Game Commission Releases 2002 Deer Harvest Figures

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Hunters had an outstanding hunting season in 2002 and that success has translated into progress for the Pennsylvania Game Commission's deer management program.

Hunters harvested a total of 517,529 deer - including 352,113 antlerless deer and 165,416 antlered deer - during the Commonwealth's slate of hunting seasons, which ran from October 2002 to January 2003. 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).

"We were expecting a large harvest in the 2002 seasons, and we got it," noted Dr. Gary Alt, chief of the agency's Deer Management Section. "Proportionately, the harvest wasn't quite what we thought it would be, but hunters still took more antlerless deer and fewer antlered bucks than previous years, which was the primary goal. We're pleased with the progress hunters made. They protected about 40,000 additional antlered bucks, which is nearly twice as many as usually made it through deer seasons in years past. We harvested about 70,000 more antlerless deer than we took in 2001, and that will help us balance Pennsylvania's deer herd with its habitat. In addition, hunters gained invaluable experience adapting to the new regulations.

"As deer managers, we are excited about the progress hunters have helped us make in beginning to balance deer populations," Alt said. "And based upon comments we have been receiving from hunters at sports shows, via e-mail and through the mail, they're equally excited about the new approach the Game Commission has employed to manage deer. Substantial progress has been made and our deer management effort is becoming more effective. Pennsylvania is turning heads nationally with its deer program.

"The 2002 deer seasons and bag limits were designed to kill more does and fewer bucks, and they did. We didn't quite get what we were looking for in the buck harvest. We expected the number of bucks coming through the season to increase two-and-one-half times, but we only roughly doubled it. However, considering some of the circumstances that affected the season and that this was the first year of antler restrictions, we are extremely pleased with what was accomplished."

The Game Commission was hoping to protect more bucks during the hunting seasons - upwards of 75,000 - than the nearly 40,000 that ultimately made it through the seasons unscathed. But several factors positively influenced the buck harvest, increasing hunter success and reducing the agency's efficiency to protect antlered deer.

"The deer population model we used to forecast how many bucks antler restrictions could save used an average annual percentage of bucks in past harvests that qualified as a legal buck for many years," Alt explained. "However, last year was anything but average. The winter of 2001-2002 was one of the mildest on record, and the mast crop of 2001 was one of the largest mast crops in recent history. The combination of these two factors brought bucks through winter and early spring in better physical condition and, therefore, they grew bigger antlers on average."

Alt said that without antler restrictions, Pennsylvania's buck harvest likely would have exceeded 200,000 and compared similarly with harvests over the past two years. With antler restrictions, he expected a 36 percent decline in the buck harvest. That forecast held true in the four-point antler restriction area, where the buck harvest declined about 36 percent. In the three-point antlered restriction area, the decline was only 16 percent.

"Bucks in the three-point areas had better nutrition than usual and consequently more of them than normal met or exceeded the legal size in 2002," Alt explained. "We are not expecting that to happen this year. There was more snow and colder temperatures this winter and a light acorn crop last fall. Those factors should lead to more typical racks this fall which will protect more bucks. I expect the buck kill to come down substantially in the three-point area in 2003, but that sets the stage for great hunting in 2004."

Alt noted that the Deer Management Section was more than enthused with the findings of our radio-collared buck study in Armstrong and Centre counties.

"Some people were concerned that hunters would shoot first then determine whether the deer was legal," Alt said. "Our research indicates that hunters did an excellent job of identifying their bucks as legal game before pulling the trigger or drawing their arrow.

"Further, the number of mistake kills reported statewide was lower than anticipated, which indicates higher hunter compliance rate with the new regulation. I am very confident that hunters will see the benefits of their efforts next year and in years to come.

Bowhunters took 69,648 deer (33,476 bucks and 36,172 antlerless) during the 2002 seasons compared to the 2001 archery harvest of 74,051 deer (40,753 bucks and 33,298 antlerless). Flintlock hunters took 32,640 deer (1,279 bucks and 31,361 antlerless) during the 2002 seasons, compared to the 2001 flintlock harvest of 25,817 deer (2,127 bucks and 23,690 antlerless). Rifle hunters took 130,661 bucks and 284,580 antlerless.