Wildlife falling into routines as autumn sets in

At last the weather is beginning to act autumnal. Now you can take your prize dog afield and not fear heat stroke for the animal. Deer are moving during the day on their own as the routines of the rut begin to take over the woods. Archery hunters are moving their treestands away from feeding sources and toward areas that show signs of rutting activity. Those signs are things like deer scrapes, rubs and trails that enter and leave thick cover.

Even squirrels are foraging for acorns and beechnuts — and they are plentiful this year, as they were last year — during the mid-day hours. Ruffed Grouse hunters are suffering under a slack year for Grouse, a situation the Game Commission warned could occur this fall. Turkey hunters are excited because wild turkeys are plentiful and the prediction is that this should be a great year for bagging wild turkeys.

The problem for fall turkey hunters (the season opened yesterday) is that with acorns so plentiful, turkeys do not have to range far in the search for food. They can fly down from roost in the morning, feed within a 50-yard circle and then fly up to roost again that night. So the turkey hunter has to keep on the move until he runs into one of those little sanctuaries where turkeys are dawdling all day.

n In keeping with the season, the Thunderbird Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse society is having its 37th Conservation and Sportsmen’s Banquet on Friday. This is a huge and exciting event every year and it is held at the Casino in Lakemont. The social hour begins at 6 p.m. with dinner served at 7:30 p.m.

You don’t want to miss this great event so you have a few days to get your tickets by contacting Samuel Marino one of two ways: marino.com or 946-4349.

Like most true conservation organizations, the funds raised by this and other events go to the creations of healthy Woodland habitat for ruffed grouse, American woodcock and other forest wildlife. It is true that any habitat improvement projects such as the plantings of food bearing fruit and berries, bushes and shrubs always benefit many other species mainly songbirds and other game birds, small game and deer.

There will be so many raffles, doorprizes and auction items your head will spin. The Ruffed Grouse Society is one of the nation’s premier conservation organizations. Everything they do benefits you, the hunter .

I’ll see you there.

n Two hunters who became lost Saturday on State Game Lands 33 in Centre County were tracked down by specially-skilled Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife conservation officers and returned to safety early the next morning.

The Game Commission was notified on the evening of Oct. 21 that the two hunters, an Altoona man and his 17-year-old granddaughter did not meet up with the rest of their hunting party when expected. As darkness fell and the hours passed, concern for the hunters’ safety grew because Grandpa is diabetic and did not have insulin or food with him.

By 11 p.m., wildlife conservation officers and their deputies, state police, members of the Mountain Top Fire Company, and family and friends of the lost hunters gathered to begin a search.

Wildlife Conservation Officers Mike Steingraber and Derek Daly, both of whom are trained in human tracking, put their skills to work. Daly interviewed members of the hunting party and learned the direction the individuals had planned to go. Steingraber and Daly then looked at a map of the terrain to determine where the hunters might have become lost.

Steingraber, Daly, a K-9 Unit dog and Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer Jim Snook began searching at the location the hunters last were seen. The dog quickly picked up human scent and the officers saw signs that someone had recently passed through the area.

The officers continued to follow the signs through the woods for about two miles to an area with dense vegetation where they thought the hunters might have become disoriented. At about 2 a.m., they called out to the hunters, who responded from 100 yards away.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a hunter that happy to see a game warden,” Steingraber said.

The hunters said they planned to spend the night in the area and find their way out in the morning.

The grandfather said he accidentally walked farther than anticipated. He sought high ground to get his bearings and realized that there was not enough time to make it back out of the woods by nightfall. He had forgotten to bring a flashlight and didn’t want to risk trying to get them out of the woods over the rocks in the dark.

The hunters made a good decision to stop moving instead of going even farther in the wrong direction, Steingraber said.

Steingraber also points out that hunters should carry a backpack with a few supplies such as warm clothes, a flashlight and food in case they get lost. No one ever expects to get lost, but it is good to be prepared.

The Game Commission’s tracking team invests a lot of time in training how to find missing persons but finding lost people makes it all worthwhile, Steingraber added.