As we make the transition to fall this month, most avid hunters will begin preseason scouting in some manner. Most hardcore archery hunters, of course, have already been doing their reconnaissance in preparation for the season opener on Sept. 29. I have many friends who take advantage of digital trail cameras to monitor the wildlife living around their favorite hunting spots. Almost every few days, someone seems to be showing me pictures of deer, bears or turkeys that have passed by one of their trail cams. I do a lot of my own preseason scouting by taking my cameras for a walk around the woods and fields this time of year, capturing images of everything from wildflowers, to mushrooms to brilliant fall foliage in the process.
Our more than 1.4 million acres of state game lands offer vast areas for both hunters and non-hunters alike to enjoy the outdoors year-round here in Pennsylvania. Throughout the fall and early winter, about 400 miles of access roads that are normally closed to vehicle travel are opened to allow increased access to parts of certain state game lands. Some of these seasonal road openings will occur in in time for the start of archery season later this month, while others will open for the regular deer season and usually remain open through the end of the late flintlock season. Complete information on the "where" and "when" of all the game land road openings can be found on the Game Commission website, pgc.state.pa.us. On the left side homepage, go to the box marked "Quick Clicks" and click on the link "Seasonal SGL Road Openings."
Again this year, the Game Commission will be offering tours of selected state game lands around the state during September and October. The agency offers these tours each fall to showcase habitat improvement projects that are in place or under way on those game lands. Unfortunately, heavy rains and flood damage cause by Tropical Storm Lee last fall forced the cancellation of some tours, so hopefully the weather will be more cooperative this year.
As mandated by state law, the Game Commission is required to use $4.25 from each resident and nonresident adult general hunting license and $2 from each antlerless deer license sold each year specifically for habitat improvement. Last year, the total expenditures on habitat improvement projects was about $6,700,000, which actually amounted to $1,623,997 more than the agency was required to spend on those efforts. So if you would like a firsthand look at where some of your hunting license dollars go, these tours are a great way to do just that.
Two game lands tours are scheduled for our area. The first of those will be on Oct. 7 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at State Game Land 108 in Cambria County. This will be a one-way driving tour of about 7.5 miles through the 23,086 acres of SGL 108, beginning at the access road off Route 53 about three-tenths of a mile north of Frugality in White Township and ending at Route 865 near Blandburg in Reade Township. A sign will be posted at the starting point, and a vehicle with high ground clearance is recommended.
Brochures will be provided with information about points of interest along the tour route such as tree and shrub identification, wildlife food plots and deer exclosure fencing. Game Commission personnel will also be available to discuss some of the habitat improvement projects and answer questions. Many areas of SGL 108 are old strip mines that have been rehabilitated into grasslands and small-game habitat. I usually hunt deer or grouse on parts of SGL 108 for a few days each year and always enjoy some of the interesting scenery there.
The second game land tour in this area will be on Sunday, Oct. 14 from noon to 3 p.m. at State Game Land 26 in Bedford and Blair counties. This is also a self-guided auto tour of about seven miles, starting at the parking area on the northeast side of Route 869 between Pavia and Beaverdale and ending near the village of Blue Knob. The timing of this mountaintop tour should just about coincide with the peak of the fall foliage, making for some spectacular scenery throughout the drive. Mounted specimens of various species of wildlife will be placed along the route, and Game Commission representatives will also be available to answer questions.