Hunter Welcome & Introduction

Thank you for your interest and participation in the Quality Deer Management Program at West Branch Forest. The 2010-2011 Deer Season is upon us and DMAP coupons are still available. Similar to years past, DMAP coupons are allocated to interested hunters on a first come, first served basis. If you're interested in obtaining an antlerless coupon(s) or would like general hunting information for The Nature Conservancy's West Branch property please email or call 570-220-6097.

HARVEST GOAL: 25 Deer (20 Does : 5 Bucks)

Similar to last year, our objective for 2010 is to harvest 25 deer across the entire property (4.75 square miles), with hopes of removing 20 antlerless deer and 5 bucks. We realize that this harvest rate will not adequately reduce the overwintering deer densities to a scientifically desirable level, however we believe it is a step in the right direction, especially if we can maintain or even slowly increase this harvest rate over the next decade. As a result, it is anticipated that habitat conditions will greatly improve. If we can consistently harvest an adequate number of deer each year to reduce deer browse impacts, TNC will continue to implement a wide array of planned forestry operations and activities to stimulate the development and advancement of a new forest. Similar to the Quality Deer Management Association, our values are to bring existing white-tailed deer populations into balance with their habitat and promote quality over quantity until the habitat can support higher deer densities.

2009 Harvest Summary: 16 Deer (8 Does : 8 Bucks)

2008 Harvest Summary: 18 Deer (12 Does : 6 Bucks)

The Nature Conservancy would like to thank all participating DMAP hunters who spend time afield at West Branch in pursuit of white-tailed deer. Local hunters play a key role in helping us to balance our forest and wildlife management objectives.

Good luck this 2010 hunting season - hunt hard and hunt safe!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

2010 Deer Harvest Counter

Increased Racked Buck Sightings

The number of quality deer in and around West Branch Forest is on the rise. Multiple hunters have reported big buck encounters this fall. Word in the woods is that there are some really nice bucks of trophy status frequenting the general area.

The attached photo was taken by Conservancy staff during late summer overlooking a small experimental food plot and the embedded video was sent to me by a devoted West Branch Hunter who is on the trail of a nice one!

2010 Harvest Reporting

If you harvest a deer on or adjoining the Conservancy's West Branch Forest, please report your harvest by leaving a detailed message on the voice mail of 570-220-6097. Within your message please inform Conservancy staff of the following information:
1. Name
2. Date of Harvest
3. General Harvest Location - refer to management unit map
4. Sex of animal - example: buck, doe, fawn, button buck
5. If a buck, number of points and approximate spread

Note - if you received a DMAP tag for West Branch Forest, in addition to calling in your harvest, please fill out and send in your DMAP Harvest Report that The Nature Conservancy enclosed within your DMAP information packet.

Your time and participation is greatly appreciated

Thursday, July 29, 2010

How to Redeem your DMAP Coupon for an Antlerless Tag

There have been a flurry of emails and calls regarding questions to the process for redeeming one's DMAP coupons for antlerless tags. In short, there are two options for cashing in your coupons for tags.
Option 1:
Take your coupon(s) to Walmart or any license issuing agent along with payment. They will print out your antlerless tag.
Option 2:
Log onto the Game Commission's online store and purchase your antlerless license electronically; refer to the accompanying picture.

Successful Youth Hunter, Tyler Swortwood

Successful veteran West Branch Hunter, Don Goss

Spring gobbler season roared in with a good bit of early season action. Mulitple hunters experienced one or two good weeks of hunting before the mating season fizzled and the birds got quiet. The unseasonably warm early Spring temperatures are thought to have caused an early mating season. Both successful hunters pictured above connected during their season openers.
Joe and Randy Shady took advantage of the early Youth Season and devised an effective game plan to enable their young family member, Tyler Swortwood the opportunity to harvest a nice Tom. Word in the woods is that Joe's sweeting talking yelps and purrs put that bird within just a few steps of Randy and Tyler's setup.
Don Goss came upon his hot bird not long after daylight at one of his favorite spots.

For the second year in a row, the Conservancy’s West Branch Research and Demonstration Forest was included in the Annual Prowl the Sproul hiking weekend. In its 7th consecutive year, the Prowl the Sproul continues to draw people from all over the state to participate in a series of guided hikes. The three day event occurred this year on July 16th – the 18th. Headquartered at the West Clinton Sportsman’s Association along State Route 120, registrants can take advantage of the club’s facilities, overnight camping spots, and outdoor grilling. The “Sproul” contains some of the most rugged and remote forestland in Pennsylvania. The Conservancy’s West Branch Forest hike was led by Conservancy Forester, Mike Eckley. Thirteen hikers enjoyed the designated 5 mile loop that covered the central portion of the 3,000 acre property. Multiple scenic viewpoints were visited along with traversing historic logging trails. The highlight was a unique encounter with two, relatively large, yellow-phased timber rattlesnakes that appeared to be mating. Upon further analysis of video footage by local wildlife biologists, this observation was determined to be two adult male rattlers fighting for territory or breeding rights. If interested in participating in Prowl the Sproul next summer, visit the Keystone Trails Association website for information

Nearby Marcellus Gas Activity Could Impact Your Hunting

The south side of the Sproul State Forest is a hub of Marcellus Gas Mining activities. Operations are ramping up for targeted sites within the northern Sproul, in close proximity to West Branch Forest. The existing gas pipeline that parallels Ritchie Road has recently been widened and additional work is to be completed where the lines connect just north of the Conservancy's property boundary. Nearby gas wells are being drilled which will result in heavy truck traffic throughout the rest of this year. All state roads that provide access to West Branch Forest are degrading rapidly, so hunters use caution, particularly during inclement weather and expect potential delays when traveling.

Minimal Acorn Crop for 2010

Part of the excitement of visiting a forested property, particularly if you're scouting for deer season, is to use some basic ecology skills to inform your understanding. This past fall an early snowstorm tore branches from many tree canopies and they are now strewn across woodlot floors. Of particular interest are the red oak branches -- many of which are still displaying the dry, russet leaves that had not fallen before the snow.
These branches have a story to tell. As with the leaves, many of these branches are still holding onto acorns that should have ripened and fallen last autumn. These are nearly full size and very evident. But that is last year's story. Clearly, in some parts of the state, there was a fairly good crop of acorns. These acorns are a form of mast -- or forest food-- which is very important to many of wildlife species. Deer, turkeys, bears, grouse and squirrels are very dependent on acorns. Foresters and landowners interested in regenerating red oak have huge interests in the red oak seed crop.
To use these fallen branches to predict the red oak acorn crop potential in 2010, it is necessary to know how long it takes an oak tree to grow an acorn. To start, generally, there are two oak groups for the species encountered in Pennsylvania. The white oak group includes: white, chestnut or rock, chinkapin, bur, and shingle oaks. These oaks have rounded leaf lobes. Most importantly, they produce an acorn in one growing season. A flower fertilized in the spring produces an acorn that fall -- one growing season.
The red oak group contains red, pin, black, scarlet, bear, and scrub oak. These oaks have "burs" on the ends of the leaf lobes. These oaks require two growing seasons to produce an acorn. That is, a flower that formed in spring 2009, if fertilized and retained by the tree, will yield an acorn in fall 2010. If you examine oak branches broken free last fall for immature acorns now, you have a pretty good idea if the red oaks in the woodlot will provide seed this fall. Those "baby" acorns, with a bit of imagination, are similar to full grown ones as they have a bulbous end and a slender neck where they attach to the twig. The leaf buds, which are clearly visible, are more conical, lacking the bulbous end.
Many of the branches examined in central and north-central woodlots do not have immature acorns that should have started in spring 2009. What happened? It is not easy to say for sure as many events, including an annoying habit among oaks of not producing good crops regularly, can cause trees to abort acorns. You might recall, in the central parts of the state, there was a heavy frost on June 1, 2009. It was likely heavy enough to have killed the flowers.
As you walk through the woods, take a minute to look for 2010 red oak acorns. Seeing none, hope for a good flowering season in 2010 for red oak, to give us a crop in 2011.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Kelly Hollow Timber Sale Update

Negotiations are being made with Metzler Forest Products ( to have one of their contract logging crews conduct the low-grade timber harvest that has been layed out along the western half of Kelly Hollow. It is anticipated that harvest operations could start as early as late spring 2011 and should be completed well before the start of archery season in early October. Be advised that game cameras and tree stands should be removed from within the harvest unit to prevent damage.

Kelly Hollow Timber Sale

Timber harvesting, if used appropriately has been proven to be one of the most affective tools that land managers have to influence forest conditions. With the creation of an extensive West Branch forest management plan, Conservancy staff are focused on implementing a variety of forestry activities and operations with intent to restore our vast forested property to a more productive and healthy state. Annual timber harvest projections are targeted at approximately 100 acres a year. That is good news for hunters as timber harvests stimulate new growth which can serve as increased forage for wildlife. It is however critical that we focus on balancing improved wildlife habitat and increased food sources with our desire to regenerate a new forest that consists of a diverse array of native trees and shrubs; not just fern and mountain laurel. Hunters play an important role in helping to manage the forest by tending to the deer herd. The general concept is to harvest adequate numbers of deer each year, enabling overwintering deer to have less competition for feed, resulting in improved survival and better overall health going into spring, resulting in increased body weights, antler development, and fawn recruitment.

The Kelly Hollow area is a logical place to institute a timber sale considering hunting pressure remains consistently high there. Last year’s harvest data indicated that 44% of the total deer harvest (8 of 18) was accounted for within this portion of the property. The Kelly Hollow Timber Sale will be the Conservancy’s first commercial timber sale, meaning we hope to generate revenue from the harvest. Up to this point, all previously implemented forestry operations (e.g., prescribed burning and mowing of mountain laurel) have been a cost to the Conservancy. For those familiar with Kelly Hollow, there is a noticeable hayscented fern problem that is shading out the growth of seedlings. To address the fern problem, all revenue generated from this timber harvest will be allocated toward a future chemical treatment. This timber sale is currently up for competitive bidding, with a bid opening date set for August 10th. The winning bidder will have a two year time frame for completing the harvest.

Within the harvest block, orange paint was applied to signify the harvest boundary and green paint was used to mark all timber that is to remain as the residual stand. Therefore, all trees that do not have paint are to be cut. You’ll notice that the majority of the timber to be harvested is red maple stems 6 to 12 inches in diameter. All oak, hickory, and black cherry trees were retained regardless of size or quality for seed production purposes to help in regenerating a more diverse forest.

Note to Hunters – overwintering deer densities within the Kelly Hollow area were assessed as significantly less than the year prior, which makes sense due to the increased deer harvest within this compartment. Please realize that deer movements vary with seasons and available food sources, please continue to hunt this general area aggressively throughout the upcoming deer hunting seasons. More to follow on how you can assist with assessing buck to doe and fawn to doe ratios through late summer through early fall roadside counts.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Early Muzzleloader Season Provides Opportunity for New Traditions

More and more hunters are learning that part of the ticket to being successful is staying mobile and adapative. It's one thing to maintain a tradition and hunt the same old hunting spots from one year to the next but many people, particularly those who hunt poor quality habitat that cannot support even a modest deer herd in its current condition are starting to look to hunt elsewhere. This may be evident by the number of nearby hunting camps (e.g., Right Hand Sugar Camp and Twin Pine) who are relatively unknown to me, as I assume they use the camp occassionally for social gatherings, but are hunting elsewhere. Whatever the case maybe, I occassionally receive calls from distant hunting clubs who are in a similar situation and are interested in giving West Branch a shot. The Ten High Nation gang is one of those groups. This band of brothers (State Troopers)have a camp in the South block of the Sproul State Forest and for the second consecutive year they have traveled across the river to spend a day at West Branch in pursuit of Queens. Although no shots were fired, the cameraderia of this group and their love for spending time with one another in the field outweighed the need to put venison in the freezer. The Conservancy embraces such traditions and supports the legacy.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Deer and Forest Website - a Wealth of Deer related Information

A comprehensive all things "Deer and Deer Management" website has been developed by a team of Eastern scientists and extension educators with input from a broad-based advisory team. I urge West Branch hunters to check out when you have some down time, say post deer season when cabin fever starts to set in.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bears, Deer, and Extreme Weather Disturb Tree Shelter Study

Hunters familiar with the south cabin unit or management unit F-1 where the Conservancy has its American Chestnut Orchard, prescribed fire burning units, and mowing operations may have noticed the 200 tree shelters that were installed in the spring of 2008 as part of a cooperative study to assess growth and survival of northern red oak seedlings using a traditional tree shelter with a black locust stake versus a new mesh tree shelter and a bamboo stake. One of the objectives is to determine if the more cost effective mesh shelter and bamboo stake can withstand the elements as well as the traditional shelters and hardwood stakes. Preliminary data are showing that the mesh shelters seem to be more enticing to bears and the bamboo stakes, being round and having less surface area are more susceptible to windthrow and breakage. Recently, Penn State Extension Forester, Dave Jackson and myself spent a day repairing and/or replacing shelters and stakes within the planting area. This spring will mark the 3rd growing season. I am amazed to see that some of these two year old seedlings have actually grown to exceed the height of the shelters (4 and 4.5 ft'), however sure enough all of those seedlings have been browsed back by deer. I wonder if we shouldn't have invested in 8 foot shelters and protected the stem up to the first half merchantible log - LOL!