Harrisburg – In times gone by, hunters could go season to season
without ever looking at their hunting digest and still know what
deer season was going to look like.
The rules have changed year to year more recently, and 2011-12 will
apparently offer more of the same.
Pennsylvania Game Commissioners met here Jan. 30 to Feb. 1 to give
preliminary approval to seasons and bag limits for the coming
hunting and trapping year. The changes they initiated must still
get final approval in April when board members next gather.
Dealing with whitetails specifically, commissioners added three new
wildlife management units – 2A, 2F and 3B – to the list of those
where the first five days of the firearms deer season will offer
bucks-only hunting. The antlerless season would start on the
season’s first Saturday and continue through the second week.
The move – if given final approval by commissioners at their April
meeting – would leave 11 of the state’s 22 wildlife management
units with two weeks of concurrent buck and doe hunting and 11 with
a split-season format.
Commissioner Ralph Martone, of Lawrence County, said the move was
in response to requests from hunters.
Commissioner Jay Delaney, of Luzerne County, agreed, saying he
supported splitting deer season in unit 3B in part because the
800-member Luzerne County Federation of Sportsmen asked for
“We don’t just do these things to do them,” Delaney said.
Commissioners also changed the rules regarding antler restrictions
in five wildlife management units, all of them in the western part
of the state. The change has been referred to as a “three up”
It would allow hunters in units 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B and 2D – where
formerly bucks had to have at least four points on one side to be
legal – to shoot deer with just three points to a side.
That comes with one key limitation, however. Hunters cannot count a
brow tine as one of those points.
Hunters who see a buck with three points on its main antler beam
can “assume” it also has a brow tine and pull the trigger, said
Martone, who supported the change, along with Commissioner Bob
Schlemmer, of Westmoreland County, after hearing hunters say it’s
difficult to see brow tines under actual field conditions.
But they can’t shoot a buck with a brow tine and just two other
That makes the rule very different than the three-point restriction
in place everywhere else – where no assumptions about brow tines
are legal – and may cause some controversy, according to one
“I can already hear other hunters saying that if people in the
western part of the state can’t see brow tines how are we supposed
to see brow tines, and that’s a very valid argument,” said
Commissioner Ron Weaner, of Adams County.
Martone, though, said he would not support a “two-up” proposal for
the rest of the state, for the sake of the deer herd.
Game Commission research indicates that 88 percent of eight-point
bucks have a brow tine, he said; 12 percent do not.
Changing the four-point restriction to a three-up one will lead to
more bucks killed, but still protect enough 1.5-year-olds to
maintain the gains in herd age structure recorded over the last few
years, he said.
“I would not be in favor of going to a two-up in our three-point
areas because the evidence we have indicates we would not be able
to maintain that same level of protection for our yearling bucks in
those places,” he said.
Martone, along with Commissioner Dave Schreffler, of Bedford
County, did ask that biologists monitor bucks in what would be the
three-up areas to make sure the rule doesn’t have those kinds of
That can be done, but at a price, said Chris Rosenberry, head of
the commission’s deer team. Biologists will need to continue to
capture, radio collar and track bucks in various wildlife
management units, as the agency has been doing for several
“Not necessarily the cheapest way, but the best way, would be to
simply extend those studies,” Rosenberry said.
Yet more changes could be on the way, too.
Schlemmer asked staff to investigate the idea of shrinking wildlife
management unit 2B – which surrounds Pittsburgh – to “better
reflect” the fact that the city dominates it.
Right now, the commission allocates a lot of doe tags for that unit
in hopes that hunters will ease conflicts between deer and people,
he said. But too often, hunters target the edges of 2B where access
“The concentration is not getting into Allegheny County,” Schlemmer
said. “We’re going to have to look at better utilizing that
pressure. We need to force them to hunt in a smaller area.”
The commission is scheduled to look at the size of its management
units again in 2012, but Schlemmer asked for some recommendations
on unit 2B by the board’s April meeting.
Commissioner Tom Boop, of Northumberland County, meanwhile, hinted
that he will be asking for more changes to the deer program – all
aimed at increasing the number of deer out there – when the board
gathers in April.
Boop said that the 2009 buck harvest was the lowest on record since
1986; the doe kill was the lowest in the last decade. He fears that
the take this past year will be smaller yet. All of that has
combined to drastically reduce deer numbers, decrease hunting
pressure, close camps and force deer processors to shut their
doors, he said.
That’s the fault of the commission’s deer-management program, he
said, and it can’t be allowed to continue. Instead, changes need to
be made to allow the size of the deer herd to increase in all units
statewide save for the special regulation areas.
“I just think we need to change or we won’t be here 10 years from
now,” Boop said. “I hardly think we’re anywhere close to where we
need to be.”