Pa. firearms deer sea­son kicks off on Mon­day

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - Tom Ta­tum Colum­nist

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.

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