Pennsylvania firearms deer season: ‘There’s no doubt something special is happening’
Pennsylvania’s upcoming firearms deer season packs promise for hundreds of thousands of hunters as they await its opener the Monday after Thanksgiving, the Pennsylvania Game Commission said in a news release Friday, Nov. 17.
According to the release, unseasonably warm weather and an abundance of fall mast made it more challenging to pattern deer movements throughout the statewide six-week archery season, which concluded Nov. 11. Now, “rifle season” offers the next opportunity to hunt deer in Penn’s Woods.
Most of Pennsylvania’s deer harvest comes from hunters participating in the firearms season. It has been the Commonwealth’s principal tool for managing deer for more than a century, the season that draws the largest crowd, with some rural schools still closing on the opener to allow their students – and teachers – to hunt, the release said, adding that about a quarter of the season’s buck harvest occurs on the opener.
And this firearms season – not just its opening day – has the potential to be something special, according to the Game Commission.
“Agency deer biologists believe there’s a chance we’ll see the state’s buck harvest increase for the third consecutive year,” said Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “It’s an exciting possibility that banks on last year’s massive acorn crop and a mild winter paving the way for big bucks to get bigger and for more young bucks grow into legal racks.
“There’s no doubt something special is happening,” Burhans added. “For the past few months, hunters have been sending us trail-cam photos of amazing bucks, maybe even new state records. Our field officers also are seeing plenty of bucks from farm country to the big woods. Some are real wall-hangers out there.”
Larger-racked – and older – bucks are making up more of the deer harvest with each passing year. Last year, 149,460 bucks were taken by hunters, making it the second-largest buck harvest in Pennsylvania since antler restrictions were started in 2002.
In 2016, 56 percent of the antlered buck harvest was made up of bucks 2½-years-old or older, said Chris Rosenberry, who supervises the Game Commission’s Deer and Elk Section. The rest were 1½ years old.
“Older, bigger-racked bucks are more of the norm in the forests of Pennsylvania than they have been for at least a couple decades,” Rosenberry said. “There’s no doubt antler restrictions paved the way. It was a big step forward 15 years ago, and today we’re seeing the results for protecting young bucks.”
The statewide general firearms season runs from Nov. 27 to Dec. 9. In most areas, hunters may take only antlered deer during the season’s first five days, with the antlerless and antlered seasons then running concurrently from the first Saturday, Dec. 2, to the season’s close. In WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D, however, properly licensed hunters may take either antlered or antlerless deer at any time during the season.
Rules regarding the number of points a legal buck must have on one antler also differ in different parts of the state, and young hunters statewide follow separate guidelines.
For a complete breakdown of antler restrictions, WMU boundaries and other regulations, the Game Commission says to consult the 2017-18 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, which is available online at www.pgc.pa.gov.