Sunday, December 1, 2013

Deer season finally arrives in Pennsylvania

By Bob Frye

Pennsylvania's orange army is about to make its annual invasion.

Monday is opening day of the state's firearms deer season, the busiest hunting day of the year. About 750,000 licensed hunters will disperse across the countryside hoping to bring home a whitetail.

That's more people with guns than you would find if you dropped the German, British, French and Canadian militaries into the Keystone State all at once.

As always, the run-up to the opener has been busy.

“It hasn't stopped for two weeks,” said D.J. Casto, manager at Woodlands World, a sporting goods store in Uniontown. “They've been buying guns, licenses, anything to do with hunting.”
Carl Roe, executive director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, predicted “tens of thousands of lasting memories will be made in the hours, days and weeks that follow” opening day.

Only a portion of those will involve killing a deer, or more particularly, a monster buck.
Deer populations are stable or increasing across most of the state, said Chris Rosenberry, supervisor of the Pennsylvania Game Commission's deer section.

But fewer than two of every 10 hunters — about 18 percent — will kill a buck, based on statistics from the last two seasons. Far fewer will kill a buck worthy of the record books.
Those deer are out there, though.

The Boone & Crockett Club, the official repository of big game records in North America, recently published its “28th Big Game Awards, 2010-2012” book. It lists all of the records certified in that three-year period. There were 4,921, counting species from whitetails to black bears to pronghorn antelope to elk.

Pennsylvania put 18 whitetails in the book during that time, 15 sporting typical racks and three with non-typical, said spokesman Steve Wagner. Only 14 states did better.

Thirty-nine typical whitetails qualified for the Game Commission's own, less rigorous, record book last year alone.

Figuring out when and where you might find one of those big-racked bruisers is the trick.
Some assuredly will fall on opening day. That's a reflection of just how much of the total harvest occurs then.

In wildlife management unit 2F in northwestern Pennsylvania, 62 percent of the bucks that ultimately will be taken there will be harvested Monday, said Game Commission spokesman Travis Lau. No other unit gives up a bigger proportion that early.

Every unit in the state but one, that surrounding Philadelphia, will surrender at least 41 percent of its bucks on opening day. Fifty-nine percent will be taken in unit 1B, 55 percent in 2D and 49 percent in 2C.

Still, there's no need to give up if you don't get yours right away. The state's record book shows hunters continue to find big bucks as long as the season goes, said Bob D'Angelo, big game scoring program coordinator for the commission.

“It's impossible to say for sure without going through every score sheet … but just from my experience of measuring hundreds of deer racks, trophy deer are killed throughout the season,” D'Angelo said.

Big bucks come from all over. The 18 that made Boone & Crockett's most recent list came from 15 counties.

The 39 bucks that made the state record book last year came from 24 counties.
To narrow things down, look for food sources.

Food always concentrates deer, and that's especially true when supplies are scarce. That seems to be the case in many places this year, according to reports.

Acorns are generally spotty statewide this year, said David Gustafson, the commission's chief forester. A late spring frost this year that impacted white oaks and chestnut oaks and a cold and wet spring last year that impacted red oaks — which take two years to produce — are to blame, he said.

If you can find the places where food supplies are relatively abundant, though, the deer should be there, Gustafson said.

Doug Bergman, one of the commission's wildlife conservation officers in Fayette County, said he has seen varying levels of deer in his travels.

They can be hard to see in the part of his district within wildlife management unit 2C, he said. It's mountainous and woody.

The part of his district within unit 2A offers comparatively easier living, so “I would say the deer numbers there are pretty good still,” Bergman said.

Armstrong County has its share of deer if not more, said Rod Burns, a conservation officer there.

“I think we're absolutely infested with deer,” Burns said. “As far as the largest bucks, I'm seeing a lot of bucks, but none that I'd call exceptionally large trophy-class animals. Well, I shouldn't say none. I've seen some that would be mountable deer.

“But I've been seeing a more smaller bucks, if legal ones, than larger ones, though I'm sure they're out there.”

For now, every hunter still is looking for a deer, and all can dream, Roe said.
“Considering deer and hunter numbers both are good, the pieces are in place for a great season,” Roe said.

The season

• The statewide general firearms deer season runs Dec. 2 to Dec. 14. Hunters are limited to shooting bucks only from Monday through Friday in units 2A, 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 2H, 3B, 3C, 4B, 4D and 4E. Antlerless deer become fair game in those units starting Saturday. Hunters can shoot a buck or doe throughout the season in all other units.

• Hunters with a deer management assistance program, or DMAP, tag can harvest a doe on the specific property their tag is good for at any time throughout the two-week season in all units.

• Antler restrictions remain in place. Across most of the state, hunters can shoot any buck that has three points on one side, with the brow tine counting as one of the points. In units 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B and 2D, however, a buck must have three points not counting a brow tine to be legal.

• All hunters must wear a minimum of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange material on their head, chest and back combined. An orange hat and vest will satisfy the requirement.

• Hunters who kill a deer must tag it before removing it from the woods and report it to the Game Commission within 10 days via mail, online at or by phone at 1-855-724-8681.

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