Friday, November 21, 2014

Deer Season Tradition Awaits

Pennsylvania’s statewide firearms deer season opens Dec. 1.

          The night before often is spent tossing and turning, minds racing excitedly at the possibilities that lie in store.

          The morning begins early, with the coffee pot and breakfast griddle heating up well before the mercury in the thermometer.

          Parents and children choose their attire based on the conditions that prevail outside, always ending up looking alike, right down to the orange hats and vests.  

          And maybe, with just a little luck, one of the monster bucks that dashed through the hunter’s imagination the previous night will appear in all its majesty soon after first light. 

          For hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians, this describes the opening day of the statewide firearms deer season, which now is just 12 days away. 

          With deer populations increasing in some areas of the state, food sources readily available and hunter numbers appearing to be on the rise, the pieces are in place for an exceptional season, said Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough. 

          “Obviously, so much of what makes the firearms deer season and its opening day so special is the tradition behind it,” Hough said. “Families and friends make new memories together, and might relive some of the old ones, during this time. And each year adds a new chapter to those books of memories. 

          “That makes me proud to be a hunter, and proud to be a Pennsylvanian,” Hough said. “And the best news is that the elements are all in place for a standout deer season this year, all across Pennsylvania.”

Statewide season

The statewide general firearms season runs from Dec. 1 to Dec. 13. In many parts of the state, properly licensed hunters may take either antlered or antlerless deer at any time during the season. In other areas, hunters may take only antlered deer during the season’s first five days, with the antlerless and antlered seasons then running concurrently from the first Saturday, Dec. 6 to the season’s close.

Hunters who plan to hunt within Wildlife Management Units 4A and 4C should note there has been a change in the season’s format this year. WMUs 4A and 4C now are among those management units where only antlered deer can be taken from Dec. 1 to Dec. 5.WMU 4A includes parts of Bedford, Fulton, Franklin, Huntingdon and Blair counties. WMU 4C includes parts of Columbia, Luzerne, Carbon, Lehigh, Berks, Schuylkill, Lebanon and Dauphin counties.

Rules regarding the number of points a harvested buck must have on one antler also are different in different parts of the state, and young hunters statewide follow separate guidelines.

For a complete breakdown of regulations and WMU boundaries, consult the 2014-15 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, which is issued to hunters at the time they purchase their licenses. The digest also is available online at the Game Commission’s website,

One very important regulation that applies statewide is the requirement for each hunter to wear a minimum of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange material on his or her head, chest and back combined. An orange hat and vest will satisfy the requirement. And for safety’s sake, nonhunters who might be afield during the deer season and other hunting seasons might also want to consider wearing orange at this time.

Deer forecast

While deer populations are being tracked as stable or increasing in most of the state, many other factors influence deer hunting, said Chris Rosenberry, who supervises the Game Commission’s deer and elk section.

The availability of food sources in an area plays a role in the deer harvest at a local level, he said.

This has been a banner year for mast crops in much of the state, said Dave Gustafson, the Game Commission’s chief forester.

Production of soft mast crops, such as apples, berries and grapes, is very good this year, Gustafson said.

Meanwhile, he said, the availability of acorns statewide is good to great, with some areas –particularly in southcentral Pennsylvania – reporting bumper crops of red-oak acorns. Chestnut oaks and white oaks also are widely available, Gustafson said.

The southwestern part of the state seems to be the only exception, with the acorn crop there being spotty – abundant in some areas, absent in others, he said.

Some areas of the northcentral region also are reporting good beechnut crops this year, Gustafson said.

“Although not widely distributed, these can be key food sources that are highly desirable for deer, as well as bear,” Gustafson said.

Just what the abundance of mast will mean for deer hunters remains to be seen.

While finding those food sources can be key to hunting success, if food is available everywhere, deer don’t need to move to find it. Rosenberry said that when there is a good acorn crop, deer can become less visible because they might not as regularly frequent fields and forest openings.

What might bode well for hunters this year is their strength in numbers. License sales are trending slightly ahead of their pace from last season, and each year about 750,000 hunters participate in the opening day of deer season.

And the mere presence of hunters increases deer sightings for more hunters overall.
One thing hunters can do to increase their chances of success is to hunt longer into the day, Rosenberry said.

As part of an ongoing project, the Game Commission has placed GPS collars on several deer in different areas to study deer movements and other behaviors. New findings from the ongoing research into deer movements show that the middle of the day holds perhaps the best chances for seeing deer.

“Pack a lunch and stay on stand through lunchtime,” Roseberry advised. “You may have the best lunch date ever.”

Hough said that while the outcome of any hunt never is certain, good times afield await those who take part.

“There’s always the opportunity to take the buck of a lifetime during the firearms deer season, and hundreds if not thousands of Pennsylvanians do that each year,” Hough said. “But for many hunters, the opportunity to spend time afield with friends and family and celebrate a great tradition is just as important, and I consider them the most fortunate hunters of all.

Proper licensing

Hunters during the statewide firearms season can harvest antlered deer if they possess a valid general hunting license, which costs $20.70 for adult residents and $101.70 for adult nonresidents.

Each hunter between the ages of 12 and 16 must possess a junior license, which costs $6.70 for residents and $41.70 for nonresidents.

Hunters younger than 12 must possess a valid mentored youth hunting permit and be accompanied at all times by a properly licensed adult mentor, as well as follow other regulations.

Mentored hunting opportunities also are available for adults, but only antlerless deer may be taken by mentored adult hunters.

In order to harvest antlerless deer, a hunter must possess either a valid antlerless deer license or a valid permit. In the case of mentored hunters, the mentor must possess a valid tag that can be transferred to the mentored hunter at the time of harvest.

In addition to regular antlerless licenses, two types of permits can be used to take antlerless deer. The Deer Management Assistance Program, or DMAP permit, can be used only on the specific property for which it is issued.

The Disease Management Area 2 permit, which was created to reduce antlerless deer populations in the lone area of the state where chronic wasting disease has been detected in free-ranging deer, can be used only in Disease Management Area 2 (DMA 2), which encompasses about 1,600 square miles within Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Huntingdon and Fulton counties.

Meanwhile, regular antlerless deer licenses can be used only within the wildlife management unit for which they’re issued.

For many areas, antlerless licenses or DMAP permits might already be sold out. 

About 2,500 DMA 2 permits remained available as of the date of this release.

License availability can be checked online through the Game Commission’s website.

Licenses can be purchased online, but as the season nears, hunters might find it better to purchase licenses in person. Deer licenses purchased online are mailed, meaning they might not arrive in time if purchased too close to the start of the season.

DMA 2 permits also can be purchased online, but unlike licenses and DMAP permits, they’re available through The Outdoor Shop at the Game Commission’s website. The permit, which includes a report card, is then mailed to the hunter. It is mandatory for those with DMA 2 permits to send in a report following the deer seasons

Tagging and reporting

A valid tag must be affixed to the ear of each deer harvested before that deer is moved. The tag must be filled out in ink by the hunter.

Within 10 days of a harvest, a successful hunter is required to make a report to the Game Commission. Harvests can be reported online at the Game Commission’s website, by clicking on the blue “Report a Harvest” button on the home page. Harvests also can be reported by mailing in the postage-paid cards inserted into the 2014-15 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, or successful hunters can call 1-855-PAHUNT1 (1-855-724-8681) to report by phone. Those reporting by phone are asked to have their license number and other information about the harvest ready at the time they call.

Mentored youth hunters are required to report deer harvests within five days. And hunters with DMAP or DMA 2 permits must report on their hunting success, regardless of whether they harvested deer.

By reporting their deer harvests, hunters play an important role in providing the most reliable estimates possible, not only on the number of deer harvested each year, but also on the deer population within each WMU. Estimates are key to managing deer populations, and hunters are asked to do their parts in this important process.  

Chronic wasting disease

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been detected in three areas of Pennsylvania, and special rules apply to hunters within each Disease Management Area (DMA).

There are three DMAs. DMA 1 encompasses parts of York and Adams counties. 

DMA 2 includes parts of Bedford, Blair, Huntingdon, Cambria and Fulton counties. And DMA 3 – which had not been established as of last hunting season – includes about 350 square miles in Clearfield and Jefferson counties.

For the specific boundaries of each DMA, check the Game Commission’s website or turn to the 2014-15 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest.

Hunters may not remove from a DMA any deer parts deemed to have a high-risk of transmitting CWD. The head, backbone and spinal cord are among those high-risk parts, and successful hunters who live outside a DMA can remove and deposit high-risk parts in dumpsters that have been set up on state game lands within each DMA. They can then transport the meat and other low-risk parts outside the DMA.

Hunters also can take their harvests to a processor or taxidermist within the DMA, and the processor or taxidermist can properly dispose of the high-risk parts. In some cases, processors and taxidermists just beyond the border of a DMA have been approved as drop-off sites and those facilities appear on the list of cooperating processors and taxidermists available on the Game Commission’s website.

The Game Commission will be taking samples from about 1,000 deer in each DMA, but just because a hunter drops a deer off at a processor or taxidermist, or deposits high-risk parts in a dumpster on game lands, doesn’t mean the deer will be tested for CWD.

To ensure a harvested deer will be tested, hunters can make arrangements with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Veterinary Laboratory. There is a fee associated with testing. More information about this process can be found online at

Transporting a deer head outside a DMA so the deer can be disease-tested at a lab is a permitted exception to the rule prohibiting the removal of high-risk parts from a DMA. Deer heads should be double-bagged in plastic garbage bags before they are removed from the DMA.

Chronic wasting disease is transmitted from deer to deer by direct and indirect contact. It is always fatal to deer that become infected, but it is not known to be transmitted to humans.

People are advised, however, not to consume meat from deer that test positive for CWD.

For more information on CWD and rules applying within DMAs, visit the Game Commission’s website.

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