Another exciting Pennsylvania Deer Season approaches
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s upcoming firearms deer season will start with a bang.
For the first time in the Game Commission’s history, deer hunters will have a Saturday-Sunday opening weekend on Nov. 28 and 29.
Hunters in 10 Wildlife Management Units also will have concurrent antlered/antlerless hunting throughout the 14-day firearms deer season, which continues Nov. 30 through Dec. 12.
The firearms season also packs another new twist that will generate excitement afield.
It’s a regulatory change that allows hunters to attempt to harvest a second deer before tagging the first, so long as they have the appropriate harvest tags for the deer they attempt to harvest, and no attempt is made to move a deer before it’s tagged.
Pennsylvania hunters in 2019 racked up the highest overall deer harvest in 15 years when they took 389,431 deer during the state’s 2019-20 hunting seasons. It topped the 2018-19 harvest by about 4 percent. The last time the total deer harvest exceeded this season’s total was in 2004-05, when 409,320 whitetails were taken.
The 2019-20 statewide buck harvest saw a generous bump of 10 percent, coming in at 163,240. In the 2018-19 seasons, 147,750 bucks were taken.
“The size and quality of bucks running in Penn’s Woods right now, probably hasn’t been duplicated in the Commonwealth in over 150 years,” noted Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “The number of record-book bucks being taken is incredible. In fact, it’s beginning to look like no rack sitting atop record-book listings is unapproachable.
“If you haven’t hunted whitetails in some time, now’s the time to get back into it,” Burhans emphasized. “You won’t believe what’s running around in Penn’s Woods!”
Deer hunters continue to experience antlered-buck-harvest-success levels comparable to historic highs in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In recent years, about 22 percent of all hunters have harvested an antlered deer, and we look for this trend to continue.
The 2019-20 antlerless deer harvest was 226,191, which included 10,461 taken with chronic wasting disease Deer Management Assistance Program permits, was similar to the 2018-19 overall antlerless deer harvest of 226,940. In 2017-18 seasons, the antlerless harvest was 203,409.
Pennsylvania’s firearms season historically has drawn the biggest crowds of all hunting seasons and consequently has been the state’s principal deer-management tool for more than a century. And it’s widely anticipated by hunters.
“Every deer hunter wants to be afield for the opener,” noted Burhans. “They spend days and days scouting, checking their gear and getting their packs ready.
“When they’re sitting in the dark, waiting for daylight and hoping for a big buck to come, most deer hunters couldn’t be happier, particularly if their son or granddaughter is joining them. It’s a fulfilling experience, regardless of what happens.”
The season always is worth the wait.
Deer hunters had seen the statewide buck harvest increase for three consecutive years until the 2018-19 firearms season’s opening-day soaker led to a broken streak. But last season, hunters resumed the uptick in buck harvest. They also caused an increase in the percentage of 2¢-year-old bucks in the deer harvest.
In the 2019-20 seasons, 2¢-year-old and older bucks comprised 66 percent of the buck harvest, up from 64 percent in the 2018-19 seasons. Over the previous four years, the percentage of 2¢-year-old and older bucks in the annual deer harvest was between 56 and 59 percent.
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 harvest hold special memories.
“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.”