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Small Game Hunting Seasons Set to Open

by and on October 11, 2018 5:00 AM

Few things get a hunter's heart pumping more than the cackle of a flushing ring-necked pheasant or the thunder of a ruffed grouse as it takes to the air. Other hunters have heightened anticipation when their baying beagles turn the corner and they know that a cottontail will be running their way. More patient hunters enjoy a slow-paced walk through the timber looking for bushytails.

Archery deer season recently got underway, and the small game seasons for ruffed grouse, squirrels and cottontail rabbits are set to open Saturday. Pheasant season opens a week later, on Saturday, Oct. 20.

Not nearly as many people hunt small game as compared to when I started hunting in the 1960s. However, there are still dedicated hunters who chase one or more small game species with a passion.

During the 1960s and 70s, it was commonplace to see small game hunters dotting almost every picked corn field, brushy stream bottom and weedy area that was open to hunting. About the only places where I have seen a concentration of small game hunters recently has been in areas where pheasants have been stocked by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.    

I suspect that the decline in the small game hunting has to do with many factors. People have less time to hunt, there are fewer license buyers overall and it is more difficult to raise and train a dog for hunting rabbits or game birds. Rabbit numbers are down and wild pheasants are absent from all but a few areas of the state.

Another factor is the loss of available land to hunt — particularly for rabbits and pheasants. Many of the places where I hunted rabbits as a teenager are now populated with houses, posted against hunting or used for intense agriculture that does not favor small game.

My father always had two rabbit-chasing beagles, and during my younger years, the opening day of rabbit season easily became the most-looked-forward-to hunting day of the year. My brothers and I often hunted together with our father. We had many memorable outings.    

Most public land — state forests, state game lands and open areas in state parks — are forested. Towering forests are good for squirrels, deer, bears and turkeys, while early successional forests harbor ruffed grouse. Centre County hunters are fortunate to have State Game Lands 333 (Shiloh Road exit off of Interstate 99, as well as access from Barns Lane and Grove Road), portions of State Game Land 176 (Scotia), the Penn State University Toftrees property (Living Filter) and parts of Bald Eagle State Park (Howard) that are managed for weedy fields and brushy areas that provide rabbit habitat.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission will stock pheasants at two properties in Centre County — several locations on SGL 333 and on the PSU Toftrees tact (behind The Ale House and off of Fox Hill Road). In total, approximately 2,720 cock birds and 1,000 hen pheasants will be released in Centre County — most on SGL 333. This is up from last year's allocation. The pheasants (approximately 600 to 700) are stocked each week from early October through mid-November, and an additional 480 birds are released for the Christmas season in December. Pheasants will not be released on the PSU Toftrees for the junior season.

The commission's website,, offers an interactive map that helps hunters locate where pheasants will be stocked this fall.

Pheasant-stocking areas are indicated with colored dots. Not only does the map show the properties, but it identifies where pheasants were stocked last fall and where they are likely to be released this year. Click on "Pheasant Hunting" under the heading "Quick Clicks" on the commission's homepage to access the map.

No extra stamps, permits or add-on licenses are necessary for hunting squirrels, rabbits or grouse, as long as you already have the 2018-19 adult or junior license. Adult pheasant hunters and some senior lifetime license and combo-license holders are required to purchase a pheasant hunting permit for $26.90. Lifetime license holders who purchased their lifetime license prior to May 13, 2017, are exempt from purchasing a permit. Junior hunters need to get a free permit from any licensing agent.

Although rabbits, grouse and pheasants can be hunted by just walking slowly through the correct habitat, a hunting dog usually makes for a more enjoyable outing. Squirrels, on the other hand, are most-often hunted without the aid of a dog. The secret to locating squirrels is finding food. A stand of acorn-producing oaks, hickory trees still holding nuts, beech trees loaded with beechnuts or black walnut trees are all good places. Another recommended location is a forest near an unharvested corn field. Much to the farmers' dismay, squirrels go for corn if natural foods are in short supply.

Hunting small game is still an excellent way to introduce youth to hunting. Special seasons have been set aside for those who have completed hunter training education, ages 12 to 16, as well as junior license holders. Youth squirrel and junior rabbit seasons started Sept. 29 and runs to Saturday, Oct. 13. Junior pheasant season is Saturday, Oct. 6, through Saturday, Oct. 13. Mentored youth hunters are also allowed to hunt during the special junior seasons for squirrels and rabbits.

Please consult the 2018-19 Hunting and Trapping Digest at for licensing and required permit information.

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

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