The much awaited and anticipated rifle deer-hunting season is upon us. The traditional after Thanksgiving Monday deer season opener includes antlered and antlerless deer in most parts of the state. It’s a time when 750,000 orange clad hunters head to state game lands, big woods country and small local woodlots in search of a big buck and some venison for the freezer.
The statewide general firearms season runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12. In some parts of the state hunters may only take antlered deer during the first five days of the season. This affects hunters hunting in WMU’s 1A, 1B, 3A and 3D where only antlered deer may be taken from Nov. 30 to Dec. 4. Concurrent seasons for antlered and antlerless deer remain in place in WMU’s 2B, 5A, 5B, 5C and 5D.
As for a deer forecast, the PGC says that deer populations are stable or increasing in each of the state’s 23 wildlife management units. “Of course food availability influences local deer movements and deer hunting,” said Chris Rosenberry, PGCs deer biologist. “Most crops are particularly spotty this year. While production of acorns, beechnuts and soft mast crops such as apples, berries and grapes is more consistent in western and southern portions of the state, finding mast could be a hit or miss situation,” said Dave Gustafson, PGC’s chief forester.
“Acorns or apples might be present on one ridgetop or slope, then you might not find another like it for a mile. In some areas, there are pockets where mast production is good, and then a sizeable surrounding area where mast doesn’t appear to be available,” added Gustafson. He surmises that hunters may have to look hard to find those food sources. “And when you find the food you’ll likely find the deer,” said Rosenberry.
Interestingly, the chances for taking a trophy buck is better than ever in that Rosenberry said 57 percent of bucks harvested in the 2014-15 season were 2 and one-half years old or older – the highest percentage recorded in decades. “Most years, the buck harvest is split evenly between yearling and adult bucks. We don’t know if last year’s result was an anomaly or the beginning of a trend, but older bucks were well represented in the harvest,” opines Rosenberry.
Because of Chronic Wasting Disease, the PGC will be sampling for CWD statewide. If you want to have your deer tested, hunters must make arrangements with Pennsylvania’s Department of Agriculture’s Veterinary Lab. There is, however, a fee associated with testing. More information can be found by going online to www.agriculture.state.pa.us.
New this year for hunters who head to big woods country, is the PGC’s Deer Hunter Focus Area. This is area posted with paper placards depicted by a yellow keystone surrounded by a green background with images of deer silhouettes in all four corners. They read, “Deer Hunter Focus Area,” and are intended as an aid in locating areas deer might be concentrating due to an abundance of newly available food. And this has been made available after sections of more than 30 state game lands underwent timber harvesting. Deer are drawn, said the PGC, to these areas were new browse is more readily available. Thinned cover also provides additional cover for deer.
Said Gustafson, “Some of the best places to hunt deer on state game lands are in remote often mountainous areas where forest-management practices have opened the forest canopy that promotes increased plant growth. However, some of these areas are often in remote destinations, some distance from roads open to public travel.” But the forester goes on to say that the goal is to get hunters within a half mile or less of these locations. As such, more game land roads will be opened to vehicles, which should cut the time it takes to travel and hike to these hunting spots. Maps of state game lands with sections posted as Deer Hunter Focus Areas can be found on the PGC’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us). Go the homepage and select the Deer Hunter Focus Area link.