By JESSICA WELSHANS
ennsylvania state parks usually drum up images of families picnicking or strolling along scenic trails.
But, state parks also offer opportunities for sportsmen and women when the busy season of camping and strolling have ended and hunting seasons have begun.
Terry Brady, deputy press secretary of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said there are 120 state parks spread across Pennsylvania, but many hunters have no idea they can legally hunt on most state park lands.
Hunting is available on almost 300,000 acres across the state.
"They range in size from 3 acres to 25,833 acres. Obviously, some of the smaller ones (about 10) are not much more than roadside picnic area or vistas - and do not offer hunting. But the larger ones offer hunting for all game species found in the state," Brady said.
Trapping also is an option.
Posted areas that are not open to hunting include occupied and heavily used buildings, picnic areas and public gathering areas such as major pavilions and boat launches.
A misconception that seems to always linger is that hunting in state parks is "off limits," Brady said.
"(It is thought) that they are some type of 'game refuge' where hunting is not allowed. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Roughly 80 percent of those 300,000 acres are open to hunters pursuing everything from black bear and white-tailed deer to waterfowl and pheasants," he said.
Where to go
Each hunter should check the area in which they plan to hunt to see if a park is open for hunting.
State parks often are surrounded or near state forest land, which also is open to the public for hunting.
Brady points out that hunters who have permits through the state Game Commission's Deer Management Assistance Program, might be able to take a second deer, depending on the area of the DMAP.
The terrain and habitat offerings of state park land vary.
Anything from hardwood ridges and valleys to marshes and hedgerows to swamps can be found, Brady said.
"Often, state park lands are farmed by contracted agents, offering a variety of cover and food for game species," he said.
State parks that are open for hunting might also be open for camping during the hunting seasons.
"Indeed, some in the northcentral area have the same groups coming back year after year to hunt deer or bear from a state park cabin. Often, hunters can walk to adjoining state forest lands where hunting is permitted," Brady said.
He said many of the state parks lands widely open to hunting are in the 10-county PA Wilds region.
"Wilderness camping, offering hunters a chance to sample hunting far off the beaten path, also is offered in state forests across the state," he said. "For those hunters who enjoy hunting remote areas and 'roughing it,' our state forest campsites hold a unique allure."
Opportunities to hunt
In an effort to control the high-density population of Canada geese, the state allows for hunting of the species on state park land.
The geese become a problem species in many state parks and, Brady said, such places often welcome Canada goose hunters.
"General waterfowl hunting also is permitted, providing access to a sport that is limited by water-access issues. They also offer great dog-training habitat," he said.
White-tailed deer hunters can find parks within some of the special regulation areas and also some that have special regulation hunts to trim deer numbers in a specific area.
"A number of state parks are enrolled in the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP), affording hunters a chance to shoot a second legal antlerless deer," Brady said.
Pheasants can be hunted, too. Brady said the birds come from release programs controlled by the Game Commission.
Other game such as bear, small game and turkeys can be stalked on state game lands.
Groundhog hunting is not permitted on any state park lands, due to safety reasons.
Follow the rules
When hunting on state park land, all rules, regulations and seasons set forth by the state Game Commission must be followed.
"There are no special 'park seasons,' aside from the special controlled hunts mentioned earlier," Brady said.
Also, it is stressed that hunters must be aware of established safety zone postings in the parks. Check in at the park office to locate the zones.
"State parks pride themselves in offering quality, multi-use outdoors recreation, so you could have a kayaker sharing lake waters with a waterfowl hunter, or hikers sharing park forests with deer or bear hunters," Brady said. "Caution by all is the watchword. The wearing of blaze-orange clothing by non-hunting park visitors during hunting season is just common sense."
Be aware of all areas in and even outside the state park land. Some public-use areas will be marked with off-limit signs.
To learn what a specific state park might offer in terms of habitat and species, go to the website www.DCNR.state.pa.us, select "state parks," "Things to Do," "Spend the Day,"?"Hunting" and, finally, "Where to Hunt."