Story and Photos by Aaron Hepler
We’re currently in “the dog days” of summer. I never quite understood what that meant as a kid. Yeah, it was hot, humid, and buggy, but we got to go to the pool and there was no school. What’s so bad about all that?
When I was twelve, my dad took me on the first of many September hunts. I went through countless boxes of #7 ½ shotgun shells unloading my 20-gauge shotgun on speedy doves.
Finally, my first coveted archery hunt arrived. The morning was fun, but we had evening plans for a small but legendary hobby farm and a little white oak flat. It is still one of the most memorable hunts I’ve been on and not a whole lot really happened.
Then September arrived again. I was thirteen years old, shooting my bow in the backyard. A cool breeze hit my neck and rustled leaves in the trees. The evening sun warmed my face. The breeze had a crisp scent, immediately putting my mind in that white oak flat. Sitting on a log, my hands and legs shaking with excitement, all that because I had my first hunting encounter with a deer.
Nowadays, I really know the true meaning of “dog days”. Every mild summer evening, when the coming fall sends its breeze and feel, it brings me back to the white oak flat with a bow in my hand. Dog days seem to drag on forever in my adult life.
By all means, find hunting chores to do during summer. Fish your heart out to occupy your time. But make sure you mark up your calendars with some of the awesome hunting opportunities here in Pennsylvania.
No one has ever gone dove hunting and didn’t have a stand-up time! It’s a blast. If you’re tired of sunburn and sand, it’s coming to an area near you quick. Dove season, on an annual basis, starts on September 1st (unless, of course, September 1st is a Sunday. Hopefully that changes soon in Pennsylvania).
In 2019, the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) brought a lot of attention to dove hunting by expanding their management of dove habitat. Special fields and food sources were established on twenty-six different state game lands to provide better hunting opportunities. From personal experience, if one of these places is within a decent driving distance, you should give it a try. The work the PGC has done is astounding. Make sure to practice your summertime wing shooting skills!
Find managed dove fields in your area here.
Elk are becoming somewhat the pride of PA - and for good reason. We have MONSTERS!! If you haven’t started applying for PA elk, there’s no time like the present to start. The pros of applying? It’s super inexpensive! The cost per preference point is $11.97! For under $36, you can apply for three elk seasons in PA.
Even better, the odds of drawing are higher this year. Twenty tags have been added, for a grand total of 187. If that isn’t enough to get you to apply, the success rate of elk hunting in PA should. It rivals any other elk destination. Find more information on Pennsylvania elk hunting here.
So what does summertime have to do with elk? If you don’t believe me on the awesomeness of PA’s elk range, go check it out for yourself. PA mountains sound like a joke when compared to the Rocky Mountain range, but I promise you they’re nothing but pure beauty. Go stay in Benezette, Driftwood, or Sinnemahoning. I’d be willing to place bets that you’ll love every minute of the PA elk country.
Black bears in PA are plentiful, but they aren’t easy. Now what’s that you say? I heard Pennsylvania bear numbers were down? Sure they’re down a little bit. However, seasons have been expanded to help control the ever-increasing bear population. Pennsylvania’s bear population in 2019-2020 was estimated at 18,000-20,000. This year’s current estimate is somewhere between 16,000 and 17,000. Keep in mind that interest in bear hunting is up! In 2020 bear license sales were well over the number sold in 2019. Also, 2019 set a bear harvest record that was the largest number of bears taken by hunters in PA since 2011!
Bear hunting in PA is different and can be challenging compared to western states. Continuous tracts of big woods and not a lot of substantial glassing opportunities hinder bear hunting in Pennsylvania. Additionally, Pennsylvania doesn’t allow baiting.
But for fall, bear season opportunities are great. Some units start their archery season as early as September with most starting in October. There is now a special muzzleloader season in October. Last, but not least, the traditional rifle season includes one of the legal Sundays to hunt, plus in many units gun season is expanded overlapping statewide deer firearms season!
Don’t be afraid to dig deep for bears. Yes they need to be checked. But, not known to most, bears can be deboned and quartered in the field before packing out. The head, hide, and meat must be presented at a bear check station. The officers at the station will ask you detailed questions about the hunt and pull a tooth from the bear to determine its age. Keep in mind that an estimated live weight will be difficult to determine this way. If you’re unsure about the pack out method e-mail the PGC at [email protected].
That’s right. More deer changes! Last year the archery season reached deeper into November. It provided great opportunities to hunt that "post-rut" time frame. This extension will continue this year.
Also returning to deer hunting is concurrent antler and antlerless statewide firearms season. Great news for hunters with limited time and for weekend warriors who want to fill their freezer.
Pennsylvania still only has three Sundays available for hunting. But deer and bears won’t be the only species allowed this year. Legal Sundays have expanded to include small game as well. Check out the new seasons on the PGC website or refer to the hunting digest that comes with your 2021 license!
Aaron Hepler is a hunter, angler, game cook and all-around outdoorsman. He writes from Reading, PA, where he lives with his wife and daughter.