Sunday, November 27, 2016

Hunter numbers down on opening day of PA deer season, but it remains busiest day

Bob Frye

There is no question in Jim Daley's mind.
The Cranberry man, who serves as a member of the Pennsylvania Game Commission board, will be in the woods on Monday morning for opening day of the statewide firearms deer season. It's the same way he has spent every Monday after Thanksgiving for decades.
Neither his dad nor grandfather will be there this year; both have passed away. His son will be missing, too, in college in Texas.
So he most likely will be going it alone. But go it he will.
“For a lot of old guys like me, it's in your lifeblood. It's almost inbred,” Daley said.
“You'd sort of have to be on your deathbed not to go.”
That's still the case for the majority of Pennsylvania hunters anyway. The first day of deer season remains the busiest hunting day of the year.
“Every year we just get surges of people coming in getting ready for opening day,” said Zack Prugh of 4K Outdoors, a sporting goods store in Elderton.
That's how things were on Friday for sure. The store was jumping with hunters, he said.
“We're pretty busy right now. They're looking for everything from knives to ammunition to scopes to guns.”
And yet, things aren't what they once were.
At one time, less than a decade ago, opening day put upwards of 750,000 hunters in the woods. This year the commission estimated the opening day crowd will number closer to 550,000.
There are thought to be several reasons for that, not the least of which being there are fewer hunters now than in the past. In 1982, according to the commission, Pennsylvania had an estimated 1.2 million hunters. Now license sales are closer to 900,000.
The growth of archery hunting is a factor, too.
“Participation in the firearms deer season has been trending downward in recent years as the archery deer season has become more popular with hunters, and more deer are taken in the archery season, before the firearms deer season begins,” reads a commission news release.
“Archery license sales have increased annually since 2007. And in the 2015-16 seasons, deer harvested during archery seasons accounted for 31 percent of the overall deer harvest.”
Deer are more widespread than they once were, too, added Game Commissioner Bob Schlemmer of Export. When he was a youngster in Punxsutawney in the 1950s, he said, there were no deer around locally. Hunters — from across Pennsylvania and other nearby states — flocked to the “big woods” where they did exist.
“You could not pull out on Main Street in Emporium on the weekend before deer season, there were so many cars,” Schlemmer said. “If you were on a side street, forget it.
“But that's all changed.”
With longer deer season providing opportunities to chase whitetails throughout fall, and deer spread out to the point that they're sometimes more numerous in the suburbs than elsewhere, and people's work and social schedules different, opening day of the season is different than the “old days.”
“Human dimensions have changed completely,” Schlemmer said.
There still is value in going out from a harvest standpoint, though.
According to commission figures, hunters killed 315,813 deer in the 2015-16 seasons. That was about 4 percent more than the year before. The buck kill — 137,580 animals — was up 15 percent over the year before.
Twenty-seven percent of all those deer — and 47 percent of all those bucks — were killed on opening day, alone.
Beyond that, opening day remains important for other reasons, said Matt Hough, the commission's executive director.
“It's a tradition that's about more than just harvesting deer. It's about family and friends enjoying the outdoors together. Moreover, it's what being a Pennsylvanian is all about,” he said.
Jason Beck of Monessen, president of the National Pike Branch of the Quality Deer Management Association, agreed. He will spend opening day hunting with his wife, Elainna.
Lots of other hunters likewise will be in the woods with family members and friends, he said. That's how things will always be, no matter changing seasons, deer populations, demographics and more, he predicted.
“I believe there's a core group of individuals who hold it dear to their hearts and go out for all the right reasons. They'll always keep it going,” Beck said.
“It's not all about the horns. It's relationships, it's what keeps us together. It's still important to us.”
Bob Frye is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via @bobfryeoutdoors.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Movements, subtle or blatant, can signal a deer’s intentions

Ambling slowly through the brush as it browses, the deer’s ears are drooped, its tail swaying lazily from side to side. It stops, rigid and motionless, then bobs its head horizontally. Twice, the deer lowers its head to the ground and snaps it up again. It snorts and stomps.
What is the deer’s next move?
More to the point, at this juncture in the deer-human encounter, what is the smartest next move that a hunter could make?
In eight days, nearly a million hunters will participate in Pennsylvania’s statewide firearm deer season. For many, success will depend on their understanding of whitetail behavior. Just as a deer “sees” with its nose, it signals its intentions through movements. Hunters can increase their chance of success by reading that body language.
Everyone knows what a raised white tail means. How about when the tail is slowly wagging?
“Does do that. It can mean she’s emitting her scent in estrus. Sometimes they call that ‘squatting tail,’” said Marshall Muntz of Allison Park, a longtime hunter and assistant manager at the new Gander Mountain outfitter in Monroeville. “I look for that from a doe, and then look for buck to follow.”
A wagging tail can tell another story. Some hunters read it as a sign of contentedness commonly made when a deer is feeding and feeling safe. Either way, a wagging tail is a sign that the hunter has not been spotted.
During the rut, when a hormonally driven urge to reproduce overrides all else, hunters are the last thing on a deer’s mind. A whitetail exhibiting rutting behavior is most likely preoccupied with sexual desire and unaware that it’s in somebody’s crosshairs.
“Have you seen the lip curl, when a buck’s lower lip curls out over its mouth?” asked Muntz. “The tongue is lapping, the nostrils are flared. That deer is so into scenting a doe it has no idea [a hunter] is around.”
In male and female deer, the rut activates the vomeronasal organ. Located in the sinus cavity, its sensory neurons detect airborne non-vaporized chemical compounds that normally can not be detected by smell — primarily pheromones from the urine and excretions of does in estrus. All that lip curling, nostril flaring and tongue lapping is intended to force a whiff of the sexually stimulating scent over the olfactory organ.
“Another rutting behavior is called ‘bird dogging,’” said Muntz. “You’ll see a buck running with its nose straight to the ground following a doe.”
Sometimes a hot doe will be bird-dogged by more than one buck at a time. If the first rack is small, a hunter might gamble and wait for a bigger bird-dogging suitor.
Some deer movements suggest confusion, or at least uncertainty.
“Ears are a dead set giveaway,” said Muntz. “It’s the first thing I look at after counting [antler points] for three up. If the ears are kind of hanging low and relaxed, the deer is content and has no clue it’s being watched. But if they’re straight up or twisting left and right, it’s really paying attention. It knows something is wrong and is ‘looking’ for it with its ears.”
Whether it’s rutting season or not, when a deer arches its back and the ribeye hairs stand on end, look out. That deer is fighting mad and ready to attack.
Sometimes the absence of movement can give away the animal’s intention. A deer that turns mostly broadside to a perceived threat isn’t offering a better target. It’s trying to make itself appear larger and more threatening to a potential adversary.
“When a deer stops dead solid, it’s trying to not be marked,” said Muntz. “It knows something’s going on but doesn’t know what. When it freezes, the hunter should freeze or [he or she] will be busted.”
Moving its head from side to side, the deer is attempting to get a better three-dimensional impression of what’s out there.
“The worst thing a hunter could do at that moment is move,” said Muntz.
Unable to identify the danger, a deer may try to get the hidden adversary to move. Snorting is an attempt to get the threat to respond, revealing its location. (Not to be confused with the male deer’s snort-wheeze. Sometimes called a “snot shot,” it’s a form of aggressive nose blowing intended to intimidate a rival.)
“When a deer stomps, it’s a challenge. It’s frustrated that it knows you’re there but doesn’t know what you are,” said Muntz. “Sometimes when a big doe feels threatened, it will throw its head to the ground and snap it back up several times.”
How should a hunter respond?
Shoot. Presuming that safety, legal and range considerations have been confirmed and the hunter wants this deer, the aggressive head bobbing signals that the animal is seconds from running off. Shoot before the deer, and the opportunity, are gone.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Signs point to fabulous bear-hunting season in Western Pennsylvania

The stage is set for another big year.
Ask Pennsylvania Game Commission biologist Mark Ternent what determines the size of the black bear harvest from year to year, and he will point to four factors: the number of bears, the number of bear hunters, the availability of food and the weather.
The 2016 season already is three-for-four.
The state has about 20,000 bears, Ternent said. That's a record.
The number of bear hunters is high and climbing, too. Last year there were 175,314, he said. That too, was a record.
Wild food supplies, meanwhile — particularly in regard to red oak acorns — are booming across most of the state. Ternent said bears that might otherwise den early will be active for a while to come as they take advantage of the fat-building feast.
That leaves only the weather.
“If you can predict the weather, you're better than me,” Ternent said. “We'll just have to wait until the first day and see what we get.”
There's not much waiting left to do.
The statewide archery bear season runs from Monday to Friday. The regular firearms season opens Saturday, then comes back in Nov. 21-23.
And in some wildlife management units, hunters can take bears in deer season. The beginning and end of those extended seasons vary — there is no extended season in unit 3A this year, for example, but for the first time ever there is in 1B — so hunters should check their regulations book.
In all cases, chances are hunters will do well.
Eight of the 10 largest harvests have occurred in the past 11 years. Last year's total was 3,748, enough to rank third all time.
The record kill came in 2011, when hunters took 4,350 bears. They took 4,164 in 2005.
Few states can match that.
Hunters killed 3,195 bears in West Virginia last fall. They took 3,118 in North Carolina and 3,016 in Maine. Virginia gave up 2,331, and New York saw its second-best harvest ever, 1,715.
Meanwhile, New Jersey and Maryland already have concluded their 2016 seasons. Both ranked second all-time in their state's histories. The New Jersey kill was 549 animals, and Maryland totaled 167.
And while Ohio has bears, there aren't enough to sustain hunting.
Ternent is expecting — and hoping for — another large kill here this fall. His goal is to take 20 percent or so of the population annually.
The potential is there, said Mario Piccirilli, a land management group supervisor with the commission in Mercer and Venango counties. He said bears are being sighted “on a daily basis.”
“A little preseason scouting for their food sources, such as corn, acorns and soft mast, will benefit those hunters seeking to fill their bear tag,” Piccirilli said.
Finding the food really is the key, especially for hunters who will be out on their own, Ternent said. And that's how most Pennsylvania bear hunters operate.
Putting on organized drives using large groups — up to 25 hunters per party are allowed by regulation — is an effective way to take bruins.
But a 2010 survey of licensed bear hunters found three out of four still hunt — i.e. sneak through the woods slowly — or simply take a stand and wait for a bear to come by. More hunters do a little of both than hunt any other way, the survey said.
There is nothing wrong with that approach, Ternent said. In fact, it's what he would do.
“If I was bear hunting instead of working the bear check station, I'd go out and find a spot with a lot of food, maybe acorns, with some mountain laurel or other thick cover nearby. I'd sit on that spot until 10:30 or so, then get up and move around a little bit, then go back there in the afternoon, sitting from about 2:30 on until dark,” Ternent said.
“You don't need a gang to be successful. You can do it on your own.”
As for where to sit and stand, bears roam far and wide, he said. A male's home range can be 20 square miles, a female's half that.
Movements are seasonal, though, Ternent said. At this time of year especially, when bears are layering on fat in preparation for a winter-long hibernation, they stay where the food is most abundant, especially if that's acorns.
“Bears take the easy route if they can. If they can find a place that has a lot of food, they stay until they eat it all,” Ternent said.
“That can make it easier to pattern them.”
Now, if only the weather cooperates.
“Just a little bit of snow, with cool temperatures, that's ideal for bear hunting,” Ternent said.
Bob Frye is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via @bobfryeoutdoors


HARRISBURG, PA - Did you see him sneaking along the fencerow at the edge of the field,
before the corn came down?
Or did you see him only on the screen of your neighbor’s smartphone, in a trail-camera photo another neighbor texted him?
Have you not seen him at all, but know by the fresh shavings on the leaves beneath the big cedar that he’s been spending some time in the woodlot back of camp?
In any case, there’s reason to be excited.
Pennsylvania’s 12-day firearms deer season, which opens Nov. 28, is just more than a week away.
With the countdown to kickoff underway, thousands of the state’s hunters are inching closer to bringing home the buck of a lifetime, said Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough.
“The prospect of bagging a trophy buck in Pennsylvania probably has never been better,” Hough said. “More and more of the buck harvest is being made up of mature bucks. In the 2015-16 seasons, an incredible 59 percent of bucks taken by hunters were ages 2½ or older. And many of these deer are absolute wall-hangers that any hunter would be proud to take.
“But whether you’re fortunate enough to encounter one of these trophies this season, or your buck of a lifetime will have to wait for a future season, the coming firearms deer season is something to which we all can look forward,” Hough said. “It’s a tradition that’s about more than just harvesting deer. It’s about family and friends enjoying the outdoors together. Moreover, it’s what being a Pennsylvanian is all about.”
Statewide season
The statewide general firearms season runs from Nov. 28 to Dec. 10. In most 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. 3, to the season’s close. In WMUs 2B, 5A, 5B, 5C and 5D, however, properly licensed hunters may take either antlered or antlerless deer at any time during the season.
Rules regarding the number of points a legal buck must have on one antler also differ in different parts of the state, and young hunters statewide follow separate guidelines.
For a complete breakdown of antler restrictions, WMU boundaries and other regulations, consult the 2016-17 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 all hunters to wear at all times 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. And for safety’s sake, it’s a good idea for nonhunters who might be afield during the deer season and other hunting seasons to consider wearing orange as well.

Deer forecast
Food availability always influences deer movements and deer hunting, and this year has been one of the best in memory for red-oak acorn production statewide.
While that’s a good thing for the deer that live in areas where red-oak acorns are especially abundant, it could make for tougher deer hunting there.
When mast crops are abundant, deer don’t have to move much to find food. And studies show deer harvests tend to drop in years of abundant mast.
At the same time, hunters can be reasonably confident that if they’re hunting in an area with available food, deer are in the area, as well.
The presence in that area of other hunters who, through their activity, might move deer, leading to increased movements and sightings, and a better chance for harvest.
Participation in the firearms deer season has been trending downward in recent years as the archery deer season has become more popular with hunters, and more deer are taken in the archery season, before the firearms deer season begins.
Archery license sales have increased annually since 2007. And in the 2015-16 seasons, deer harvested during archery seasons accounted for 31 percent of the overall deer harvest.
Still, the opening day of the firearms deer season is like no other. In 2015, 27 percent of the total deer harvest – and 47 percent of the buck harvest – occurred on the opening day. And this year, an estimated 550,000 hunters statewide are expected to take part in the firearms season’s opening day, which widely is regarded as an unofficial holiday in Pennsylvania.
Deer populations are being tracked as stable or increasing in each of the state’s 23 wildlife management units, said Christopher Rosenberry, who supervises the Game Commission’s Deer and Elk Section.
The chances to take a trophy buck in Pennsylvania might be better than ever.
Rosenberry said 59 percent of the bucks harvested in the 2015-16 seasons were 2½ years old or older – the highest percentage recorded in decades.
Back in 2002, only 20 percent of the bucks harvested were 2½ years old or older.
Aside from the red-oak acorn crop, mast crops such as white- and chestnut-oak acorns, beechnuts, apples, berries and grapes are spotty statewide – good in some areas, poor in others.
In forested areas where mast is spotty overall, deer are likely to concentrate where food is available, and finding food might uncover a potential deer hotspot.
Also, the Game Commission this year has increased the number of Deer Hunter Focus Areas on state game lands statewide.
These areas, which are posted with signs that identify them to hunters, have undergone recent timber harvests or other habitat projects, creating new forest growth that could be causing deer to concentrate there because young forest is an important deer food source.
An interactive map of Deer Hunter Focus Areas and a list of state game lands containing Deer Hunter Focus Areas is available at the Game Commission’s website.

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.
Those holding senior lifetime licenses are reminded they must obtain a new antlered deer harvest tag each year, free of charge, to participate in the season.
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, throughout the 12-day firearms season.
The Disease Management Area 2 permit, which was created to mitigate the effects of chronic wasting disease in free-ranging deer, can be used only in Disease Management Area 2 (DMA 2), which encompasses more than 2,800 square miles within Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Clearfield, Franklin, Fulton, Huntingdon and Somerset counties.
Meanwhile, regular antlerless deer licenses can be used only within the wildlife management unit for which they’re issued.
DMAP permits for some properties might still be available, but antlerless licenses and DMA 2 permits are sold out.
General hunting 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.

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 with a ball-point pen 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. Reporting online not only is the quickest way to report a harvest, it’s the most cost-effective for the Game Commission.
Harvests also can be reported by mailing in the postage-paid cards inserted into the 2016-17 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 a key role in providing information used to estimate harvests and the deer population within each WMU. Estimates are key to managing deer populations, and hunters are asked to do their part 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, Cambria, Clearfield, Franklin, Fulton, Huntingdon and Somerset counties. And DMA 3 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 2016-17 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest.
Hunters may not remove from any 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 then can 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 sampling for chronic wasting disease statewide, 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.
If you want your harvested deer to be tested, you must 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 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports there’s no strong evidence it can 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.

Buck Harvest Photo Contest
Hunters who take Pennsylvania bucks during the 2106 firearms season are eligible to submit photos of their trophies to the Game Commission’s Buck Harvest Photo Contest.
Photos will be accepted through Dec. 18, and should be emailed to
Photos of bucks taken during Pennsylvania’s 2016 archery season also are eligible for submission.
Game Commission staff will narrow the submitted photos to a group a contenders to be posted on the agency’s Facebook page, where users will determine the winning photos by “liking” the images. Those submitting the images of the winning archery and firearms bucks will win trail cameras.
All submissions must include the first and last name of the hunter and other people in the photo, hunter’s hometown, and the county where the deer was harvested. Submissions must also indicate whether the deer was harvested with a bow or a rifle.
The Game Commission has the right to use all submitted images.
For more information about the contest, visit the Game Commission’s website.