Pennsylvania Trapping And Predator Hunting Seasons Underway
HARRISBURG, PA ––(AmmoLand.com)- Many of the state’s furbearer trapping and hunting seasons are underway and, based on comments from Pennsylvania Game Commission field officers, hunters and trappers should have a good year. The general trapping season – for coyotes, foxes, raccoons, opossums, skunks and weasels – opened Oct. 25 and runs through Feb. 21. The season for mink and muskrats is Nov. 21 to Jan. 10; beavers, Dec. 26 to March 31.
Raccoon hunting season began Oct. 24 and closes Feb. 20, and the season for skunks, opossums and weasels runs from July 1 to June 30, except for Sundays. Red and gray foxes hunting season opened Oct. 24 and runs through Feb. 20, including Sundays. Coyotes have a year-round season (July 1-June 30) and can be hunted on Sundays, too.
Pennsylvania also has bobcat hunting and trapping seasons in 12 Wildlife Management Units (WMUs 2A, 2C, 2E, 2F, 2G, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4A, 4D and 4E) for the 1,780 individuals who were selected in the Game Commission's annual bobcat permit drawing. The bobcat hunting season started Oct. 24 and closes to Feb. 20, except for Sundays. The bobcat trapping season opened Oct. 25 and runs through Feb. 21.
Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe pointed out that the Keystone State is lucky to have trappers, houndsmen and predator callers, who all play an important role of the Commonwealth's wildlife management program.
“Furbearer trappers and hunters annual efforts afield have helped to reduce Pennsylvania’s susceptibility to wildlife diseases such as rabies and mange, and its problems with crop- and property-damage caused by furbearers,” Roe said. “Many Pennsylvanians benefit directly from the services of trappers, hound-hunters and predator-callers, because these specialized sportsmen and sportswomen manage everything from weasels to coyotes. They rescue farmers and other landowners both directly and indirectly from the damage and costly repairs furbearers can daily cause to homes and businesses throughout the state.”
Variable fur prices spurred a decline in the ranks of fur-takers nationwide in the 1990s. Trappers had difficulty recovering their expenses, and inflation further compounded the problem. The result was a reduction in furbearer harvest and an increase in conflicts. To get a feel for the drop off in harvest that occurred, consider this: In 1996, more than 200,000 raccoons were taken in Pennsylvania; in 2007, the raccoon harvest totaled about 121,500.
In 2006, there was a noticeable increase in trapping pressure and furbearer harvests corresponded. License sales increased from 23,941 in 2005 to 26,589. Then, last year, license sales rose again to 28,033. But the harvest of most furbearers dropped, excepting raccoons, gray foxes, skunks and opossums.
“There seems to be a general increase in interest among people to trap or hunt furbearers; there’s a great deal of excitement associated with trapping and predator hunting,” explained Dr. Matt Lovallo, Game Commission Game Mammals section supervisor. “Both are positive signs for furbearer management in Pennsylvania, because they stimulate an increased harvest of furbearers, something our state, roadways and residents would surely benefit from.
“In 2008, trappers and furbearer hunters utilized about 350,000 surplus furbearers from the Commonwealth’s rural and suburban areas. Maintaining an annual harvest of this size would benefits thousands upon thousands of Pennsylvanians by reducing home, crop or property damages and the number of after-dark roadway obstacles motorists encounter.”
Increased furbearer harvests reduce the damages and encounters that residents – and their pets – will have with these animals.
“Right now, many trappers, and particularly those in southern tier counties, are waiting to set and run their traplines until the pelts on the furbearers they intend to trap become more prime,” explained Lovallo. “Fur primeness for raccoons, foxes and coyotes usually is about right in most areas of the state by the first week of November. It’s always better to start trapping for these furbearers no sooner than early to mid-November to improve their pelt value on the market.”
The 2008 Game-Take and Furtaker Surveys estimated that fur-takers took 142,808 raccoons (121,446 in 2007); 74,059 muskrats (72,174); 54,273 opossums (41,168); 44,745 red foxes (52,000); 23,699 coyotes (28,974); 20,845 gray foxes (18,613); 12,331 skunks (9,818); and 8,621 mink (10,004).
“Our furbearer harvests for many species have remained relatively stable over the past few years, although trapping pressure has risen over the past two years,” Lovallo said. “But given the amount of trapping territory available in the state, and the relatively limited number of Pennsylvanians pursuing furbearer hunting or trapping, there’s plenty of places for new and veteran trappers alike.”
Most furbearers – excepting muskrats – in Pennsylvania and other neighboring states remain underutilized. In fact, hunters and trappers are taking a fraction of the renewable fur resource Pennsylvania historically has provided. It's a trend that likely will not be reversed because of the difficulties associated land access, increased equipment and transportation costs, and the free-time/commitment complexities that often dominate the lives of many Pennsylvanians.
Over the past 30 years, beavers and coyotes have been expanding their range, primarily from northern counties south. Left unchecked, beavers would cause tremendous property damage and could adversely affect the quality of drinking water for municipalities. Coyotes would cause even more problems for livestock and pets.
“Trappers play a major role in managing Pennsylvania's beavers and coyotes,” Lovallo noted. “They are our first line of defense in attempting to keep these furbearer species in check locally and they do it for free. Anyone who has suffered from the damages these species can inflict knows what a relief it is to have a trapper remedy the situation.”
Beaver trappers are reminded that they no longer are required to have harvested beavers tagged by Game Commission personnel. There are, however, beaver bag limits for each Wildlife Management Unit.
Licensed trappers may use cable restraints for coyotes and foxes, upon completion of a four-hour certification course provided by agency-certified instructors, from Jan. 1-Feb. 22. The cost of the course is $15. Students receive various educational materials and one legal cable restraint, and a permanent certification card will be mailed following completion of the course.
Trapping is a highly regulated activity in Pennsylvania. A furtaker license – or combination license – is required to trap in the Commonwealth. All traps must have an identification tag that provides the trapper's name and address or a number issued by the agency. Body-gripping traps must be set within a watercourse. It is unlawful to set a trap with bait visible from the air, or to disturb the traps of another. Traps cannot have a jaw-spread exceeding 6.5 inches. Traps must be visited at least once every 36 hours and each animal removed.
GAME COMMISSION OFFERS LOCAL FURBEARER INFORMATION
Each year, Pennsylvania Game Commission field officers and foresters develop game and furbearer forecasts for the areas they work to share with interested hunters and trappers. Observations on local furbearer populations are always a part of this annual offering. The Pennsylvania Game Commission's “Field Officer Game and Furbearer Forecasts” can be found centered on the homepage of the agency's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us). Developed to share field officer perspectives and observations on game and furbearer trends in their respective districts and to help hunters and trappers get closer to the action afield, this information helped many sportsmen and sportswomen have more enjoyable days afield last year.
“Our field officers spend a tremendous amount of time afield, often in the areas hunters and trappers are most interested in learning more about,” said Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe. “Their observations have value to hunters and trappers, so in 2006 we set up a cyber-clearinghouse where anyone who enjoys hunting and trapping in Pennsylvania – resident or nonresident – can access game and furbearer forecasts from every county of the state. It's the detailed field reporting hunters and trappers seek out, and part of our longstanding commitment to be the first and best source of hunting and trapping information in the Commonwealth.”