Agency: Deer kill is down by 14%

Harrisburg — Hunters killed fewer deer in Pennsylvania this past season than the one before it,  according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Will that decline prompt big changes?

Some suspect yes, but others say no.

According to figures recently released by the commission, hunters harvested an estimated 303,973 deer in 2014-15. That’s a decrease of about 14 percent compared to the estimated 2013-14 harvest of 352,920. 

The buck harvest wasn’t down quite so low. Hunters took 119,260 antlered deer, the agency reported. That was 11 percent down over the year prior, when hunters killed 134,280.

But the doe harvest was down 16 percent, from 218,640 to 184,713.

Commission officials attributed that drop to several factors.

Executive Director Matt Hough said that “while it’s impossible to provide explanations with certainty,” the reduced number of doe tags available to hunters played a role. The commission last year allocated 59,500 fewer doe tags.

“Records show it takes an allocation of about four antlerless licenses to harvest one antlerless deer, so a reduced antlerless harvest was anticipated due to a reduced allocation,” said a commission statement.

Poor weather in the firearms deer season was also likely a factor, said commission President Dave Putnam, of Centre County. It was unusually warm on opening day in places, cold, wet and rainy in others he noted. The first Saturday of the season – when does became legal statewide – was also marked by rain, fog and more.

“When the weather is warmer, hunters tend to sit tight longer, and the deer tend to move less, as well. Meanwhile, adverse weather can be just about unhuntable and the deer seek cover, too, which decreases hunter success rates,” Putnam said.

An abundance of acorns across much of the state likewise made it possible for deer to eat well without moving much, making them less visible to hunters, the commission said.

Some aren’t buying it, though.

Randy Santucci, president of the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsyl­vania, said many hunters believe deer numbers are just too low across much of the state.

“Listen, when we had so many deer you could see 40 or 50 a day, that was too many,” Santucci said. “We probably had to reduce populations some. But I’d sure like to see more than one or two a day. We’ve gone to the other extreme.”

He thinks the commission may finally be ready to do something about it.

Santucci said the current members of the board seem less wedded to the deer program than their predecessors. He pointed to the fact that they reduced the number of doe tags last year and went away from concurrent buck and doe seasons across most of the state this winter as proof.

That gives him hope that commissioners may do more, and perhaps reduce the number of doe licenses again this spring, perhaps significantly, he said.

“All indications are they’re moving in the direction of throttling things back a little bit,” he said. “I’m hoping they’re going to continue that in April and maybe allow herds to come back a little bit.”

The commission’s already done that, though, Putnam said. He commonly hears that the “commission wants to kill all the deer,” he said.

“The reality is, we moved away from trying to reduce the deer herd years ago. We’ve actually let numbers come back up, significantly in some areas, like (Wildlife Management Unit) 2G,” he said.

Some commissioners may want to reduce doe tag numbers, in places anyway. Commissioner Brian Hoover, of Delaware County, said publicly in January that he would anticipate the commission offering fewer tags in unit 5C, now that it’s likely to be smaller in size this fall, for example.

But will the commission go much further than that? Board member Ron Weaner, of Adams County, said he hasn’t heard that.

He’s heard the kind of speculation Santucci expressed, and read articles suggesting the same thing.

But he’s not expecting any radical changes, he said. Certainly no one within the agency is recommending that, so far as he knows, Weaner said. He’s not heard any commissioners promoting that either, he added.

What he has heard is resistance to another change.

Commissioners in January, in giving preliminary approval to seasons and bag limits for this fall, removed all but five wildlife management units from the list of ones with concurrent hunting.

In the time since, commissioners have heard from many sportsmen – “I’m not saying thousands, but a significant number – who hunt in wildlife management units where commissioners have recommended going away from two weeks of concurrent buck and doe hunting in the rifle season. Almost all are opposed to the change, he said.

“Almost all of it is from people saying, no, I don’t want this to happen. It’s all negative,” Weaner said.

In the meantime, the commission pointed out that Pennsylvania is not the only state that saw a drop in its deer harvest this past year. Neighboring states saw the same, it added.

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