Mifflinburg, Pa, — The hunters’ voices were loud, clear and unified – “We want more deer.”
On March 22, nearly 100 people filled the meeting hall of the Buffalo Valley Sportsmen’s Association near Mifflinburg, in Union County. The hunters were there to share their views with the president of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Dave Putnam, and Commissioner Charlie Fox.
Phil Wagner, northcentral director for the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania and a Buffalo Valley club life member, moderated the meeting.
After introducing the guests, Wagner pointed at a map of the Bald Eagle State Forest and, more specifically, the areas where he hunts.
“Back in 2002, I met at R.B. Winter State Park with former game commissioner Russ Schleiden to discuss our low deer numbers. Schleiden told me that we should wait a few years to see how it plays out,” Wagner said. “Well, I’ve been waiting 12 years and the hunting has only gotten worse.
“During bear season, we put on 30 drives over the last three years and saw only 30 deer. Some of those might have been the same deer seen twice,” Wagner added, as he again pointed toward different sections of the state forest map near the park.
Wagner asked for an honest show of hands to a series of over a dozen questions, such as: How many of you hunted deer in Union County last year? How many harvested a deer? He then called on hunters to share their hunting experiences in Union County and, more specifically, in Bald Eagle State Forest.
Lowell Weeder, of rural Lewisburg, began, “The hunting is bad here. I have seen just two deer in six years of hunting.”
Another hunter described taking a 35-mile drive through parts of the Bald Eagle State Forest and surrounding land on the second day of buck season last year. “It was about a 45-minute drive, and I counted only 11 hunters, and I saw no deer.”
He did admit that, on one bear drive two seasons ago, his group pushed out 22 deer, while many of the other drives produced no deer.
“I have two young boys that I would like to interest in hunting, and I don’t think that it is possible with the way things are,” said Leroy Gabel, of Lewisburg. “Deer hunting on public land in Union County is just terrible.”
Wayne Klingman, of Mifflinburg, shared his experiences.
“It used to be that I would see 50 to 100 deer on just the opening day. Now you are lucky if you see five,” Klingman said.
Many other hunters complained about the use of the Deer Management Assistance Program on the state forest, the long deer seasons, poor habitat in the Bald Eagle State Forest, high numbers of predators and the Game Commission’s antlerless deer license allocations.
Wagner then called on the commissioners to address hunter concerns.
Commissioner Putnam defended his agency’ Deer Management Assistance Program.
“DMAP is a good program if used properly. They used DMAP at Lake Raystown to knock down the deer population and they got lots of oak regeneration. Then they let the deer population grow again,” he explained.
“Another place where DMAP has worked extremely well is on the Allegheny National Forest. DMAP permits are issued for sections of the Bald Eagle State Forest at a rate of one permit for 50 acres. I don’t know the details about their justification for using DMAP, but I will look into it.”
Putnam also noted that the wildlife habitat on much of the Bald Eagle State Forest, which is managed by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, is poor.
“Their trees are just too old. Oaks don’t produce acorns every year, and you have to have enough brush and browse to see the deer through every winter. We can’t bring the deer back if there is a tight canopy,” he said.
“You also have to remember that DCNR’s mission is different from that of the Game Commission’s.
Commissioner Fox discussed our state’s aging population of hunters and how portable treestands have changed hunting and the number of deer seen.
“Our hunting style has changed. No one moves deer anymore,” he said.
Fox also spoke about the positive effects of fire and how the weights of deer taken from his hunting camp in Potter County have improved.
“During the past 10 years, we have seen a gradual increase in the weight of the deer harvested at our camp,” Fox said. “It is now up about 15 pounds.”
There was more discussion about the perverse thickets of mountain laurel in the Bald Eagle State Forest and the forest’s ability to support deer. Repeated criticisms were leveled at DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry for only caring about the trees and not deer or hunters.
Former game commissioner Tom Boop sat quietly in the back, but finally came forward to address the group.
“I told my wife that I wasn’t going to say anything, but I’m concerned about some of the discussion,” Boop said. “I’m afraid that the take-away from this meeting will be that we just don’t have the habitat in Union County to support deer.
Well, that just isn’t true.”
Boop thinks that there is much that the Game Commission and the DCNR could do to improve the situation.
“Charlie (Fox) and I agree with almost everything that has been said here today about the habitat and deer numbers,” Putnam said. “The commission already changed WMU 4D to a split season, rather than two weeks of concurrent buck-and-doe season.
“We can’t change the habitat on state forest land. What we can do is lower the antlerless license allocation and look more closely at DCNR’s DMAP requests for the Bald Eagle State Forest. I promise that we will work on this.”