Bowhunters Tackle New Buck Regulations
Bowhunters are gearing up for a new challenge this fall. They will be the first hunters to participate in a season governed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission's new buck antler restrictions. These regulations represent the first changes in the state's antler restrictions in 50 years.
Pennsylvania's bow season will open Saturday, Oct. 5, and conclude Saturday, Nov. 16. The six-week season will run concurrently at times with two other deer seasons.
Antler restriction regulations will vary throughout the state. In a 10-county area of western Pennsylvania, hunters may shoot only bucks that have at least four points on one antler. In all other counties - except in special regulations area counties - hunters are limited to shooting bucks that have at least three points on one antler.
All hunters in the state's six special regulations area counties -- Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia -- may still harvest bucks that have at least one three-inch spike or an antler with two or more points. In addition, statewide, junior license holders, disabled hunters with a permit to use a vehicle, and Pennsylvania residents on active-duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, may still harvest bucks that have at least one three-inch spike or an antler with two or more points.
"These regulatory changes have been made to improve the state's deer breeding ecology and increase the number and size of bucks in the herd," said Vern Ross, Game Commission executive director. "By increasing the number of antler points required for a buck to be legal, we will protect a significant percentage of younger bucks. As a result, hunters next year should begin to see more and larger bucks than they have ever seen before."
Dr. Gary Alt, Game Commission Deer Management Section supervisor, said the new antler regulations will surely influence hunter success rates and the way many Pennsylvanians hunt.
"There's no denying that it will take some hunters time to adjust to the new restrictions," Alt said. "Shooting at an antlered buck won't be as automatic a decision as it used to be. Last year, about one in five hunters shot a buck in our state. This year, buck hunter success rates will be lower but doe hunter success rates should increase. In the long run, Pennsylvania, its deer herd and deer hunting will be better for it.
"Antler restrictions are only a part of the Game Commission's approach to remedying the long-standing problems that have plagued Pennsylvania's deer management program. Other parts of the package, which include concurrent buck-doe hunting and increased early-season hunting opportunities, are designed to address overpopulation problems in many areas of the state."
Game Commission biologists have estimated that this year's statewide deer herd numbers 1.3 million, down from 2001's population of 1.4 million.
The antler restrictions are designed to carryover an additional 85,000 bucks that normally would be harvested by hunters. That will have a significant impact on the statewide annual buck harvest, which has averaged about 192,000 over the past five years. The antlerless allocation is designed to stabilize the statewide population.
The overall archery harvest dropped from 78,522 in 2000 to 74,051 in 2001. Last year, bowhunters took 40,753 bucks, which is up from 38,453 in 2000.
In 1993, when Pennsylvania expanded its four-week fall archery season to six weeks, bowhunters harvested 49,409 deer. Since then, harvests have been increasing almost annually.
Hunters heading afield for the opening day likely will face field conditions similar to those last year when drought impacted the availability of fall foods, and subsequently compelled deer to change their travel patterns in many areas of the state, particularly those at higher elevations. Gypsy moth defoliation also continues to impact some forested areas of the state's southcentral counties and this, too, may sway deer movements.
"Hunters shouldn't underestimate the importance of preseason and in-season scouting this fall, because the distribution of local deer populations may have been altered by the drought's impact on the distribution and abundance of natural foods," Alt said. "Depending on last year's hot spot, without scouting or finding active backup locations, could lead to a long, uneventful season. Scouting improves your chances of getting close to deer. Then the rest is up to you!"
The Game Commission urges bowhunters to take only responsible shots at deer to ensure a quick, clean kill. For most, that's a shot 20 yards or less at a deer broadside or quartering away. Bowhunters should shoot only at deer that are in their maximum effective shooting range - the furthest distance from which a hunter can consistently place arrows into a pie pan-sized target.
Archers also are reminded of regulatory changes in tackle requirements for the upcoming season. All bows must have a peak draw weight of at least 35 pounds. In addition, broadheads must have an outside diameter of at least 7/8th-inch with no less than two cutting edges in the same plane throughout the length of the cutting surface.