Rural residents may have noticed that the woods suddenly seem very busy.

That’s because a slew of hunting seasons opened this weekend, drawing hunters who have been waiting all year for the chance to pursue a variety of game animals in an assortment of different ways.

Archery season has been around for a couple of weeks, of course, but deer came under increasing pressure on Saturday with the opening of the weeklong fall muzzleloading season for antlerless deer. Small-game hunters are now in pursuit of squirrels and grouse, while wing-shooters are after woodcock and waterfowlers are taking advantage of the brief, early season on ducks.

Saturday was the regular-season opener for all of them, and the special early antlerless rifle season will run from Thursday through Saturday this week.

Meanwhile, Mother Nature gave us the first truly cold weather of the season, shaking the fall colors from the trees and vastly improving visibility for hunters in all pursuits.

Squirrel hunters, especially, may appreciate the lack of foliage. But, the truth is that there really aren’t that many squirrel hunters these days, and Mel Schake, a long-time conservation officer who now works at the Pennsylvania Game Commission regional office in Bolivar doubts that there ever were.

“I don’t think much has changed with regard to squirrels in my career,” Schake said. “They’ve always been one of the species that always seem to be underhunted. As much as people like to think everybody goes out after squirrels when they’re young and that’s how they learn to hunt, I never saw a lot of that activity going on. I’m not sure why. You can’t find a more peaceful way to spend an afternoon.”

Nevertheless, those who hunt them should find squirrels abundant this year.

Reports from game commission field personnel – available on the agency’s Web site at www.pgc.state.pa.us – indicate that grouse are making a comeback in some areas.

“I recall at least a couple of the guys saying they saw good populations of grouse,” Schake said. “I think grouse will continue to be good in some areas and spotty in others. My sense is that, in some areas, we are seeing a bit of a rebound.

But there probably aren’t as many grouse hunters as people think, either.

“You are either a dedicated grouse hunter or you don’t even give it a shot,” Schake observed. “It takes somebody interested in covering a lot of really rugged terrain. Some locations where you will find grouse will require a lot of effort on the part of the hunter.”

Schake also noted the spotty nature of grouse populations. He spoke of flushing a flock of birds so large it was reminiscent of busting a covey of quail during some field work earlier this year in Cambria County. But, a hunter is just as likely to pound the ground all day without a flush as he is to encounter such abundance.

Nevertheless, Schake said, there are a lot of good reasons to get in the woods now.

“It’s a great time to be out,” he said. “I love this time of year. I think it’s neat to be out there will all that color surrounding you. Regardless of why you are in the woods, this is the best time to be out, in my estimation.”

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