Pa. firearms deer season kicks off on Monday
On the flight back from our Texas hunting trip last week, West Chester’s Ron Dill pulled up some smartphone photos of a couple of huge Chester County whitetail bucks for me to view. The photos, taken by Dill’s trail camera on his Chesco hunting grounds, showed two different mature deer with very impressive headgear. “These are the two bucks I’ll be hunting next week,” he declared.
Dill’s heightened anticipation and palpable excitement about opening day of the state’s firearms deer season is typical of Pennsylvania hunters this time of year as they look forward to the traditional whitetail deer opener that always occurs on the Monday following Thanksgiving. And right now that heavily circled date on the outdoorsman’s calendar is only a few days away.
That means thousands of the state’s hunters, just like Dill, are hoping to encounter the bruiser buck of their dreams. “The prospect of bagging a trophy buck in Pennsylvania probably has never been better,” said Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough. “More and more of the buck harvest is being made up of mature bucks. In the 2015-16 seasons, an incredible 59 percent of bucks taken by hunters were ages 2½ or older. And many of these deer are absolute wall-hangers that any hunter would be proud to take.
“But whether you’re fortunate enough to encounter one of these trophies this season, or your buck of a lifetime will have to wait for a future season, the coming firearms deer season is something to which we all can look forward,” Hough said. “It’s a tradition that’s about more than just harvesting deer. It’s about family and friends enjoying the outdoors together. Moreover, it’s what being a Pennsylvanian is all about.”
Deer hunters should keep in mind that food availability always influences deer movements and deer hunting, and this year has been one of the best in memory for red-oak acorn production statewide. While that’s a good thing for the deer that live in areas where red-oak acorns are especially abundant, it could make for tougher deer hunting there.
When mast crops are abundant, deer don’t have to move much to find food. And studies show deer harvests tend to drop in years of abundant mast. At the same time, hunters can be reasonably confident that if they’re hunting in an area with available food, deer are in the area, as well. The presence in that area of other hunters who, through their activity, might move deer, leading to increased movements and sightings, and a better chance for harvest.
Participation in the firearms deer season has been trending downward in recent years as the archery deer season has become more popular with hunters and more deer are taken in the archery season prior to the firearms deer season. Archery license sales have increased annually since 2007. And in the 2015-16 seasons, deer harvested during archery seasons accounted for 31 percent of the overall deer harvest.
Still, the opening day of the firearms deer season is like no other. In 2015, 27 percent of the total deer harvest – and 47 percent of the buck harvest – occurred on the opening day. And this year, an estimated 550,000 hunters statewide are expected to take part in the firearms season’s opening day, which widely is regarded as an unofficial holiday in Pennsylvania and many of our local deer hunters will report to their upstate deer camps this weekend to celebrate it.
Both upstate and local deer hunters have pretty fair prospects of collecting their venison next week. Deer populations are being tracked as stable or increasing in each of the state’s 23 wildlife management units according to Christopher Rosenberry, who supervises the Game Commission’s Deer and Elk Section.
In fact, the chances to take a trophy buck in Pennsylvania might be better than ever. Rosenberry said 59 percent of the bucks harvested in the 2015-16 seasons were 2½ years old or older – the highest percentage recorded in decades.
Back in 2002, only 20 percent of the bucks harvested were 2½ years old or older. Aside from the red-oak acorn crop, mast crops such as whiteand chestnut-oak acorns, beechnuts, apples, berries and grapes are spotty statewide – good in some areas, poor in others.
In forested areas where mast is spotty overall, deer are likely to concentrate where food is available, and finding food might uncover a potential deer hotspot. Also, the Game Commission this year has increased the number of Deer Hunter Focus Areas on state game lands statewide.
These areas, which are posted with signs that identify them to hunters, have undergone recent timber harvests or other habitat projects, creating new forest growth that could be causing deer to concentrate there because young forest is an important deer food source. An interactive map of Deer Hunter Focus Areas and a list of state game lands containing Deer Hunter Focus Areas is available at the Game Commission’s website.
The 12-day statewide general firearms season runs from Nov. 28 to Dec. 10. In most areas, hunters may take only antlered deer during the season’s first five days, with the antlerless and antlered seasons then running concurrently from the first Saturday, Dec. 3, to the season’s close. In WMUs 2B, 5A, 5B, 5C and 5D (Chester County), however, properly licensed hunters may take either antlered or antlerless deer at any time during the season which stretches through Dec. 10.
Incidentally Ron Dill is also an avid bowhunter, but throughout our archery season here, never glimpsed either of those two bruiser bucks his trailcam captured. Just goes to show you how wily and elusive those big bucks can be. While the statewide archery season closed last Saturday (Nov. 12), our archery season here in Wildlife Management Units 5C and 5D runs through this Saturday, Nov. 26.
Pennsylvania deer hunters will begin their quest for a big buck like this one when the firearms season opens on Monday, Nov. 28.
Pennsylvania deer hunters are looking forward to bagging a decent buck like this one when the fireamrs deer season opens on Monday, Nov. 28.