Hunters are known for their great patience – and it’s a good thing, too.
Those eager to start the clock on yet another deer-hunting season are waiting out the latest-starting season opener in years.
Because of the way the calendar falls in 2013, and with the opening day of Pennsylvania’s general deer season traditionally held on the Monday following Thanksgiving, the state’s “unofficial holiday” kicks off a full week later than it does in some years.
But when that special day arrives, hunters statewide are likely to find the wait well worth it.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission is tracking deer populations as stable or increasing in nearly all of the state’s 23 wildlife-management units. That means another good opportunity awaits the approximate 750,000 hunters expected to take to the deer woods on the Dec. 2 opener, and for those hunting during the remainder of the season.
“The opening day of the firearms deer season is something most hunters look forward to all year, and waiting out those few extra days when the season falls late like this can test one’s patience,” said Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe. “But by 7 a.m. that first Monday, the wait all across Pennsylvania will be over, and tens of thousands of lasting memories will be made in the hours, days and weeks that follow.”
The statewide general firearms season runs from Dec. 2 to Dec. 14. In many parts of the state, properly licensed hunters may take either antlered or antlerless deer at any time during the season. In other areas, hunters may take only antlered deer the season’s first five days, with the antlerless and antlered seasons then running concurrently from the first Saturday, Dec. 7 to the season’s close.
Rules regarding the number of points a harvested buck must have on one antler also are different in different parts of the state, and young hunters statewide follow separate guidelines.
For a complete breakdown of regulations, consult the 2013-14 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, which is issued to hunters at the time they purchase their licenses. The digest also is available online at the Game Commission’s website, www.pgc.state.pa.us.
One very important regulation that applies statewide is the requirement for each hunters to wear a minimum of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange material on his or her head, chest and back combined. An orange hat and vest will satisfy the requirement. And for safety’s sake, nonhunters who might be in the outdoors during the deer season and other hunting seasons might also want to consider wearing orange at this time.
While deer populations are being tracked as stable or increasing in most of the state, many other factors influence deer hunting, said Chris Rosenberry, who supervises the Game Commission’s deer and elk section.
The availability of food sources in an area plays a role in the deer harvest at a local level, he said.
This year has produced a spotty acorn crop statewide, said David Gustafson, the Game Commission’s chief forester. A late spring frost affected white oaks and chestnut oaks. And a cold and wet spring in 2012 affected red oaks, which take two years to produce. Those conditions have combined to limit acorn availability in many areas.
That’s not to say there aren’t acorns to be found, Gustafson said. In some cases, though, it can take some work to find them. Meanwhile, soft-mast and fruit crops have been good this year statewide, he said.
And Gustafson said he’s seen areas this year where food has appeared more plentiful in the low-hanging parts of valleys.
In any case, finding those food sources can be the key to hunting success.
While factors like food and weather can influence the deer harvest, Rosenberry said it’s unlikely the late start will play much of a role.
The timing of deer-hunting seasons in relation to the deer’s breeding season, commonly referred to as the rut, can impact the harvest, he said. But he said other factors typically are more important, as evidenced by deer harvests in different seasons with either early or late starts.
Those hunters taking part in the season have a sizeable chance of taking home a trophy. A good crop of adult bucks is produced each year statewide, and last year’s harvest resulted in about 200 new entries into Pennsylvania’s Big Game Records Program, which recognizes exceptional whitetails, bears and elk.
Meanwhile, hunting license sales also are slightly ahead of their 2012 pace.
All of it adds to the potential for an outstanding deer season, Roe said.
“Considering deer and hunter numbers both are good, the pieces are in place for a great season,” Roe said. “And for those hunters who harvest their ‘buck of a lifetime’ this year, it will be the best season ever.
“That chance lies in store for the hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians who will take part in our deer seasons,” he said. “I hope each of them soon discovers that, indeed, good things come to those who wait.”
Hunters during the statewide firearms season can harvest antlered deer if they possess a valid general hunting license, which costs $20.70 for adult residents and $101.70 for adult nonresidents.
Each hunter between the ages of 12 and 17 must possess a junior license, which costs $6.70 for residents and $41.70 for nonresidents.
Hunters younger than 12 must possess a valid mentored youth hunting permit and be accompanied at all times by a properly licensed adult mentor, as well as follow other regulations.
In order to harvest antlerless deer, hunters must possess either a valid antlerless deer license or a valid DMAP permit.
Antlerless deer licenses can be used only within the wildlife management unit for which they’re issued. DMAP permits can be used only on the specific properties for which they’re issued.
For many areas, antlerless licenses or DMAP permits might already be sold out. License availability can be checked online through the Game Commission’s website.
Licenses can be purchased online, but as the season nears, hunters might find it better to purchase licenses in person. Deer licenses purchased online are mailed, meaning they might not arrive in time if purchased too close to the start of the season.
Tagging and reporting
A valid tag must be affixed to the ear of each deer harvested before that deer is moved. The tag must be filled out in ink by the hunter.
Within 10 days of a harvest, a successful hunter is required to make a report to the Game Commission. Harvests can be reported online at the Game Commission’s website, www.pgc.state.pa.us by clicking on the blue “Report a Harvest” button on the home page. Harvests can also be reported by mailing in the postage-paid cards inserted into the 2013-14 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, or successful hunters can call 1-855-PAHUNT1 (1-855-724-8681) to report by phone. Those reporting by phone are asked to have their license number and other information about the harvest ready at the time they call.
Mentored youth hunters are required to report deer harvests within five days.
Reporting deer harvests helps to better estimate deer populations in wildlife management units and statewide, and hunters are asked to do their parts in this important process.
Chronic wasting disease
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been detected in two areas of Pennsylvania, and special rules apply to hunters within each Disease Management Area (DMA).
There are two DMAs. DMA 1 encompasses parts of York and Adams counties. DMA 2 includes parts of Bedford, Blair, Huntingdon and Cambria counties.
For the specific boundary line of each DMA, check the Game Commission’s website or turn to the 2013-14 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest.
Hunters may not remove from a DMA any deer parts deemed to have a high-risk of transmitting CWD. The head, backbone and spinal cord are among those high-risk parts, and successful hunters who live outside a DMA can remove and deposit high-risk parts in dumpsters that have been set up on state game lands within each DMA. They can then transport the meat and other low-risk parts outside the DMA.
Hunters can also take their harvests to a processor or taxidermist within the DMA, and the processor or taxidermist can properly dispose of the high-risk parts. In some cases, processors and taxidermists just beyond the border of a DMA have been approved as drop-off sites and those facilities appear on the list of cooperating processors and taxidermists available on the Game Commission’s website.
The Game Commission will be taking samples from about 1,000 deer in each DMA, but just because a hunter drops a deer off at a processor or taxidermist, or deposits high-risk parts in a dumpster on game lands, doesn’t mean the deer will be tested for CWD.
To ensure a harvested deer will be tested, hunters can make arrangements with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Veterinary Laboratory. There is a fee associated with testing. More information about this process can be found online at www.agriculture.state.pa.us.
Transporting a deer head outside a DMA so the deer can be disease-tested at a lab is a permitted exception to the rule prohibiting the removal of high-risk parts from a DMA. Deer heads should be double-bagged in plastic garbage bags before they are removed from the DMA.
Chronic wasting disease is transmitted from deer to deer by direct and indirect contact. It is always fatal to deer that become infected, but it is not known to be transmitted to humans.
Out of an abundance of caution, people are advised not to consume meat from deer that test positive for CWD.
For more information on CWD and rules applying within DMAs, visit the Game Commission’s website.
Logo courtesy Pennsylvania Game Commission