Two weeks of concurrent deer season on the horizon in Pennsylvania
I was pleasantly surprised by a decision the Pennsylvania Game Commissioners made at their January meeting. They granted preliminary approval for the concurrent hunting of antlered and antlerless deer — statewide for the entire firearms deer season.
Firearms deer season is proposed to open on Saturday, Nov. 28 — only the second time that the season will open on a Saturday in over 50 years. Rifle deer hunting also would be allowed for the first time on a Sunday — Nov. 29. This would be the only Sunday when deer hunting is permitted during firearms deer season. The season would close on Saturday, Dec. 12. Thus, the concurrent antlerless season would be 14 days long — another first.
For a long time prior to 2001, Pennsylvania held two 6-day weeks of bucks-only deer season, followed by one or two days of antlerless deer hunting — always on weekdays. Things changed in 2001 — a 12-day concurrent buck and doe season was held, beginning the Monday after Thanksgiving. The move was done, according to the Pennsylvania Bulletin, “to emphasize the taking of antlerless deer … and limit harvesting of antlered deer.”
While some hunters, this writer included, liked the change, others hated it. Over 400 comments were received by the Commission in 2002 — those supporting concurrent seasons pointed out that it made more efficient use of their time in the woods. Those opposed wanted the seasons again separated (like they had been) and shared safety concerns —claiming to have observed hunters shooting at any deer that moved.
Notwithstanding the possibility that unsportsmanlike and unsafe conduct might have occurred, I only heard the normal one or two shots that were likely fired at a single deer — be it a doe or a legal buck. Since legal bucks had to have a spike at least three inches long or at least one antler with two or more points, ethical hunters still could not shoot at any deer that they saw.
When a complaining hunter would tell me, “If it’s brown, it’s down” — meaning hunters were shooting any deer that they see – I would politely ask, “I don’t do that. Is that what you do?” Never once did I get a hunter to say yes — it was always the mythical “other guys.”
In 2002, stricter antler restrictions were instituted, making three points to a side the minimum legal requirement in most of the state and four-to-a-side the rule in five wildlife management units in the far western quarter of the state. Exceptions were made for junior hunters, active military personal and a few other groups.
Unfortunately, negative voices grew louder, positions on the Board of Commissioners changed, and little by little concurrent two-week seasons were changed to what we had in 2018 — five days of bucks only, followed by seven days of concurrent buck and doe season. Last fall, it was six days of bucks only.
It now appears that the pendulum is swinging the other way. Two years ago, at the winter 2018 Commission meeting, several people offered comments requesting that concurrent seasons be brought back. One was Brad Nelson of the Kinzua Quality Deer Cooperative. The cooperative’s goals are to have healthier forests, healthier deer, and to improve hunting experiences on 74,000 acres of public and private land in northwestern Pennsylvania.
“As demographics and lifestyles change, we believe it is imperative for the Pennsylvania Game Commission to maximize the number and flexibility of options to enable those interested in hunting to participate around ever-more-restrictive work schedules and participate in ways that maximize the probability of success for new hunters and for senior hunters,” Nelson was quoted in the press at the time. Concurrent seasons add flexibility and encourage more participation.
Two years ago, commissioners were not interested in Nelson’s line of thinking. Now, with hunter recruitment and retention on the front burner, it is nice to see the commissioners changing course and favoring concurrent seasons.
Benefits — This should increase participation. There is more hunting flexibility and opportunity. The hunter decides when he or she wants to harvest a doe, just like they already can do during archery season. That opportunity, added to the extended bear season (which also occurs during deer season), allows hunters to maximize their time in the woods. And lastly, it is perfect for students and some workers who have only a few days to hunt.
Drawbacks — Fewer antlerless licenses will be sold to compensate for the longer season. Some hunters might not get a license. Because antlerless deer can be shot from the very first morning, people hunting during the second week could see fewer deer.
I am happy that the Commission is considering a return to a two-week concurrent buck and doe season. I hope that the naysayers consider the potential positive benefits before trying to derail the change.
Note that the changes mentioned earlier are proposed changes. All preliminarily-approved seasons and bag limits will be brought back to the April meeting for a final vote. Public comment will be accepted on the commission’s website, through the mail and in person prior to the commissioners’ final vote at their April 6-7 meeting. Check the agency’s website www.pgc.pa.gov for the exact dates when on-line and mail comments will be accepted.