Talkin’ big-game scores and snowy owls

The Pennsylvania Game Commission will host a big-game measuring session in Huntingdon on Feb. 15 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Hunters who own an exceptional set of white-tailed deer antlers or a black bear skull and would like to have their trophy officially scored can bring it to the National Guard Readiness Center on Route 26. Antlers and skulls presented at the session will be measured and scored by representatives of the Game Commission using the Boone & Crockett Club scoring system.

There is no charge for the measuring and scoring. Mounted deer heads or cleaned antlers and skulls that have dried for 60 days are eligible to be scored. If possible, the owner of the trophy skull or antlers is requested to bring the hunting license, tag or any other documentation to help establish where, when and by whom the animal was harvested. The public is welcome to attend the event and view some of the trophies brought in to be scored.

“Since we’ve had antler restrictions in place for several years now, more mature bucks are being taken,” said Wildlife Conservation Officer Barry Leonard, who serves as the Information and Education Supervisor for the region.” The additional age has resulted in larger antlers, so there should be some impressive racks brought in to be measured. This means some good bucks could go into the record books.”

A need for approval

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners gave preliminary approval to the 2014-15 hunting seasons at their quarterly meeting on Jan. 29, so those who might already be dreaming about next fall’s quest for that buck of a lifetime can start marking their calendars and scheduling vacation for their seasons of choice.

The regular deer season will begin on Dec. 1. In WMUs 1A, 1B, 2B, 3A, 3D, 4A, 4C, 5A, 5B, 5C and 5D, antlered and antlerless deer are fair game for the entire two weeks of the season; WMUs 2A, 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 2H, 3B, 3C, 4B, 4D and 4E will continue to have the silly split season with bucks only from Dec. 1-5 and then bucks and does from Dec. 6-13.

The statewide archery deer season is scheduled for Oct. 4-Nov. 15. The early muzzleloader for antlerless deer will be Oct. 18-25. The special antlerless deer season for junior and senior hunters, disabled permit holders and active-duty military personnel will be Oct. 23-25. The late flintlock deer season will be Dec. 26-Jan. 10.

The bear facts

The statewide bear season will be Nov. 22-26 and the archery bear season will be Nov. 17-21. Special extensions to bear season have been added in some areas of the state. Here in our region, an extended season will include WMUs 2C, 4B, 4C, 4D and 4E from Dec. 3-6.

Turkey talk

The fall turkey season varies somewhat in different areas of the state. Here in our region the turkey season will be from Nov. 1-21 and Nov. 27-29 in WMUs 2C, 2E, 3D, 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D and 4E and from Nov. 1-15 and Nov. 27-29in WMUs 1A, 2A, 2D, 2F, 2G, 2H, 3A, 3B and 3.

The little guys

The small-game seasons for squirrel and grouse will start on October 18, and rabbits, pheasants and quail will open a week later on Oct. 25.

All the early small-game seasons will end on Nov. 29. Of course, our longest small-game season, or any other hunting season for that matter, is for porcupines, which runs from Sept. 1 until March 31. For some bizarre reason, our game commissioners elevated those worthless pests to small-game status a couple of years and established a seven-month season on them.

Owls invasion

Snowy owls live and breed at the top of the world in the northernmost regions of North America and Greenland.

In winter, these big, black and white birds migrate into Canada, and most years a few of them make it as far south Pennsylvania, giving wildlife watchers the opportunity to add this impressive bird to their life lists. Every few winters, however, higher than usual numbers of snowy owls show up in Pennsylvania and even farther south.

These incidents are known as “irruptions,” which appears to be happening this year. In fact, it appears the current irruption might be the heaviest one in 40 or 50 years.

By early January, snowy owls had been reported in 33 counties here in Pennsylvania with documented sightings as far south as Arkansas, Florida and Bermuda. This year offers a remarkable chance to see one of these rare visitors to Pennsylvania.

Snowy owls are large birds, about the size of a great horned owl, with a wingspan of five feet or more. During the day, they tend to perch on high spots near open areas where they are easy to see because of their size and stark coloration. Having never seen a snowy owl in the wild, I plan to keep my eyes open when I’m out in the hope of sighting one during this unique window of opportunity.