Recently, some motorcyclists were leisurely riding their bikes over the back roads that wind through the Mahoning Valley when two bucks – their antlers covered in velvet – stepped out of the woods and onto the road in front of them.

Naturally, by the time the bikes were stopped and before cameras could be retrieved from saddlebags, the deer had trotted across the road and into the woods. Unfortunately, that is the norm for most unexpected encounters with wildlife.

There is a way, however, for those who enjoy getting up close and personal with wildlife and viewing them in their natural environment to increase their odds of seeing and photographing them. That can be done by participating in one of the Pennsylvania Game Commission's public tours to highlight its ongoing habitat improvement initiatives on State Game Lands.

This year, a tour of State Game Land 57, which consists of nearly 44,650 acres and is located in Luzerne and Wyoming counties, will be held Sunday, Oct. 10, from 7:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. A tour of State Game Land 110, which consists nearly 10,150 acres and is located in Berks and Schuylkill counties, will be held Sunday, Oct. 17, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

"State Game Land tours provide the opportunity for those who enjoy nature to come out and talk with our employees – the people who are directly responsible for managing and protecting these lands," PGC executive director Carl Roe said. "With autumn nearly here, these tours will provide a chance to see some of the best scenery the Commonwealth has to offer.

"These tours afford hunters, trappers and others who appreciate wildlife the opportunity to see how the Game Commission is spending hunting and furtaker license fees to acquire and to manage these lands for wildlife. Unfortunately, staff shortages and limited financial resources forced a reduction in the number of State Game Land tours this year.

"Recognizing the benefit of the tours, however, the agency has maintained some tours. It was a difficult decision to scale back on the number of tours we offer this year, however, the agency's current financial situation required that we make tough choices."

In 1919, the PGC was granted authority to purchase lands for the protection, propagation and management of game and wildlife, and to provide areas for public hunting and trapping. Since that time, the agency has acquired more than 1.4 million acres in 65 of the state's 67 counties, with Philadelphia and Delaware counties being the exceptions.

With few exceptions, State Game Lands were purchased using revenues from hunting and furtaker license sales; State Game Lands timber, coal, oil, gas and mineral operation revenues; the state's share of a federal excise tax on sporting arms and ammunition, known as the Pittman-Robertson Program; from Working Together for Wildlife artwork and patch sales; and from the Pennsylvania Waterfowl Management stamp and print sales.

Here is the information on the two regional tours:

State Game Land 57: Registration will be held from 7:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. at the headquarters building complex on SGL 57, Ricketts Station, Forkston Township, Wyoming County. PGC personnel will be on hand to explain various points of interest, including wildlife habitat improvement projects.

Four-wheel-drive vehicles with high clearance are strongly recommended for this 14-mile, self-guided driving tour. Due to the bridge being out, this year's tour route has been altered from previous years.

It begins at the SGL 57 maintenance building and travels Southbrook, Shale Pit, Beech Lake and Mountain Springs roads back to the building. This self-guided tour will pass habitat-improvement projects completed by the Food and Cover Crew, National Wild Turkey Federation, Quality Deer Management Aassociation and DU, and PGC representatives and these conservation organizations will be on hand to explain the projects and answer questions.

Directions: Take Route 487 north at the intersection of Route 118 and proceed 7.5 miles and turn onto a dirt road near SGL sign on right. Travel on dirt road one-tenth of a mile to a "Y" intersection and then proceed left three-tenths of a mile to the headquarters complex. Each vehicle will be provided a map and brief explanation of wildlife management programs being carried out on this magnificent tract of public hunting land.

State Game Land 110: From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. the 9-mile tour of historical, scenic and recreational property will be held, beginning at the PGC parking lot on Mountain Road, midway between the Shartlesville Exit of Interstate 78 and Route 61, and will exit onto Route 183, north of Strausstown. Agency officers will be on hand to answer questions relating to PGC programs and activities.