Berks Brewery Fest slated for April 14.
The folks at the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) recently released the results of our 2017-2018 bear and deer hunting seasons. We’ll take a look at the bear harvest figures first, noting that, despite one of the worst opening days in more than three decades of bear hunting, Keystone State hunters scored yet another top ten bear harvest in 2017.
Hunters bagged 3,438 bears in the 2017 seasons with the archery harvest of 493 bears and the extended season harvest of 1,083 bears setting records for those seasons. Fortyeight bears weighing 500 pounds or more (including 14 weighing 600 pounds or more and two weighing 700 pounds or more) were part of the 2017 harvest. Bears were taken in 57 counties and 22 of Pennsylvania’s 23 Wildlife Management Units (WMUs).
The totals represent a rebound from a rough start to the firearms bear season when widespread wind and rain reduced hunter participation on opening day, traditionally the top day for bear hunters. Only 694 hunters were successful on opening day, compared to the usual 1,500 hunters that typically harvest a bear, according to Game Commission bear biologist Mark Ternent. “In fact, the last time opening-day harvest dipped below 700 bears was in 1982 when bear season was only two days and the statewide bear population numbered less than 5,000 animals,” Ternent said. The all-time bear harvest high was recorded in 2011 when 4,350 bears were harvested.
Participation returned to normal by the second day, and hunters proceeded to take 1,852 bears in the general season, which is just over 70 percent of the average, Ternent said. But new bearhunting opportunities – including an earlier bear archery season that overlaps with a week of the archery deer season, and expanded extended bear seasons – resulted in new records in those seasons, making up for some of the opening-day loss.
While the 2017 harvest was down compared to 2016’s harvest of 3,529, harvest totals increased within the Game Commission’s Northeast and Southeast Regions. The largest bear harvested in 2017 weighed an estimated 707 pounds. It was taken in Middle Smithfield Township, Monroe County, during the extended bear season in WMU 3D by Holly F. Scott, of Steelton, Pa. It was one of two 700-pound bears in the 2017 harvest. Chad A. Wagner, of Titusville, took a bear estimated at 700 pounds in Oil Creek Township, Venango County, during the firearms bear season.
Topping the bear harvest statistics was Lycoming County with 252 bears to take the top county bear harvest. Here in the southeast, hunters in Berks County scored on seven bruins, up from just two last year. As per usual, no bears were taken in Montgomery or Chester Counties. Prior to the start of the 2017 hunting seasons, the statewide bear population was estimated at 20,000.
The fact that a lowerthan-expected 2017 harvest still ranked among the best on record shows how special bear hunting in Pennsylvania has become, said Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “There’s no place like Pennsylvania for hunting bears, and there’s never been a time when hunters’ chances have been better,” Burhans said.
DEER DATA » According to the PGC, Pennsylvania’s buck harvest increased 10 percent, and the overall deer harvest also was up 10 percent in the state’s 201718 hunting seasons which closed back in January. Hunters harvested an estimated 367,159 deer in the 2017-18 seasons, which easily topped the overall deer harvest of 333,254 in the 2016-17 seasons. Across the 23 Wildlife Management Units (WMU) used by the Game Commission to manage whitetails, the deer harvest decreased in only three units.
Of course the key word in the above paragraph is “estimated.” Unlike the hard and fast bear harvest statistics where hunters are required to register their bears at check stations, there’s a significant caveat when it comes to calculating the deer harvest. That’s because the PGC relies on deer hunters submitting report cards to designate their buck and doe harvests, then compares these reports to random checks of tagged deer at meat processing shops in order to assess the number of deer harvested that may have gone unreported. It may be a flawed system, but it’s one the PGC has been depending on for many years.
With that caveat in mind, the 2017-18 buck harvest totaled 163,750, representing a 10 percent increase over the 2016-17 buck harvest of 149,460. It is the second largest harvest of bucks since antler restrictions were put in place in 2002. The largest harvest – 165,416 – occurred in the first year of antler restrictions. The 2017-18 buck harvest also compares well with big buck harvests in Pennsylvania since the Game Commission began using calculated harvests in 1986. From that perspective, the 2017-18 buck harvest ranks as the 10th best.
In the 1987-88 deer seasons, 16 percent of deer hunters took a legal buck. Ten years later, that rate increased to 19 percent. In the 2007-08 seasons, which were five years into antler restrictions, 15 percent of deer hunters took an antlered deer. In the 2017-18 seasons, more than 20 percent of deer hunters took an antlered deer.
The antlerless deer portion of the 2017-18 harvest also increased. Totaling 203,409, the antlerless harvest was up 11 percent over the 2016-17 antlerless harvest of 183,794. But that was by design. The 2017 antlerless license allocation increased about 7 percent over 2016’s allocation. Here in our corner of the Commonwealth, hunters in WMU 5C bagged 8,800 bucks and 15,600 antlerless deer; Those in WMU 5D downed 3,300 bucks and 7,500 antlerless deer.
Bowhunters accounted for about a third of Pennsylvania’s 2017-18 overall deer harvest, taking 118,110 deer (62,830 bucks and 55,280 antlerless deer) with either bows or crossbows. The archery harvest also increased 10 percent over 2016-17’s total harvest of 109,250. Muzzleloader hunters took 23,490 deer (1,310 bucks) in the 2017-18 seasons. This harvest also represented an about 10 percent increase in overall muzzleloader harvest.
The percentage of older bucks in the 2017-18 deer harvest remained high. About 57 percent of the bucks taken by hunters were at least 2½ years old. The remainder were 1½ years old. “Everywhere I go, hunters are telling me about and showing me photos of the trophy bucks they took last season,” said Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “It’s something that started months ago and hasn’t stopped. I consider it a pleasure to share their excitement and see their pride.”
TROUT STOCKINGS THIS WEEK » The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission stays busy this week with in-season trout stockings in our region. Streams slated for fresh batches of trout in Berks County include Antietam Creek (4/12), Antietam Reservoir (4/12), Manatawny Creek (4/9), Swabia Creek (4/9), and Willow Creek (4/12). In Chester County, the East Branch of the Brandywine Creek (4/9), Middle Branch of White Clay Creek (4/11), Pocopson Creek (4/9), and the Delayed Harvest section of West Valley Creek (4/9). Montgomery County’s Skippack Creek (4/9). SAVE THE DATE » Some important upcoming April dates in the Pennsylvania outdoors include the statewide opening day for trout season this Saturday, April 14, the spring gobbler youth hunt on Saturday, April 21, and the opening of spring gobbler season on April 28.