Deer harvests fell in neighbor states, too

By Jeff
Mulhollem
Editor

Altoona, Pa. — Pennsylvania was not the only state in the
Northeast to see its 2005-06 deer harvest fall. In fact, the deer
kills in most neighboring states dropped by similar amounts.

According to Pennsylvania Game Commission estimates, the deer
kill of 354,390 was nearly 55,000 deer lower than the 2004-05
harvest of 409,320. That represents a dropoff of 13 percent.

The buck harvest of 120,500 was only slightly lower than the
year before. But the antlerless harvest of 233,890 was 18 percent
lower than the previous year.

One of the major reasons for the drop, according to statements
from the agency, is that it sold 15 percent fewer antlerless deer
licenses in regions where deer numbers had declined. Also blamed
was a 5 percent drop in the number of hunters who bought general
licenses.

Interestingly, New York’s whitetail harvest decline nearly
mirrored Pennsylvania’s, falling by 14 percent from the previous
year. In the Empire State during the 2005 season, hunters harvested
slightly more than 180,200 deer, including 89,000 bucks and
approximately 91,200 antlerless deer.

The year before, hunters in New York took 208,000 deer. The 2005
harvest was the lowest in New York since 1994, but it was expected
because New York wildlife-management officials had cut back by 35
percent on the availability of deer management permits (doe
licenses), an action they said was intended to rebuild and
stabilize the deer population in many areas of the state.

In Ohio, for the third year in a row, hunters killed more than
200,000 deer – a milestone in the Buckeye State. Still the 2005-06
harvest of 209,513 whitetails represented a 3 percent decline in
the harvest from the year before.

In West Virginia, the total 2005 harvest of 84,137 was comprised
of 64,547 bucks and 27,790 antlerless deer. The buck harvest was 12
percent lower than the year before.

The antlerless harvest was 37 percent lower than in 2004 and,
according to a West Virginia Department of Natural Resources
spokesman, the direct result of more conservative antlerless
deer-hunting regulations in place last fall, including fewer
counties open to antlerless deer hunting and lower antlerless bag
limits in many areas.

Deer hunters in Maryland killed 94,052 deer during the 2005-06
season, according to that state’s Department of Natural Resources.
That harvest was a modest increase over the 93,868 deer harvested
in the 2004-05 season.

The Maryland buck harvest of 32,837 decreased 5.2 percent from
the year before (including 798 sika deer), while the antlerless
harvest increased approximately 3.4 percent to 61,215 deer
(including 866 sika deer).

Even among Pennsylvania game commissioners, the deer harvest
numbers drew widely different reactions, from derision to
support.

“When I read the press release I felt it had to be a joke – how
are they able to stand there and look people in the eye and tell
them that many deer were taken?” said Commissioner Steve Mohr, of
Lancaster County.

“All the hunters know it’s not true. I just didn’t think that
(agency Executive Director) Carl Roe would allow statements to go
out that we can’t back up. I never thought he would do that.

“I don’t know that there is any intentional dishonesty in the
numbers, but there sure isn’t a lot in them to give you any faith
in the system,” Mohr added. “I don’t know who would benefit from
misrepresenting the harvest, because sooner or later they’ll have
to pull their foot out of their mouth.”

“It just continues to put doubt even in the minds of the folks
who had previously supported the Game Commission.”

Commissioner Greg Isabella, of Philadelphia, on the other hand,
believes the harvest numbers are credible. “I have faith in the
figures because the method our biologists use has been certified
and peer-reviewed,” he said. “Hunters gotta have a little faith in
our program. We just finished the fourth year of our program, and
we are going into the fifth year.

“I want to see everything reviewed soon – even the antler
restrictions, but a lot of big bucks were shot this year, so I
believe they are working. Talk to the butcher shop owners – the
deer are bigger.”

Mohr couldn’t disagree more strongly. “Why give out harvest
numbers if you can’t defend them? Why come out with numbers that
are just guesses?” he asked. “I think we should just tell the
people the truth – that we don’t know how many deer were
killed.

“I don’t think hunters would get upset the way they are now if
we told them that we are working on the program and trying to
figure it out,” Mohr continued. “People want numbers, but they want
accurate numbers. This is a j-o-k-e. That’s what it is. Our
biologists are working from data that they have admitted is not
valid. No way hunters killed that many deer.”

Isabella expects members of the Unified Sportsmen of
Pennsyl-vania – who have sued the Game Commission over its deer
herd-reduction policy – to refuse to accept the harvest numbers.
“The people with agendas in these fringe groups are going to try to
pick our numbers and our decisions apart,” he said. “A lot of these
people want to go back to the old ways – two weeks of buck season
followed by three days of doe season. But that’s what got us to
where we are now with the depleted habitat.

“The executive director has said he wants several options by the
April 17-18 meeting for managing deer in every WMU. But we are
managing by WMU now by adjusting the number of antlerless licenses
we make available to hunters.”

Mohr isn’t buying it, and he points to both New York and West
Virginia backing way off their own deer-herd reduction programs as
proof the Pennsylvania Game Commission is on the wrong track.

“It wasn’t so long ago that New York and West Virginia were in
lock step with the commission in selling so many doe licenses,” he
said.

“But you saw that it didn’t take very long that those states
changed their tune and started talking about rebuilding and
stabilizing their deer herds. That’s what we should be doing in
Pennsylvania.”

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