest for even just a weekend has diminished. So, I needed to find some suitable hunting property within a few minutes from my house, most of which is private land, where a quick evening hunt would be possible.
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That’s where the Pennsylvania Game Commission comes in. The PGC has its critics, as all government agencies do, but I believe they do a sufficient job with the resources they have and provide Pennsylvania Hunters with significant hunting opportunities. The PGC has worked with landowners across the state to develop what they call the Hunter Access Program. This program identifies landowners that allow hunting on their property and indicate the access points on the map with a dot, the type of dot specifies if there are any restrictions to the type of hunting. Large Tracts of land, usually owned by timber companies, who allow hunting on their property, are designated as Forest Game Cooperator Properties, and the boundaries of the property are marked on the map.
Even though these hunter access points are listed on the map it is still important to get permission from the landowner to hunt that property. The landowner information is not readily available on the website, so I decided to call the game commission to see if I could get some contact information for landowners. It was at this point that I ran into my biggest obstacle, the PGC does not give out landowner information. At first I thought that it made the whole point of the Hunter Access Program moot. How could you hunt a property that you need to get permission to hunt if you didn’t know who to ask for permission? Looking at it now, I can see why they don’t want to give out landowner information, but at the time I was frustrated and discouraged.
I was able to find a printed plat map showing the names of property owners, which I thought could match up with some of the access points listed on the PGC’s map, but again I didn’t have contact information. Even after some Google searches of landowner names I still wasn’t sure how to get a hold of the owners of many of the properties I wanted to hunt.
But then I had a breakthrough! Our county’s assessment office updated their website to include an online plat map, complete with owner information, including their addresses, property boundaries, and the acreage. I was back in business! I was able to identify several properties within a few minutes from my house that were a part of the Hunter Access Program.
The next step was some door knocking, which always makes me nervous of how well I’ll be received. But each house I stopped at I was welcomed and appreciated for taking the time to ask for permission. It was also an opportunity to meet some of my neighbors from up the road. When asking permission I made sure to bring a permission form. This is for both me and the landowner. It is for me in the event I’m stopped by someone questioning my right to be on the property. For the landowner, it gives them my information and how they can reach me, and it lets them know I have no intention of damaging their property or hold them liable if I hurt myself while hunting on their property.
Once I had permission secured it was time to do some quick scouting, as the season was approaching quickly. Two weeks before this year’s archery season started, I secured permission to hunt an old farm of about 240 acres. I did some quick scouting and found an area that acted as a pinch point between two hills that the deer were traveling to get to a food source. It was relatively thick, but there was enough room for a tree stand and shots out to 20 to 25 yards.
The next weekend, my daughter helped me set up a tree stand on the edge of the pinch point, about 20 yards from a well-worn path. There were several trails intersecting within shooting distance of the tree stand, as well as a few apple trees, and a small stream. The area was littered with deer tracks and other signs of wildlife and I felt confident that this area was going to produce a deer. From where we set up the tree stand, I anticipated the deer coming from one of two ways. Either from across the small stream, where the high bank of the stream gave way to a gentle slope, which the deer fully utilized judging from the muddied trail. Or, they would already be in the creek bottom and working their way downstream to take the gentle slope out to a food source.
The first day of the Pennsylvania archery season arrived, and the morning hunt in another location proved uneventful. As the evening approached, it was shaping up to have perfect weather conditions. The unseasonably warm weather was giving way to a cool, crisp evening with little to no wind, so I decided the stand on the old farm was a perfect place to spend the evening.
It is amazing what a hunter has the opportunity to see when they are in the natural world. As I sat, waiting for the ever elusive whitetail, I watched as a gray fox, mysteriously missing half a tail, silently crept its way through the underbrush. A little while later, a plump groundhog decided to poke his head out of his hole for a quick evening snack. I chuckled to myself as he clumsily backed his way out of a hole when he decided he didn’t want to go down it.
Shortly after the twitching whiskers of the groundhog disappeared into another hole I noticed movement through the trees. It was a lone doe, working her way through the creek bottom, just how I had pictured a deer might come into the area. She worked her way along a deer trail that had caught my attention when I first was scouting the area, browsing on young saplings along the path.
As she approached an opening that I marked as 18 yards with my range finder earlier, I drew back my bow. The ‘meh’ got her to stop in the opening as I settled the 20 yard pin behind her front shoulder. In an instant she was crashing through the woods, and suddenly it was silent. Had she gone down? With daylight quickly fading, and my impatience getting the best of me, I was only able to wait 10 minutes before climbing down to check for blood.
I walked to where I thought she was standing when I took the shot and found a few small drops of blood, and as I looked around I spotted the glow from my Nockturnal lighted nock about 20 yards away. I could tell from the sign on the arrow I got good penetration, as bright red blood covered most of the arrow. I was confident at that point I had made a good, double lung shot, so I decided to keep on the trail.
It was not difficult for me to see the path she took, as the Rage 2 Blade chisel tip provided an excellent blood trail for me to follow. It wasn’t long before I came upon her, said a quick prayer, and started the real work of the hunt.
Very few times does a hunt go so smoothly, and I’m very grateful it did. I used the resources that were available to me, gained permission to a new property and everything fell into place from there. Now, it’s time for a buck.