Hunter Access Program

Farms and forests are magnets for game species such as deer, bear, wild turkey, cotton-tailed rabbits and ring-necked pheasants, as well as muskrats, beavers, raccoons, skunks, foxes and coyotes because these species seek out good habitat with adjacent cover. Farmers and forest landowners know you can have too much of a good thing when it comes to game animals and furbearers. That's where the Hunter Access Program can lend you a hand.

Features of the Hunter Access Program

More than 13,000 landowners and tenants currently are taking advantage of the mutual benefits provided by the agency's Hunter Access Program. The properties, located in most of the state's 67 counties, cover more than 2.6 million acres. Since this program's creation more than 70 years ago, participating landowners have found relief from the damage game animals and furbearers can cause and protection from law breakers. Those positive aspects of the program help make it appealing to countless farmers and other property owners.

The Hunter Access Program requires a landowner to place under agreement a project area comprising at least 50 acres for five or more years. Cooperators must be in legal control of property being enrolled. Agreements can be cancelled if the cooperator becomes dissatisfied with the project and files a written request, or upon 60 days' written notice by the Game Commission if use of the property is no longer needed or desired.

Created in 1936 as an experimental cooperative farm-game and public hunting grounds program, the Hunter Access Program was launched to provide methods through which game conditions in farming regions and forested areas could be improved. It also was expected to lead to more open hunting territory near large population centers, better protection to landowners from law breakers, and provide an incentive for landowners to cooperate actively with the Game Commission and conservation organizations to increase the annual small game crop and improve habitat for all wildlife. The program became an overnight sensation for the Game Commission; hunters saw it as a plan to augment lands where public hunting was allowed, and landowners saw it as a means to better manage their property's game populations through hunting, trapping and habitat enhancements. Each year, the program gained more favorable reviews and endorsements. Its continual expansion eventually spread to the entire state.

The Hunter Access Program, which is governed by a term-lease agreement, creates a partnership between the Game Commission and landowner whereby they will work in concert to improve public hunting opportunities and wildlife habitat on property enrolled. Hunters and trappers help to manage game and furbearer populations through lawful hunting and trapping. The Game Commission will provide a variety of benefits to the cooperating landowner including: law enforcement patrols to deter visitors from breaking the law, illegally using all-terrain vehicle, and littering or dumping; free seedlings for wildlife food and habitat; and advice on soil conservation and habitat improvement.

The Game Commission tries to work closely with cooperators to ensure their participation in the program is beneficial to both the landowner and wildlife. The agency strives to create friendly relations between hunters and landowners, recognizing that a cooperative coexistence between landowners and hunters in important to the future of hunting. The Hunter Access Program promotes landowner peace of mind through enhanced law enforcement protection and management partnerships. The program is a pleasing combination of services that truly appeals to landowners.

Some of the common terms used in and benefits associated with the Hunter Access Program, are summarized as follows:

Safety Zones: Hunting for or disturbing game or discharging firearms within 150 yards of occupied dwellings or other used farm buildings is illegal except by specific permission of the occupant. The Game Commission may post notices to this effect around such buildings within the prescribed distance, or furnish signs for this purpose to cooperators.

Food and Cover Seedlings: If suitable planting sites compatible with a good farm conservation plan are available, the Game Commission may furnish food and cover seedlings beneficial to wildlife.

Pheasant Stocking: With approval of landowners, Farm-Game Projects with suitable habitat (50 acres of good cover) are given preference in the Game Commission's pheasant stocking program.

Benefits to Landowners: Cooperators have found that there are many advantages to enrolling property in the Farm-Game Program. In addition to receiving help from sportsmen who harvest surplus game, listed below are just a few of the many benefits that are available through the Pennsylvania Game Commission:

Protection through patrolling and enforcement of law by Wildlife Conservation Officers, especially when project areas are being hunted.

Signs are posted to mark the perimeter of Safety Zones. Other signs provide warnings against unlawful acts.

Sample Hunter Access Signs

Sample Hunter Access Signs

Cooperators are provided advice on habitat conservation practices. Since this involves proper use and care of the land, it is important to keep in mind that the following conservation measures aid in controlling erosion, conserving moisture, and increasing crop and wildlife yields: crop rotation; cover crops; pasture improvement and development; perennial hay production; field and gully planting; wildlife hedge planting; wildlife woodland border planting; windbreak planting; woodland harvesting; woodland improvement cuttings; and management of odd areas for wildlife.

The Game Commission aids in the utilization of irregular shaped areas by furnishing various species of young vines, shrubs, and trees that provide food and cover for wildlife, including insect-devouring birds that are beneficial to farmers.

The Game Commission may cut woodland borders and hedgerows to remove shade from the farmer's cropland, prevent tree roots from competing with field crops for the available moisture and plant nutrients, and provide immediate cover for wildlife.

The Pennsylvania Landowner Liability Act encourages landowners to make their property available to the public for recreational purposes such as hunting by limiting their liability toward persons entering thereon for such purposes.

Present Game Commission policies provide for new agreements to be accepted from landowners or tenants in all areas of the state. If you own at least 50 acres of undeveloped property anywhere in Pennsylvania, the Game Commission has a program that will help you protect your land and manage the wildlife that inhabits it. Remember, good farm and forest management practices and wildlife conservation go hand-in-hand.

Cooperation Wins

Further information on the program may be obtained from your local Wildlife Conservation Officer, six region offices, or by writing: Pennsylvania Game Commission, Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management, 2001 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17110-9797.

Pennsylvania Game Commission, 2001 Elmerton Ave, Harrisburg Pennsylvania 17110-9797