Historical Markers
First State Game Lands Historical Marker
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First State Game Lands

Allegheny National Forest Region


Marker Location:
SR 1001, SE of Glen Hazel

Dedication Date:
October 20, 1950

Behind the Marker

As the story goes, the hunt had begun about 3:00 a.m. near Brockway in Elk County sometime in the winter of 1883. At dawn, John M. Phillips and his companions jumped a buck. For the next three days they tracked him through the snow; for three days they never saw another deer's tracks. But their perseverance paid off. Phillips killed the deer, and then he realized what he had done. "I fear I have killed the last deer in Pennsylvania," he told his friends. "I will never kill another in the state." And he never did.
Hunters with guns pose with their dead deer and a dead bear, which hang from a large branch of a tree that has been made into a rack.
Hunters in the Black Forest near Slate Run, PA, circa 1900.

"In 1890, the game had practically disappeared from our state," Phillips would later write. "We had but few game laws and those were supposed to be enforced by township constables, most of whom were politicians willing to trade with their friends the lives of our beasts and birds in exchange for votes."

That year, Phillips and other sportsmen formed the Pennsylvania Sportsmen's Association to press for government protection of the state's disappearing wildlife. In 1895, the Pennsylvania Game Commission was born.
A man looks at a plant in the woods
Governor Samuel Pennypacker, circa 1905.

Two years later the General Assembly approved a new package of game laws to protect endangered populations of deer, markerelk, waterfowl and other game birds. The Commission then appointed the state's first game protectors and empowered constables to start enforcing those laws. This was no easy task, for according to Game Commissioner Joseph Kalbus, Pennsylvania's hunters, "appeared to think they had... an inherent right to destroy game and birds at pleasure."
Head and shoulders image of a man in a suit.
Pennsylvania Game Commissioner Coleman B. Sober, circa 1910.

Pennsylvanians, like other Americans, resisted state efforts to limit a hunter's right to use his gun. Regulating hunting was "a bloody process" in which fourteen game protection agents were shot at and three killed in 1906 alone.

To restore the populations of valuable wildlife, Governor Samuel Pennypacker authorized the establishment of "game preserves" in the state forests for the protection of deer, wild turkey, grouse, woodcock and other animals in 1905. On 2,000 acres in the Young Women's Creek Reserve in Clinton – the first forest lands purchased by the Commonwealth back in 1898 – the Game Commission set up its first game preserve.

By 1913, the Game Commission was marker winning praise across the nation for its restocking and management of the state's growing deer herd. To fund more preserves, the Commission asked the state legislature to pass a law requiring each hunter to pay a dollar for a license to hunt, a measure that the state's sportsmen bitterly opposed. Passed in 1913, the Resident Hunter's License Law provided the Commonwealth money to purchase and maintain its public game preserves, to protect endangered wildlife and to restore species native to the state.

By 1919 Pennsylvania had twenty State Game Land reserves, but most animal populations were still distressingly low. That year, markerGovernor William C. Sproul signed a law authorizing purchase of land specifically for game preserves. Later that year the Commission purchased 6,288 acres in Elk County from the Wright Chemical Company for State Game Lands Preserve Number 25. In the next five years, the Commission acquired another 86,000 acres and managed a game reserve system that covered an additional 100,000 acres of publicly owned and private lands. In the following decades the Commission's "miniature Yellowstone Parks" of the State Game Lands would be the heart of Pennsylvania's wildlife-management programs.

By 1927 Pennsylvania was a national leader in game conservation. More than 500,000 hunters paid a $2 annual fee, the proceeds of which the state used to purchase and maintain game refuges. As the state restocked cottontail rabbits from Missouri and Kansas, quail from Mexico, beaver from Canada, ruffed grouse, raccoons, and other species, the animal populations recovered. When the trees grew back, the animal populations recovered. In 2000, the Pennsylvania Game Commission managed more than 1.3 million acres. With the regrowth of Pennsylvania's forests and the efforts of the Game Commission, the wildlife has returned, and with it, the hunters. In 1985, Pennsylvania licensed more than a million hunters, the third-highest total in the nation.
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