December 1st Deer Season Opening Approaching
Hunters everywhere can't seem to wait to head afield to participate in Pennsylvania's two-week rifle deer season, which begins Dec. 1. This season offers hunters a greater chance at taking bigger bucks in most areas and offers antlerless deer hunters more territory to hunt through the incorporation of new Wildlife Management Units.
"A season of great opportunity awaits the Commonwealth's deer hunters," noted Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Vern Ross. "It comes on the heels of the most restrictive buck hunting our state has seen since 1938 - when buck season actually was closed. Now, hunters are poised to enjoy the benefits they created abiding by and supporting last year's implementation of antler restrictions.
"Further sweetening the pot for hunters in the upcoming season is their chance to hunt antlerless deer in the state's restructured Wildlife Management Units, which will provide hunters larger areas to hunt deer than the former county-based deer management units."
New antler restrictions limited the taking of antlered deer in most counties in 2002 and will affect all counties in the upcoming firearms deer season. They were implemented to improve long-standing imbalances within the state's deer populations and on the habitat that supports them. The former 67 county deer management units were redesigned into 22 units that pattern five physiographic areas to improve the agency's ability to more effectively manage deer.
Antler restrictions for the state are: at least four points to one antler in five western wildlife management units - WMUs 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B and 2D - that comprise all or parts of 18 counties; and at least three points to an antler in the remaining 17 WMUs, which include all or parts of 57 counties. Special Regulations Area counties - Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia - are no longer excluded from antler restrictions. Allegheny County is now part of a WMU that has a four points to one side restriction; the eastern counties are included in WMUs that have a three points to one side restriction.
Also, the Board of Game Commissioners modified the antler restrictions to require that all points, including the brow tine, be at least one inch in length. The main beam tip will count regardless of length.
There are three groups of hunters statewide who are not required to follow new antler restrictions, but they must take antlered deer that have at least one spike three inches or longer, or an antler with at least two points. They are: junior license holders, disabled hunters with a permit to use a vehicle, and Pennsylvania residents on active-duty in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Game Commission officers have noticed solid backing for antler restrictions from the hunting community since last year. They report the overwhelming support stems from what hunters have seen earlier this year, and because hunters are interested in doing whatever is necessary to improve the quality of the state's deer resource.
Jefferson County Wildlife Conservation Officer Roger Hartless said, "The buck population can be summed up in one word, 'Wow!' Anyone who thought antler restrictions wouldn't work in Pennsylvania hasn't taken a drive at dusk lately. There are some extremely nice bucks out there this year, and not just one here and there, but every woodlot seems to hold a wall-hanger."
Adams County WCO Dick Karper said, "All summer, hunters have been reporting that they are in support of antler restrictions and believe our deer program is on the right track. Most of them talked about observing numerous large rack bucks and almost everywhere."
Tioga County WCO Rich Shire said, "Everyone is talking about the large-racked bucks they are seeing around here. Local folks say that our antler restrictions are paying off already."
In Wayne County, WCO Frank Dooley reported, "As I work my district, everyone seems to have the same thing to say, "You ought to see the buck that I've been seeing." Everyday I'm receiving reports of big buck all over my district. Hunters appear to be very happy with the numbers and size of the deer that they are seeing. Deer hunters are actually telling me that the deer hunting this year is going to be excellent!"
Fulton County WCO Travis Pugh reported similar conversations with hunters and admitted to getting caught up in the excitement himself. "Almost every day, someone pulls me aside because they are so excited about all of the bucks that they have been seeing. I have seen quite a few myself and have even pulled my truck off the road a couple of times just to admire a large rack. It's going to be an exciting hunting season."
About 75 percent of the Game Commission's field force rated deer hunting opportunities in the state to be excellent. The remainder believed hunting prospects were good.
Mifflin County WCO Jeff Mock noted, "There are a lot of antlered deer that lived another year. The difference one year makes is hard to miss. We are seeing a lot of high-quality rack bucks this year. It's only going to be getting better from here."
In Dauphin County, WCO Jason DeCoskey said, "Deer are everywhere. Just to give you an example, I was starting out on night patrol and within two hours I saw a 12-point buck, a 10-pointer, a nine-pointer, four large eight-pointers, two small eight pointers and one six-pointer."
Luzerne County WCO Gerald Kapral said, "I see deer every day in every area that I go into. Many reports of large racked bucks are received on a daily basis."
Dr. Alt, who has repeatedly voiced his gratification for the willingness of hunters to support the agency's new deer management initiatives, is quick to note, though, that hunting conditions could have been even better for the upcoming season.
"We lost a lot of yearling bucks last year during the hunting seasons because there was a mild winter in 2001 and early 2002 that was accompanied by a tremendous acorn crop," Alt said. "Those events provided a means for 2001's button bucks to funnel more stored energy into antler development in early 2002 and consequently more year-and-a-half bucks last hunting season had legal antlers in the three-point restriction area. We were hoping to save nearly 40 percent of the antlered deer population, but managed to save only about 20 percent.
"In the four-point area, we hit the mark and saved about 40 percent of the bucks in 2002. And, as a result, hunters should see dramatic results in the 10 counties that comprised the four-point area last year. Hunters should see more two-and-a-half-year-old bucks than ever.
"Overall, buck hunting should be pretty special in Pennsylvania during the first two weeks of December," Alt said. "If you like antler restrictions in 2003 - and many hunters seem to - you're going to love them in 2004."
In 2002, hunters took a total of 517,529 deer - including 352,113 antlerless deer and 165,416 antlered deer. The harvest compares with a 2001 total harvest of 486,014 (203,247 antlered deer) and 2000's total harvest of 504,600 (203,221 antlered deer).
"Hunters cut into our excessive antlerless deer population in 2002, by harvesting about 70,000 more antlerless deer than they took in 2001 and harvested about 40,000 fewer antlered bucks than previous years," Alt said. "The effort is helping us balance Pennsylvania's deer herd with its habitat. In addition, hunters gained invaluable experience adapting to the new regulations."
In 2002, Game Commission statistics show that 130,661 of the 165,416 antlered bucks harvested were taken during the firearms deer season. The largest buck kills in the 2002 firearms deer season came from Clearfield, Bradford, Tioga, Greene, Bedford and Somerset counties. The largest antlerless deer harvests came from Washington, Bradford, Crawford, Clearfield and Warren counties.
Some field officers are forecasting huge kills for their counties in the upcoming season. WCO Carl Szymanski said, "What can I say, Bradford County is first or second in county deer harvests every year. This year shouldn't be any different because deer are everywhere."
Clearfield County WCO Dave Stewart said, "It will be no surprise for this county to lead the state in deer harvest again this year."
Following is a region-by-region overview of additional white-tailed deer information provided by agency field personnel. It includes observations about local deer populations, how-to-hunt, where-to-go and past harvest information.
Northwest Region - As with every region in the state, the Northwest's buck harvest dropped because of antler restrictions. The decrease was 25 percent, from 37,237 to 27,827. Top buck harvest counties were Venango, 4,229; Jefferson, 3,874; Warren, 3,389; Butler, 3,311; and Clarion, 3,280. The antlerless harvest - 68,284 - was the region's best ever. The best antlerless harvest counties were: Crawford, 10,237; Warren, 9,656; Venango, 8,383; Butler, 7,703; and Jefferson, 7,131. In Warren County, WCO Dave Donachy said, "While the deer population is down from previous years, excellent opportunities exist for hunters willing to get into remote areas." In Butler and Lawrence counties, LMGS Dale Hockenberry said, "I'm getting numerous reports of people seeing seven, 10 and more very large bucks in single fields. Lots of people have told me that they are now converts to the point restrictions." Crawford County WCO Mark Allegro said, "Thickets around farms and wetlands should hold some wall-hangers for sure." Forest County WCO Mario Piccirilli said, "I've been seeing a large number of six- and eight-point bucks with regularity, more than I've ever seen. It's obvious antler restrictions are proving to be a real winner for hunters. There are a lot of bucks awaiting hunters this year and I'm sure they won't be disappointed." In Erie County, WCO Darin Clark said, "We are already seeing the benefits of the point restriction. There are far more larger racked deer this year than in past years." Lawrence County WCO Jeff Kendall said, "I have seen more and bigger bucks than I ever have. Hunters should be chomping at the bit to go hunting." In Mercer County, WCO Jim Donatelli said, "The deer population is as high or higher than last year." In Clarion and Jefferson counties, LMGS Brad Myers said, "Everyone is commenting on the number of racked bucks see this year."
Southwest Region - This region remains the state's top deer harvest area, posting the best antlerless and buck harvests, despite being saddled with a four-point antler restriction in half of its counties. The 2002 buck harvest dropped to 34,500 - down 18 percent from the previous year. Top buck harvest counties were: Somerset, 4,270; Westmoreland, 4,091; Greene, 3,956; Indiana, 3,918; and Washington, 3,743. The region's antlerless harvest was 74,342, which represented a kill increase of about 20 percent from 2001 and the largest-ever region harvest. Washington County recorded the largest antlerless harvest with 11,193; followed by Westmoreland, 9,409; Armstrong, 9,380; Indiana, 8,902; and Greene, 7,753. In Allegheny, Beaver, Greene and Washington counties, LMGS Doug Dunkerley said, "They are numerous and they are big. The payoff for last year's antler restrictions looks to be lots of big bucks." Fayette County WCO Steve Leiendecker said, "Deer hunting prospects are good on all state game lands, the Forbes State Forest, Quebec Wild Area and Ohiopyle State Park. Hunters should be pleasantly surprised by the number and availability of larger antlered deer this year." In Indiana County, WCO Pat Snickles said, "There are many reports floating around of 'monster bucks' being seen at top secret locations. I urge hunters to concentrate their efforts on agricultural areas; deer numbers in these areas need to be reduced." In Westmoreland County, WCO Tom Fazi said, "Everyone is talking about all the big bucks around this year. This hunting season could be the best ever if even half of the stories are true!" Washington County WCO Travis Anderson said, "If hunters want to find good numbers of deer, they should try hunting around farms." Somerset County WCO Brian Witherite said, "It seems those who were unsure of Dr. Alt's antler restrictions are now taking stock in it. Look for plenty of action on SGL 50 SGL 82, SGL 111, SGL 231 and SGL 271." WCO Rod Burns said, "You can't go wrong picking Greene County as you deer hunting choice for 2003 as this will be another excellent year for hunters." Cambria County WCO Shawn Harshaw said, "Some of the areas around Johnstown will provide excellent opportunities to fill a tag."
Northcentral Region - The region posted the state's second best buck harvest and third best antlerless harvest. The region's buck kill of 30,138, marked an 18 percent decline from 2001. Top buck harvest counties were: Clearfield, 5,587; Tioga, 4,433; Centre, 3,886; Potter, 3,737; and Lycoming, 3,693. The region posted its best antlerless harvest ever with 60,770 last year, up from 43,386 in 2001. The best antlerless harvest counties were: Clearfield, 10,068; Tioga, 9,494; Potter, 8,463; Centre, 7,995; and McKean, 7,616. In Clearfield County, WCO Chris Ivicic said, "It didn't take long for antler restrictions to make a difference in this part of the county. Several large 20-inch plus spreads have been viewed by folks. Deer hunting should be exciting this season due to the sheer numbers and size of deer that are being seen." In Tioga and Potter counties, LMGS Steve Gehringer said, "The benefits from last year's antler restrictions are beginning to materialize this year in more and larger antlered bucks being out there. McKean County WCO Rose Luciane said, "We have been seeing more bucks than ever before, but not all of the bucks have legal antlers. Hunters will have to be careful on their choices again this year, but they will have more opportunities." In Centre County, WCO Terry Wills said, "If you're interested in large deer numbers, try areas in Georges Valley or the Rothrock State Forest near Centre Hall. The oak-covered ridges and valleys south of Route 192 also seem to have higher concentrations of deer." Clinton County WCO John Wasserman said, "The deer population here has been on the rise for several years and deer are everywhere. I expect deer to be moving more during daylight hours looking for food." In Potter County, WCO Denise Mitcheltree reported, "Plenty of deer this year. And if you have become accustomed to our 'Potter County spike' you will be in for a pleasant surprise. Antler production is looking good, thanks to a couple of years of good mast production and our new antler restrictions." Elk County WCO Doty McDowell said, "Not only are more deer being seen, but the antler development seems to be larger this year." In Lycoming County, WCO Jonathan Wyant said, "Reports abound this year from the public of large bucks everywhere. A little preseason scouting could make your 'once-in-a-lifetime' buck a reality this year." Union County WCO Tom Smith said, "I have seen and also received many reports of heavy-bodied deer with larger than normal racks."
Southcentral Region - Antler restrictions dropped the region's buck kill to its lowest point since 1994; the antlerless harvest was the region's second best ever. Hunters took 21,619 bucks last year, down 19 percent from 2001. Bedford County led the region with a buck kill of 3,901, followed by Huntingdon, 3,307; Perry, 2,437; Franklin, 2,187; and Blair, 2,092. The 2002 antlerless harvest was 44,109. Top antlerless counties were: Bedford, 8,315; Huntingdon, 7,199; Franklin, 4,490; Perry, 4,437; and Blair, 4,070. In Bedford County, WCO Dan Yahner said, "Many large bucks are being reported, especially in the farming country between Everett and Breezewood. There are many farmers who would welcome more hunters. All they need to do is ask permission." Also in Bedford County, WCO Tim Flanigan said, "The district is virtually overrun with deer, especially antlerless deer. We also have the best crop of trophy-quality bucks ever seen in the county." Huntingdon County WCO Robert Einodshofer said, "Reports from across the county are of not only more bucks, but bigger bucks, too." Perry County WCO Jim Brown said, "Most hunters have been impressed with the number and size of bucks they are seeing." In Blair County, WCO Steve Hanczar said, "Take the deer's sense of smell and keen motion detection capabilities very seriously as these are key factors for hunters who invades a deer's territory." In Adams County, WCO Larry Haynes said, "Anticipation seems to be running pretty high for an exciting buck season this year. The support level for the antler restrictions seems to be even higher than last year. In Franklin County, WCO Kevin Mountz said, "The talk this year is seeing great numbers of legal bucks." Cumberland County WCO Ed Steffan said, "The abundant supply of nice rack bucks should make for a good deer season." Juniata County WCO Dan Clark said, "Scouting for food sources will increase hunter success."
Northeast Region - The region posted its largest antlerless harvest ever last year and saw its buck harvest decline 23 percent from 2001 as a result of antler restrictions. The 2002 buck harvest was 26,336. Top buck harvest counties were: Bradford, 5,505; Susquehanna, 3,143; Luzerne, 3,024; Wayne, 2,359; and Columbia, 2,107. Last year's antlerless harvest was 55,921, up 20 percent from 2001. Bradford County led the region with an antlerless harvest of 10,875, followed by Susquehanna, 6,956; Luzerne, 6,727; Wayne, 6,080; and Columbia, 4,004. In Bradford County, WCO Matt Grebeck said, "I have seen many large rack deer and more doe than one can count." Also in Bradford County, WCO Vern Perry III said, "Deer are in very large numbers here. Antler restrictions are working well." Susquehanna County WCO Don Burchell said, "Deer are everywhere." In Wayne County, WCO Jim McCarthy said, "I have seen plenty of large bucks this year. Hunters will do well just about everywhere in the county." Pike County WCO Bob Johnson said, "Some nice bucks are being seen in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area." Luzerne County WCO Tom Swiech said, "There is no shortage of deer in the county. The numbers appear to be increasing and the size of antlers is impressive. This year should prove to be the best deer hunting year Pennsylvania hunters have seen in many, many years." In Monroe County, WCO Pete Sussenbach said, "Many large racked bucks are being seen in the Bethlehem Water area and SGL 221." Wyoming County WCO Bill Wasserman said, "The deer population is high. I have seen numerous big racks." Lackawanna County WCO Mark Rutkowski said, "Reports from recreational spot-lighters have been very positive." Carbon County WCO Ray Lizzio said, "The changes in regulations last season have left a lot of bucks for this season, and that trend will continue." In Columbia County, WCO George Wilcox said, "Deer populations remain high. Larger racked bucks are being seen more frequently." Montour County WCO Randy Shoup said, "This farmland grows some huge deer."
Southeast Region - The region posted the state's smallest decline in buck harvest - nine percent - and posted its largest-ever antlerless harvest. The 2002 buck harvest was 24,752. Berks County led the region with a buck harvest of 4,181, followed by Schuylkill, 3,138; York, 3,441; Chester, 2,610; and Bucks, 2,359. The region's antlerless harvest of 55,921 marks the third straight year the region has posted a record harvest. Top antlerless harvest counties were: York, 8,123; Berks, 7,973; Schuylkill, 6,065; Chester, 5,822; and Bucks, 4,327. In Berks County, WCO Bob Prall reported, "Many nice bucks are being seen in all areas." Schuylkill County WCO John Denchak said, "Many people are telling me of spotting and seeing large antlered bucks all over the county. I am starting to see deer in the fields similar to the late 1980s." York County WCO Chad Eyler said, "York County is known for numerous deer and large racked bucks. Officers in the district have seen many bucks. The average buck that has been spotted by officers in the district has a six-point rack." In Dauphin and Lebanon counties, LMGS Scott Bills said, "Trophy bucks are being spotted constantly. Large-racked deer will be the norm this year." Lancaster County WCO Steve Martin said, "Deer are everywhere. Pick any woodlot bordered by farm fields, any wooded ridge line, any wooded low lying areas, you will find deer. Some outstanding bucks were taken last year and some have been seen during pre-season scouting." Also in Lancaster County, WCO Linda Swank said, "In the river hills of southern Lancaster County deer are plentiful. Crop damage complaints are up in numbers and some farmers are looking for hunters to relieve the problems." Dauphin County WCO Mike Doherty said, "I see more deer with antlers. Once the hunting pressure starts, the deer move into the deeps of the game lands or state forests, or the mountain tops. Do a little walking and you'll be rewarded-and the drag will be downhill." Chester County WCO Scott Frederick said, "Even though the antler restriction was not in place in this county last year, bigger bucks are being seen and in greater numbers throughout the county." Bucks County WCO John Papson said, "Many large bucks are being seen all over and Lake Nockamixon seems to produce some respectable bucks every year." In Bucks, Lehigh, Montgomery and Northampton counties, LMGS Dave Mitchell said, "The best hunting is on private lands in all counties, especially suburban and farmland areas. I don't ever remember seeing as many deer as I am this year. Last year's antler restrictions have led to many nice racked bucks throughout Lehigh and Northampton counties. For hunters willing to walk, SGL 168 and SGL 217 has good hunting opportunities. Areas to look at are clear cuts and food plots that concentrate the deer. SGL 205 also always has high deer populations. Get in the thickest cover available and hunt all day."