Monster bucks, a rare bird, a deadly disease and a bit of fire all contributed to a very diverse year on the Outdoors page in 2012. Want more variety? We also netted walleye in Lake Wallenpaupack, picked wild mushrooms on West Nanticoke Mountain and trapped doves in Montour County. Here's a look at some of the notable events that found their way onto the Times Leader Outdoors page over the year.
Feb. 5 – No ice. An unseasonably mild winter forced the cancellation of several ice fishing derbies in the area and made things a bit challenging for late season trout anglers. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission stocked several area lakes in February, but anglers had a hard time casting to them. Why? In many places, a thin layer of ice coated the surface – making it impossible to cast or walk onto for ice fishing.
Feb. 12 – More record book bucks. The Boone and Crockett Club and the Pope and Young Club both reported that more Pennsylvania bucks are qualifying for their record books than ever before. From 1980-85, Pennsylvania was tied for last among states and Canadian provinces with no entries in the Boone and Crockett book. For the period 2005-10, Pennsylvania ranked 20th on the list with 26 entries. Pennsylvania also had more entries than any of its bordering states with the exception of Ohio, which listed 215 entries and placed fourth overall.
From 1999-2000, 91 typical Pennsylvania archery bucks made the record book. In 2003-04 - after antler restrictions were implemented, 162 Pennsylvania bucks qualified for the Pope and Young book. The number stayed constant until 2009-10, when it jumped to 207. Pennsylvania ranks 11th overall for contributing bucks to the Pope and Young record book.
March 11 – Speaking of big bucks… I caught up with local hunter Todd Millett who shared the story of the special buck he harvested in 2011. It took several months for Millett to get the score of his monster buck, and when the results came back the Lackawanna County deer was the sixth largest typical buck ever taken in the state, with a score of 179-5/8.
March 18 – Let it burn. I joined the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Nature Conservancy for a controlled burn on a 32-acre grassland near Francis Walter Dam. It took four hours for the flames to transform the grassland into a charred, black landscape. And it will take about a year for the area to regenerate with thick, lush growth that will benefit numerous wildlife species. The PGC conducted several controlled burns throughout the area, making fire a valuable tool in managing wildlife habitat.
April 15 – Netting walleye. It was a cold, blustery day on Lake Wallenpaupack when I joined Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission fish culturist Bill Smoyer on the water. Smoyer spent the morning checking several funnel net traps in the lake, hoping to capture spawning walleye which will be used to stock area lakes and enhance populations. Smoyer caught more than 40 walleye, which were taken back to the Pleasant Mount State Fish Hatchery where the eggs were removed and incubated. A single female walleye can produce 180,000 eggs, and Smoyer hoped to capture 600 walleye for the year. All the fish were returned to the lake.
May 6 –
Gobbler quest. Noxen resident Tony Hudak bagged gobblers in Idaho and Washington, marking the 35 and 36th states where he has bagged a longbeard. Hudak is on a quest to harvest a gobbler in all 49 states where wild turkeys exist. In the fall Hudak connected in North Dakota, raising his state total to 37.
June 30 –
New visitor. Hunlock Creek resident Estella Naugle saw something strange in the cornfield behind her house and called the Game Commission to investigate. They came out and saw it too, and determined the off bird first spotted by Naugle was a sandhill crane – one of only a handful of documented sightings ever to occur in Luzerne County.
Aug. 5 – Trapping doves. I spent the day with Keith Sanford of the PGC trapping and banding doves in the farm country of Montour County. We started well before first light and had an eventful day, spotting several bucks, a flock of turkeys and more than a dozen wild pheasant chicks. We also caught and banded doves, which is being done as part of a statewide study to find out how far the migratory birds travel and just how long they survive.
Aug. 26 – One big comeback. Less than a year after two of the PGC's pheasant farms were decimated by the floods, the agency announced it still managed to raise enough birds over the summer to increase its allocation to 200,000. That doubled the previous allocation of 100,000 and gave hunters plenty of opportunities afield in the fall.
Oct. 14 – Mountains and mushrooms. West Nanticoke resident Mike Yamelski invited me along for an afternoon searching for wild mushrooms. The best places, Yamelski said, are those that are hard to reach. With that in mind, we climbed up to the remote corners of West Nanticoke Mountain and found a bounty of mushrooms, including sheepshead, podpinky and coral varieties. All the walking certainly paid off.
Nov. 18 – Busy day for bruins. Considering the 2011 bear harvest of 4,350 was a state record, it wasn't surprising that this year's first day total was a bit less. Still, nice weather brought many hunters out for the first day of bear season, and quite a few still enjoyed a successful hunt. At the Dallas check station, 45 bears were brought in on the opening day. The preliminary statewide harvest for 2012 stands at 2,639, which doesn't include figures from the archery season.
Dec. 16 – Draining history. The PFBC breached the dam that created Mountain Springs Lake more than 100 years ago. The remote mountain lake, nestled in State Game Lands 57, spanned 40 acres. The agency said it can't afford to repair the dam, which would cost an estimated $2 million to $4 million, so the future of the lake is still in doubt.