Pennsylvania’s statewide firearms deer season opens on Monday
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 opens Monday, and thousands of hunters are inching closer to bringing home the buck of a lifetime, said state 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 2 1/2 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.”
The statewide general firearms season runs from Monday 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, www.pgc.pa.gov.
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.
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 2¢ years old or older – the highest percentage recorded in decades.
Back in 2002, only 20 percent of the bucks harvested were 2 1/2 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.
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 www.pgc.pa.gov 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 www.agriculture.pa.gov.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.