2017 full of new experiences in the outdoors

By Tom Venesky - [email protected] | December 31st, 2017 12:22 pm

No two years are the same when it comes to the outdoors, and 2017 brought plenty of surprises and new experiences.

From the field last year, we stocked trout in the Lehigh River during a snowstorm, banded peregrine falcons on top of a Luzerne County cliff, trapped bears in the wilds of State Game Lands 57, banded Canada Geese in Benton, checked on wood duck boxes and surveyed the smallmouth bass population on the Susquehanna River.

And sticking with fish, we helped the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission stock some truly monstrous trout in Harveys Creek, and got a firsthand look at the thriving muskie and crappie populations at Frances Slocum Lake.

But 2017 wasn’t just about fish and wildlife. There were plenty of local hunters and anglers making news as well. Hanover’s Tyler Gavlick competed in the B.A.S.S. High School National Championship, Hunter Lukavitch of Shickshinny achieved the “triple trophy” as a 14-year old and Bloomsburg’s Lila Oast, 12, won the Youth Division of the Tidewater Kayak Angler’s Association tournament in Virginia.

Acclaimed turkey hunter Tony Hudak of Noxen was one of the subjects in the book, “Turkey Men,” and we talked hunting with Jim Shockey’s daughter, Eva, who released a book of her own.

There was plenty more that happened in 2017 and it will all be hard to top in the upcoming year. But 2018 promises to be another eventful year and we’ll make sure to share it with you on these pages every Sunday.


As the start of the new year got underway, we took a look back in time with Dennis Grimes discussing the 57-year history of the Luzerne County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs. Our state agencies gave us plenty to talk about as well when the PFBC added Harveys Creek to the Keystone Select Program and the Pennsylvania Game Commission granted preliminary approval to allowing semi-automatic rifles to be used in just about every hunting season.


There was more news from the PGC as the agency announced plans to close two pheasant farms and cut the annual stocking allocation from 200,000 to 170,000. But there was plenty of news going on outside with the arrival of a snowy owl in Leraysville, Bradford County. And while winter remained in full effect, we visited with the Northmoreland Baptist Sportsmen who started a new Centershot archery program designed to get more people involved in the sport.


A late winter storm dumped two feet of snow on the region, providing extra time to explore the outdoors on snowshoes or skis. And while the white stuff fell from the sky, we joined the PFBC as they stocked trout in the Lehigh River in preparation for the April 15 season opener.


The month was dominated by fish and turkeys. We joined the PFBC as they stocked hundreds of enormous trout in a section of Harveys Creek listed in the Keystone Select Program, and later the statewide trout season opened under sunny skies. The PFBC also surveyed Frances Slocum Lake and netted plenty of muskies and tons of crappies, proving that the lake is a thriving fishery in the area.

We also caught up with Tom Pero, author of the book “Turkey Men” that chronicles the journeys of several hunters who achieved the Super Slam by harvesting a gobbler in all 49 states where wild turkeys exist. Hudak achieved the feat in 2016 and was a part of the book.


The spring gobbler season kicked into full gear but the start of the season proved challenging thanks to cool, rainy weather. Sticking with the birds, we joined the PGC biologist Art McMorris as he banded peregrine falcon chicks on a cliff in Luzerne County.


Bass season got underway along with the numerous local tournaments that have become a tradition for anglers in the area. We also made a trip to Weatherly at the Paradise Hunting and Fishing Club to join military veterans as they fished for trout in Quakake Creek. The outing was part of the Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Program, which provides veterans a way to heal and relax through fishing.


It was a busy time in the field as we banded geese with the PGC in Benton before shifting our attention to SGL 57 where we joined members of Ducks Unlimited and Delta Waterfowl to check wood duck boxes for nesting success. Later in the month we visited SGL 57 again, this time with PGC biologist Kevin Wenner as he live-trapped and tagged black bears for research purposes. There was also plenty to do on the water when we joined the PFBC for a night survey of the smallmouth bass population in the Susquehanna River right in downtown Wilkes-Barre.


We began the month with a trip to Troy, Bradford County to visit with Bill Bowers and Charlie Fox, who are working to establish a museum dedicated to the history of conservation in the state. They already have an impressive collection of memorabilia and the plan is to open the museum at the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Lancaster County.

On a rainy day in the middle of the month we joined volunteers from several conservation groups who are working to create a wildlife food plot on a five-mile strip on SGL 57. It’s a tall task, but the volunteers have been working hard to get it done. We’ll check in with them in 2018 to see how far they’ve gone.

We also caught up with renowned hunting personality Eva Shockey and talked about her new book and her time hunting in Pennsylvania. Shockey is married to former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguin Tim Brent.


Success and sadness dominated the month. We joined the PGC for a bald eagle release in Danville — actually two eagles. The raptors were found injured and nursed back to health by wildlife rehabilitators. While one of the eagles wasted no time flying back into the wild, the other one wasn’t quite ready and went back to the rehab facility for a little more work.

And sadly, we lost an icon in conservation when Doug Ayers passed away. Doug was one of the founder of the North Branch Land Trust and the Lands at Hillside Farms. Through his foresight, thousands of acres in the region have been preserved forever, and that will be one of his lasting marks on Pennsylvania’s landscape.


Archery hunters hit the woods for the fall season, but they had to battle unseasonably warm temperatures for most of the month. Still, there were plenty of nice bucks harvested and the action picked up when the temperatures cooled later in the month. The fall turkey season also got underway and plenty of food in the woods kept the flocks on the move for hunters to find.


As usual, November is all about bears and bucks. Archery hunters wrapped up their season with the rut, but they could also harvest a bear and turkey. The archery bear season proved to be eventful as local hunter Devon Woolfolk harvested a large 500-pound bruin in Rice Township. Later in the month the statewide bear season got underway and an all-day rain on opening day kept the harvest down.

The weather cleared for the start of deer season on Nov. 27, and hunters enjoyed mild temperatures for the first week of the season.


Deer season wrapped up and the holiday season got underway, and that’s when we joined Hanover Township residents George Bowers and his son, Connor, as they delivered gifts of fishing rods and reels to the kids at the Janet Weiss Children’s Unit at Geisinger Wyoming Valley. Bowers, who is an avid bass angler and founder of Fishing for a Cause, has been making the annual gift donation for 17 years.


By Tom Venesky

[email protected]

Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky