As my annual case of the post-deer-season doldrums set in last week, it occurred to me that black bears might be the creatures who really have things figured out when it comes to dealing with the next few months of winter weather here in Pennsylvania.
As soon as Old Man Winter rears his ugly head, bears simply crawl into a nice, snug den somewhere and go into hibernation. Then after their extended snooze, they awake for the beginning of spring and weighing a few pounds lighter in the process. We humans, of course, don't have the luxury of sleeping away the next several weeks of potentially cold and snowy weather, and many of us will greet the arrival of spring a few pounds heavier than we were last fall.
For those deer hunters who were successful during the recently completed regular season, remember to take a minute or two and file your harvest report as required by law. Hunters who received DMAP permits are also reminded that they are required to file a report whether they harvested a deer or not. The simplest way to file a harvest report is via the Internet on the Game Commission's website, www.pgc.state.pa.us. Click on the blue box titled "Report a Harvest" near the upper right side of the home page for complete instructions about the process. Harvest reports can also be filed by calling a special toll-free number, 1-855-PAHUNT1 (1-855-724-8681). If reporting by phone, make sure you have your Customer Identification Number (hunting license number) and field harvest tag information available when you call. Hunters reporting online or by phone may report one or more harvests in a single session. And hunters still have the option to file the traditional harvest report postcards, which are included in the "Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest" that comes with your hunting license.
Of course, those die-hards who still have an unfilled deer tag still have an opportunity during the late archery and flintlock deer seasons that begin the day after Christmas and run until January 11. These seasons provide a last-chance opportunity to bag a deer, albeit under what can be some of the toughest conditions of the year.
The first archery season for deer in Pennsylvania began in the fall of 1951. The first winter archery season came in 1964 and was restricted to certain areas of the state. In 1967, this late season was expanded statewide and has been a fixture ever since.
Our first muzzleloader deer season occurred in 1974, with a three-day season restricted to just 37 state game lands. Although both bucks and does were legal game. hunting was permitted only with antique-style flintlock rifles with open, iron sights.
In spite of all those limitations, four bucks and 61 does were taken during that initial season. The late flintlock season finally became a statewide event in 1979, muzzleloader hunters bagged 2,459 deer that year.
For those who are finished with their deer hunting, several other hunting opportunities will help to provide outdoor recreation during much of the winter. The late small-game seasons started last Monday and run until January 25 for grouse and until February 22 for pheasants, rabbits and squirrels. Varmint hunters can also test their skills for calling coyotes, foxes or crows into gun range this time of year.
Duck season is currently open in the southern half of the state and will open in most other areas next week. The late Canada goose season also opened in most areas of Pennsylvania last week. Here in our region, the goose season runs until Jan. 15, with a final segment from Feb. 1-28, with a bag limit of five birds per day.
Waterfowl hunting regulations tend to be somewhat complicated, with seasons and bag limits varying considerably from region to region, so make sure to consult the "2013-2014 Waterfowl Brochure" available on the Game Commission website for specific details on seasons, bag limits and hunting zones.
Of course, hunting isn't the only option for wintertime outdoor activities, and we certainly have ample fishing opportunities, both through the ice and open water, here in our region in the coming months. But I'm out of space for this week's assignment, so we'll talk about those in a future column or two.