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Pennsylvania's Firearms Deer Season Kicks off Saturday
Pennsylvania Ag Connection - 11/23/2022

It's one thing to dream of winning the lottery. It's another to base your entire financial future on the long odds of it actually happening.

The wiser course is to seek out an investment offering reliable, consistent returns.

Something that's as stable as, let's say, Pennsylvania deer hunting. Over the long term, hunters here take, on a per square mile basis, more deer than their counterparts almost anywhere in the country. That's how things have long been. It's how they remain.

Soon, hunters will have the opportunity to build on that trend again. Pennsylvania's statewide firearms deer season is set to begin. It kicks off on Nov. 26 continues Nov. 27 and runs through Dec. 10. Hunting is closed only on Dec. 4.

What hunters will encounter is, by all indications, a deer herd that's doing just fine.

David Stainbrook, Deer and Elk Management Section Supervisor for the Game Commission, said one way to measure trends is to look at the buck harvest per square mile. That's a good general barometer of deer population abundance.

According to the National Deer Association, in the 10 hunting seasons between 2011 and 2020, Pennsylvania ranked second in the nation for buck harvest per square mile three times, third twice, fourth three times and fifth twice. Buck harvests over the decade averaged 3.2 per square mile, right in keeping with last year's take.

Of course, the buck harvest per square mile varies between individual Wildlife Management Units (WMUs), with some producing more than others. WMU 2D, for example, produced 4.9 bucks per square mile each season over the last three, on average. That was tops in Pennsylvania. Seven other WMUs also averaged at least four bucks per square mile over that time, though: 1B (4.7), 4E (4.6), 2E (4.4), 3C (4.3), 2B (4.1), 2A (4.0) and 3A (4.0).

Pennsylvania's antlerless deer harvest, meanwhile, broken down on a per-square-mile-basis, also annually ranks among the best in the country. For those who want to experience that, antlerless licenses remain available in a few WMUs, as do Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) tags in places.

Add it all up and hunters can find deer -- bucks and antlerless deer both -- this fall across Pennsylvania, provided they're willing to work for them.

"Success in harvesting deer starts with scouting and knowing the land," Stainbrook said. "But patience and putting in time are important, too. Persistence matters, as one additional day hunting can make the difference between a successful season and an unsuccessful one."

A flexible season designed around when many people are off work -- the weekend after Thanksgiving -- provides the chance for hunters to get out just that way, all while making memories with family and friends.

"Pennsylvania's firearms deer season draws more than 600,000 hunters to Penn's Woods every year and it's not hard to see why," said Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. "A productive deer herd that, thanks to antler point restrictions, includes a high proportion of adult bucks, spread out across the Commonwealth, together with a season that's as user friendly as any we've offered, set the stage for an exciting time. I can't wait."

Hunt where the foods favored by wildlife are most abundant and you just might get to fill a tag. Don't and you may find yourself doing little more than enjoying the scenery.

That could be truer than ever for hunters this season.

Hard mast -- specifically acorns -- are very sporadic this year. Paul Weiss, Chief of the Game Commission's Forestry Division, said multiple regions of the state report poor acorn crops this fall, something that can be blamed on consecutive years of heavy spongy moth defoliation coupled with drought conditions in 2022.

That's not to say all is lost.

There are still pockets of moderate red oak acorn production, Weiss said, especially on State Game Lands sprayed to control spongy moths over the past two years. Red oak acorns take two years to mature, so stands that were sprayed last year are producing acorns now even if they were damaged this past spring.

Likewise, white and chestnut oak acorn crops are down compared to the bumper crop seen last year in areas not impacted by spongy moths. So much like the deer, hunters will have to search a bit to find those places where they're most plentiful. There aren't many such spots this fall, but there are enough in some areas to make looking for them worthwhile.

Hickory nuts, by comparison, are fairly consistent this year and can be found in sufficient supply.

As for soft mast, droughty weather also impacted it across much of the state. Still, Weiss said there are pretty good crabapple, hawthorn, and grape crops in most places, if not in the same abundance as last year.

In all cases, deer usually make a mess wherever they eat, so it shouldn't be hard to sort out whether they're using an area. Look for raked up leaves, droppings and partially eaten mast for confirmation.

Then, when setting up a hunting stand, use the prevailing wind to your advantage. It should blow from where you expect to see deer to your location.

Finally, dress for the weather and sit tight. There will be other hunters out there, too, some sitting, others still-hunting or driving for deer in groups. They might chase deer your way.

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