Deer season looks promising for Pa. hunters
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s coming firearms deer season looks as promising as ever to the hundreds of thousands of hunters awaiting its start on the Monday after Thanksgiving.
Deer hunters have seen the statewide buck harvest increase over each of the past three years, and more than a million whitetails have been taken by hunters over the same period. Many are wondering, “Can it get any better?”
Unseasonably warm weather, later leaf-drop and rain made it more challenging to pattern deer movements and take whitetails throughout the statewide six-week archery season, which concluded Nov. 12. Now the Commonwealth’s “orange-clad army” awaits its next opportunity to hunt deer in the statewide firearms season.
Pennsylvania’s firearms season draws the biggest crowd and consequently has been the state’s principal deer-management tool for more than a century. In many rural areas, the opener is equivalent to a holiday, and some schools still close their doors to allow their students – and teachers – to hunt.
The firearms season opener is the day every deer hunter wants to be afield. It’s almost always the most-exciting day of the season and therefore usually offers the greatest opportunity. About 45 percent of the season’s buck harvest was taken on the opener last year.
“Opening days have been drawing the largest crowds of hunters for a long, long time,” explained Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “It’s that day when anything really can happen, when lifetime bucks are taken, when hunters are bound to see more deer than any other day of the hunting season. It’s when every hunter wants to be tucked away in the woods waiting for a big buck to come his or her way.
“The firearms season opener is always worth the wait,” Burhans said. “But so is the first Saturday of the season. Last fall, hunters took more deer on the first Saturday than the opening day – a first in Pennsylvania’s deer-management history. So, if you can find the time, get afield for both days. They really are two of the best times to be deer hunting.”
Larger-racked – and older – bucks are making up more of the deer harvest with each passing year. Last year, 163,750 bucks were taken by hunters, making it the second-largest buck harvest in Pennsylvania since antler restrictions were started in 2002. It was the 10th best all-time.
In 2017, 57 percent of the antlered buck harvest was made up of bucks 2¢ years old or older, said Christopher Rosenberry, who supervises the Game Commission’s Deer and Elk Section. The rest were 1¢ years old.
“Older, bigger-racked bucks are making up more of the buck harvest than they have for at least a couple decades,” Rosenberry said. “Hunters like the bucks in Pennsylvania today compared to what many of them saw 30 years ago.”
Every year, Pennsylvania hunters are taking huge bucks. Some are “book bucks,” antlered deer that make the Pennsylvania Big Game Records book or Boone & Crockett Club rankings. Others simply win neighborhood bragging rights.
But it’s important to remember, every deer matters when only about a third of hunters harvest whitetails during Pennsylvania’s slate of deer seasons.
“Whether it’s a young hunter’s first deer, or a big buck that fell to a hunter on a dark-to-dark sit, they all matter to these hunters, their families and the communities in which they live,” emphasized Burhans. “Hunting deer has been an exciting Pennsylvania pastime for centuries, and it’s sure to remain that way for many generations to come.”
The statewide general firearms season runs from Nov. 26 to Dec. 8. 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. 1, to the season’s close. In WMUs 2B, 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 vary 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 2018-19 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, which is available online at the Game Commission’s website, www.pgc.pa.gov.
Hunters statewide must 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. Nonhunters who might be afield during the deer season and other hunting seasons are asked to consider wearing orange, as well.