Rifle Deer Season Begins December 2nd

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With Pennsylvania's two-week firearms deer season beginning Dec. 2, nearly one million hunters are preparing for the first change in antler restrictions since 1953.

"The recent deer seasons truly have been seasons of change for Pennsylvania hunters," noted Game Commission Executive Director Vern Ross. "But we believe the changes - antler restrictions and increased antlerless deer hunting opportunities - will improve deer management and deer hunting in this state, and we are committed to making it work. Hunters are telling us they like what they're seeing and they're willing to support us. They want the Game Commission to stay the course."

Dr. Gary Alt, Game Commission Deer Management Section supervisor, said the new antler regulations will surely influence hunter success rates and the way many may hunt.

Antler restriction regulations - being implemented to improve the state's breeding ecology and to increase the number and size of bucks in the herd - will vary throughout the state. In Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Crawford, Erie, Indiana, Lawrence, Mercer, Washington and Westmoreland counties, hunters may shoot only bucks that have at least four points on one antler. In all other counties, with two exceptions, 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.

Senior hunting license holders are required to follow the new antler restriction criteria; they are not exempted.

A legal antler point must be at least one inch in length from the base to tip. The brow tine and the main beam tip shall be counted as points regardless of length. The brow tine, which is found near the antler base, must be present, but need not be a full inch in length. It should not be confused with growths from antler burrs found at the base of an antler.

"We know it will be harder for many hunters to take a buck this year because of the new restrictions, but that's what they were designed to do: save bucks," said Dr. Gary Alt, Game Commission Deer Management Section supervisor. "We also recognize that determining whether a buck is legal also will be challenging for many hunters. Do not assume that all bucks have brow tines. If you're not sure whether a buck is legal, simply don't shoot. Our bucks need all the breaks they can get!"

Hunters who do shoot a protected buck by mistake are required to complete and attach their deer harvest tag to the deer immediately after killing it and before moving it. The mistake kill must be reported as soon as possible, but no later than 12 hours after the time of kill, to the region office serving the county in which the deer was harvested.

While the hunter will be required to pay a $25 restitution fee and surrender the antlers, he or she will be permitted to keep the carcass. The hunter also is required to immediately remove all entrails, take the entire carcass to a Wildlife Conservation Officer in the county where the deer was taken, and make a written, sworn statement explaining when, where and how the accident or mistake occurred.

"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 agency'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.

"We are expecting our total deer harvest to be similar to previous years," Alt said. "However, it will be made up of fewer bucks and more does than usual. We expect the buck harvest to drop from about 200,000 to about 125,000 and we are looking for the antlerless harvest to rise from roughly 300,000 to 375,000. Of course, weather conditions will play a major role in determining the size of the harvest this fall."

Archery antlered deer harvest report card returns indicate the state's bowhunters don't seem to be having much trouble identifying legal bucks. About 23 percent of the deer harvest cards returned to the Game Commission in October were for antlered deer. In 2001, antlered deer harvest cards comprised about 43 percent of the harvest cards received by the agency.

"We've received more harvest report cards through October this year than we did last year," Alt said. "But the percentage of buck harvest cards in the returns is down substantially and the percentage of antlerless deer harvest cards is up. We believe this means hunters are passing up small bucks and taking more antlerless deer. They're adapting, and at the same time improving deer management and the future of deer hunting in Pennsylvania. It's great news!"