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Changes for deer season discussed

Posted on January 3, 2013

Harrisburg — Don’t be surprised if Pennsylvania’s deer seasons change again, perhaps in time for next fall, and maybe, in even bigger ways, in the not too distant future.

Pennsylvania game commis-sioners and agency staff gave some hints of what might be in the works at the board’s work group meeting in Harrisburg in December.

Calvin DuBrock, director of the Bureau of Wildlife Management, said the agency’s deer team is again going to recommend that the board adopt 12-day, concurrent buck and doe seasons for all of the state’s 22 wildlife management units.

That allows the agency to control deer numbers via the number of doe licenses made available, he said. DuBrock added that the commission is not in all cases meeting its deer goals in units with five days of buck-only hunting, followed by seven days of buck and doe hunting.

Long-term, concurrent seasons offer sportsmen more flexibility time-wise. That’s important to the next generation of hunters, he noted.

“The 12-day season is the preference of the people who are our future,” DuBrock said, noting that a deer hunter survey done by the commission found that hunters up through their 30s like it over any other option. It’s older hunters – those 60 and older – who form the basis of opposition to the 12-day season, he added.

Commissioner Ron Weaner, of Adams County, said that fact, and anecdotal evidence that shows people are shifting to hunt areas where concurrent buck and doe hunting is allowed throughout the firearms deer season, has him believing a 12-day season is the way to go.

Commissioner Jay Delaney, of Luzerne County, disagreed. He said the preference for a 12-day season, while real, is slight. He said he favors leaving things as is for a few more years.

Commissioner Dave Putnam, of Centre County, meanwhile, said it’s time to start thinking about an even more radical change. That would be moving the opening day of the firearms deer season – traditionally the Monday after Thanksgiving – to a Saturday instead.

The commission moved opening day of the statewide bear season to a Saturday a few years ago. That was heresy to some at the time, but has since become very popular, he said.

With surveys showing that hunters always cite a lack of time as the main reason they can’t get into the woods, could a Saturday opener for deer also be a good idea some time down the road, he wondered.

“A Saturday opener for deer might be something we want to talk about. I’m not sure we want to do it. But I think we want to discuss it,” Putnam said.

Commission President Ralph Martone, of Lawrence County, a teacher by trade, said school districts under pressure to meet state standards are increasingly going away from giving students the Monday opener off, too. That trend is only likely to continue, he said.

That’s another reason why it might be time soon to start thinking about whether a Saturday opener makes sense, he said.

“I think there’s validity in getting that discussion out there,” Martone said.

Starting the season on a Saturday might come with tradeoffs, though, said commission Executive Director Carl Roe.

In years’ past, when bear season started on a Monday, that was the busiest day in terms of hunter effort. Now Saturday – when more people can hunt without having to take a day off work – is by far the busier day, he said.

If the same were to hold true with deer, a likely scenario, the season might have to be shortened by a few days to account for a change in hunter behavior that would perhaps impact the harvest, he said.

DuBrock admitted that he could not say what impact opening deer season on a Saturday might have, but commissioners have asked him to investigate the idea and report back to them.

In the meantime, Martone asked staff to investigate whether it might be possible to add another week to the archery deer season without hurting the deer herd. That prompted some concern among fellow board members.

In the early 1990s, the archery harvest was about 5 percent of the total deer harvest. Now it’s about 25 percent, according to commission figures.

Giving archers more time – and allowing them to take a greater percentage of the deer, and bucks in particular, given that an extended archery season would go into the rut – could turn off rifle hunters who only get out one or two days a year, but who make up a large percentage of license buyers, said Weaner.

“They may not seem like ‘real hunters’ to some people, given how little time they get to spend in the woods. But they’re still buying licenses. We need to keep as many of them as possible,” Weaner said. “I don’t think disenfranchising them is the way to go.”

Martone, though, said archers aren’t killing too many deer, as some believe.

“If archers were buying one- third of the licenses and taking two-thirds of the deer, I wouldn’t hesitate to change things. But they’re buying one-third of the licenses and taking one-third of the deer,” he said. “I think that’s fair.”