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Pennsylvania deer harvest up again during 2020-2021 seasons

Pennsylvania hunters followed up the 2019-20 hunting season’s highest overall deer harvest in 15 years by topping it when they took an estimated 435,180 deer in the 2020-21 hunting seasons, which closed in January, the Pennsylvania Game Commission reported Monday.

The 2020-21 estimated deer harvest topped the previous license year’s harvest of 389,431 by about 12%. Since 1993, Pennsylvania hunters have harvested more than 400,000 deer in a license year 10 times. Twice during that period, deer harvests exceeded 500,000, first in 2000 and then again in 2002, when the state’s record overall deer harvest of 517,529 was set.

Locally, in WMU 2G, which comprises Northcentral Clinton County, Northwest Lycoming County, Southeast Tioga County and Southeast Potter County, hunters took an estimated 7,500 antlered deer, which was down from last season’s estimate total of 8,100. An estimated 6,800 antlerless deer were taken, up from last year’s estimate of 6,105.

In WMU 3B, which comprises Sullivan County, Eastern Lycoming County, Southern Bradford County, Southcentral Wyoming County and Northern Luzerne County, hunters took an estimated 9,100 antlered deer, up from lasty ear’s estimate of 7,600. The harvest of antlerless deer was down to 8,500 after an estimated 10,300 were taken during the 2019-2020 season.

The statewide buck harvest — 174,780 — set a new record for buck harvest in the antler restrictions era. The buck harvest also increased 7% over the previous license year’s buck harvest of 163,240. In the 2018-19 license year, 147,750 bucks were harvested.

“About a quarter of the state’s deer hunters took a buck in the 2020-21 deer seasons,” said David Stainbrook, the Game Commission’s Deer and Elk Section supervisor. “It’s a trend that hunters have maintained over the past three license years. The fact that we can maintain such high success rates on bucks year after year demonstrates the sustainability of the deer population in Pennsylvania.”

The antlerless deer harvest for the 2020-21 seasons was 260,400. It exceeded the 2019-20 antlerless deer harvest — 226,191 — by 15%. The 2018-19 harvest was 226,940. The last time the antlerless deer harvest exceeded 2020-21’s was in the 2004-05 license year, when 284,910 antlerless deer were taken.

In the 2020-21 deer seasons, the Game Commission set the antlerless allocations at levels to reduce the deer population in Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) where chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been documented, as part of its ongoing effort to limit the spread of the disease, and the antlerless harvest increased in these WMUs as intended.

“Obtaining an adequate deer harvest is essential in the WMUs in and surrounding the state’s Disease Management Areas (DMAs),” said Andrea Korman, CWD biologist. “Deer hunters remain the first line of defense in Pennsylvania’s continuing efforts to manage CWD. The harvest illustrates the cooperation we hoped hunters would provide to help where CWD threats are at their greatest in Penn’s Woods.”

Unlike in 2019-20, when antlerless harvests decreased in almost half of the state’s WMUs, in 2020-21, antlerless harvests either increased or were similar to the previous year in all but one WMU — WMU 3B. This decrease was expected as the allocation was reduced in 2020-21.

WMUs posting the largest antlerless deer harvest increases were the western Pennsylvania WMUs of 1A, 1B, and 2B. In WMUs 1A and 1B, the antlered harvest increased substantially as well.

Buck harvest estimates increased by more than 1,000 deer in six WMUs: 2A, 2F, 3A, 3B, 3C, and 4E. The largest increases in antlered deer harvest were in WMU 1A and WMU 1B, where the buck harvest increased by about 3,000 deer in each WMU.

The percentage of older bucks in the 2020-21 deer harvest remained high. About 64% of the bucks taken by hunters were at least 2 1/2 years old. The remainder were 1 1/2 years old.

“The Commonwealth’s antler restrictions have succeeded in providing more older bucks for Pennsylvania’s deer hunters,” said Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “In place since 2002, they have transformed the smaller bucks that once dominated our deer harvests into a buck population that is the envy of deer hunters everywhere.”

“Anyone who hunted deer before antler restrictions can see the results. But it’s important to recognize that these bucks are a product of a well-managed deer herd and their existence hinged on the willingness of deer hunters to support antler restrictions.”

About 68% of the antlerless deer harvest was adult females; button-bucks comprised 17% and doe fawns made up 15%. The previous license year’s breakdown is similar.

Bowhunters accounted for over a third of Pennsylvania’s 2020-21 overall deer harvest taking 160,480 deer (80,130 bucks and 80,350 antlerless deer) with either bows or crossbows. The 2019-20 archery harvest was 145,908 (74,190 bucks and 71,718 antlerless deer).

The estimated muzzleloader harvest — 28,260 — was down slightly from the previous year’s harvest of 29,604. The 2020-21 muzzleloader harvest included 1,140 antlered bucks compared to 1,260 bucks in 2019-20.

Total deer harvest estimates by WMU for 2020-21 (with 2019-20 figures in parentheses) are as follows:

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