Featured photo is an aerial image of a property listing in Potter, Pennsylvania, which is in the north central region of the state.
Pennsylvania embodies a resilient hunting culture and a diverse array of outdoor pursuits that most U.S. states can only envy. Limestone streams are the crown jewel of trout streams, and Pennsylvania is known for them. The state has the most deer hunters of almost any other state in the country, it's celebrated for its huge black bears, and turkey hunting has made its own indelible mark thanks to the many turkey-calling champions who hail from the Keystone State.
Still, if you’re not living in Pennsylvania or you’re not fully immersed as a hunter or angler, most of what you hear of the state comes from news surrounding its visible and easily accessible metropolitan hubs: Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Most people can name the sports teams that represent each city, and they might know something about their popular attractions. Many who travel to the state have their sights set on the Liberty Bell or a Philly cheesesteak. Or Hershey’s chocolate. Or maybe a bottle of Heinz Ketchup (There is no Heinz factory tour, by the way, but there is a larger-than-life, 11-foot ketchup bottle on display in Pittsburgh.)
Despite the lure of city life and Pittsburgh’s 11-foot ketchup bottle, some who live steps away from these urban hubs are heading in the opposite direction of its out-of-state visitors, toward Pennsylvania’s rural communities, and its surrounding raw, undeveloped tracts of land.
Craig Baronio, a Pennsylvania Land Specialist at Whitetail Properties whose territory covers central Pennsylvania, says the majority of his rural-property buyers are from the eastern side of the state and the Pittsburgh area.
“Most of the people I’ve sold land to, they’re looking for a recreational hunting property and a place to get away with family,” says Baronio. “Since spring of 2020, it’s been pretty much nonstop. People are learning they can work remotely, and they are looking for places where they can get away and still work.”
Baronio says he’ll occasionally sell a property to out-of-state land buyers, though they are the exception. Typically those buyers come from New Jersey, Maryland, Washington, DC, and New York.
Others who have fueled this active rural land market in Pennsylvania aren’t looking for a getaway and have no intentions of using the land for outdoor recreation.
“Ever since COVID and the most recent presidential election, my higher-dollar sales are people looking at rural property as an investment opportunity and a vehicle to diversify their portfolios,” says Clint Stout, a Land Specialist for Whitetail Properties who connects buyers and sellers of land in western Pennsylvania. “These guys are looking for timber, oil and gas. Pennsylvania had that big shell boom, too, and that’s created interest in the rural real estate market in our area.”
Stout says 50 percent of the land transactions he’s brokered represent buyers who are investing in timber. “The buyer may use the land as a farm property or recreational getaway too, but they mostly view the property as a return on investment because of its hardwood timber.”
Pennsylvania is known for the quality hardwoods harvested from the north-central region of the state. It’s considered high-grade saw timber and is used for making furniture, cabinetry and flooring.
A State Steeped in Hunting Culture
By and large, this is a state with a longstanding and resilient hunting culture. Pennsylvania has set aside public land that’s used specifically for hunting purposes, limiting other uses like hiking and riding ATVs. Many urban hunters who live in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh metro areas make the trek to north central Pennsylvania to fish its trout streams, hunt its black bears and more still come into rural areas of the state to hunt deer in the fall on their own tracts of hunting land or public land.
Pennsylvania’s landscape is a combination of ridge lines and valleys, farm land, rare hardwood forests and those coveted limestone streams.
“They start coming up out of the ground, cold water, great habitat for trout,” Baronio says of the limestone streams. “There’s streams you can step across and ones that look like small rivers.”
Baronio, an avid hunter and angler, lives steps away from one of these trout streams, just down from the confluence of Spring Creek, known for its population of wild brown trout and considered a favorite destination for trout fishing in the Northeast.
Still, despite the popularity of trout fishing and the favorable natural resources Pennsylvania has to support thriving trout populations, deer hunting and deer hunters finance the majority of the state’s conservation dollars through hunting license sales.
In fact, the state ranks in Deer and Deer Hunting magazine’s Top 5 among states with the most deer harvested. Pennsylvania’s five-year average is 338,000 deer harvested, and, for context, an average of 737,000 deer are harvested annually in Texas, which is the No. 1 deer-hunting state in the country, when ranked by harvest numbers.
Hunting in Pennsylvania remains a popular and common pursuit for those who are from the state. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, Pennsylvania has nearly 950,000 residents who hold current hunting licenses, making Pennsylvania the No. 2 state in the nation for the number of hunting-license holders, again second only to Texas.
Some say bear hunting is the second-most popular hunting pursuit for Pennsylvanians, while others say it’s wild turkey hunting.
“I’d say bear hunting and turkey hunting come in as probably 2a and 2b,” says Baronio. “There are dedicated turkey hunters throughout the state, and I believe two of the top three black bears in the record books came from Pennsylvania.”
In fact, one of the “black bear quick facts” provided on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’ website says that these animals can weigh up to 600 pounds. Yet, Pennsylvania produced a whopping 704-pound black bear. The bear was harvested by Tyler Wilbur in Annville, Pennsylvania, during its bear archery season in 2011. The bear’s chest girth was a remarkable 64 inches wide.
Pennsylvania’s Elk Reintroduction
There’s yet another species that adds to Pennsylvania’s diverse offering of outdoor hunting pursuits. It’s the state’s growing elk population. Most Americans consider elk a western animal hailing from elk-rich states like Colorado, Montana, Idaho and Oregon. But history tells a different story.
Elk once thrived in the East, including Pennsylvania. The state’s largest concentration of elk were most likely in the Allegheny Plateau, which is where the focus of this species’ reintroduction has been. According to an elk habitat management report published by the Pennsylvania Game Commission, over 70% of the elk range is in public ownership, so stands of mature timber have been restored to the region, which was all clearcut by the early 1900s. Today, habitat is primarily oak hardwoods with stands of hemolock and mixed hardwoods along steep hillsides that line deep drainages.
After decades of work to reintroduce elk in Pennsylvania, there were still just 120 to 150 elk during the 1980s. In the decades since, wildlife biologists and conservationists from groups like the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation have refined their approach to habitat and the elk population has grown. The population has thrived enough to support a lottery hunt. The state is accepting applications for the 2021 season through July 31.
“It’s very hard to get an elk tag, but that’s also why there are so many mature elk here,” says Stout, who's real estate territory includes Pennsylvania’s elk range. “I’ve sold to people from adjoining states who bought property specifically for the elk population.”
Baronio, meanwhile, says he’s 0 for 20 in the state’s elk lottery. “But if you do get a tag,” he says, “you have a chance to shoot a huge elk.”
Still, while an elk hunt in the Allegheny Mountains isn’t in the cards for many Pennsylvanians, the message is this: Choices abound. Wade the streams, fish the wild trout, hunt the hardwoods for mature bucks or push the ridges for black bear.
When the hunting’s all done, use what you hunt — grill it, bake it, seer it or roast it. And, if you’re so inclined, put some Heinz on it. Pittsburgh sends its gratitude.
If you're interested in owning a piece of Pennsylvania, we have hundreds of land listings for you to explore. Please reach out to one of our Pennsylvania Land Specialists, and take the first step toward enjoying everything Pennsylvania has to offer.