HARRISBURG ' Pennsylvania's only unofficial holiday - the Monday after Thanksgiving 'marks the opening day of the two-week general deer season, and will feature nearly 750,000 individuals sporting fluorescent orange throughout Penn's Woods, according to Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe.
New antler restrictions are in place this year for the five Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) in western Pennsylvania previously designated as a four-point on one side area. Under the new antler restrictions, which represent the first change since 2002, hunters in WMUs 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B and 2D need to identify three antler points, not including the brow tine, which is the point immediately above the antler burr. (Please see second article for details.)
Also, WMUs 2A, 2F and 3B have been added to the split-season structure, in which the first five days are open for antlered deer only and the remaining seven days are open for antlered and antlerless deer.
'Pennsylvania's deer season has a dramatic and beneficial effect on the Commonwealth, as it provides hunters a chance to put venison in the freezer,' Roe said. 'In addition to being a rich part of our state's heritage, deer season is critical in managing Pennsylvania's whitetails. The efforts of hunters are far-reaching; they help to keep deer populations in check, and enable the agency to meet deer management goals that benefit those who reside, visit or travel through this state.'
Roe noted that hunters will need to make sure that they have done their pre-season scouting, as fall food conditions, development, posted property and other factors will impact deer movements.
'Deer will respond to food availability and hunter pressure, both of which can vary from year to year, and from one area to another,' Roe said. 'Pre-season scouting can improve a hunter's chance for success this year, particularly in the week leading up to the start of season.
'Dramatic changes on the landscape will be just as important ' if not more important ' as looking for the highly nutritious acorns and other natural foods sought by game animals.'
Specifically, Roe cited Marcellus Shale-related drilling and recent Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee damages as examples of larger impacts on the landscape that may alter what hunters and trappers find in the forests and fields of Pennsylvania.
'The 'Big Woods' area of northcentral Pennsylvania, home to many of the traditional hunting camps, lies within the area being explored for Marcellus Shale natural gas, and has seen a dramatic increase in drilling,' Roe said. 'Northeastern Pennsylvania also has seen a large volume of Marcellus Shale activity.'
Roe also noted that there have been significant impacts on hunter accessibility in many areas of the state.
'Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee created widespread access issues on State Game Land roads, parking areas and trails,' Roe said. 'Although our Food and Cover Corps crews have worked hard to alleviate these problems, there just isn't enough time before the season to make all of it right. Pre-season scouting will acquaint you with access issues that may impact your hunting plans. So, do your homework before the opening day to ensure your days afield will be all you expect them to be.'
Deer season will open with a five-day, antlered deer-only season in Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) 2A, 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 3B, 3C, 4B, 4D and 4E from Nov. 28-Dec. 2. It is followed in these WMUs by seven days of concurrent, antlered and antlerless deer hunting beginning Dec. 3, and continuing through Dec. 10. The rest of the state follows the two-week concurrent, antlered and antlerless season ' Nov. 28-Dec. 10 ' that has been in place since 2001.
Hunters must wear 250 square inches of fluorescent orange material on the head, chest and back combined at all times while afield during the seasons. They also are advised that it's illegal to hunt, chase or disturb deer within 150 yards of any occupied building without the occupant's permission if they are using a firearm, or 50 yards if they are using a bow or crossbow.
During the two-week season, hunters may use any legal sporting arm, as outlined on page 45 of the 2011-12 Digest. Rifles are not permitted to be used in Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware or Montgomery counties, however, shotguns and muzzleloaders are legal. Deer hunters in Philadelphia may use only bows or crossbows.
All hunters who take a deer must fill out their harvest tag and attach it to the deer's ear before moving the carcass. The tag can be secured to the base of the ear with a string drawn very tightly, if the hunter plans to have the deer mounted. Cutting a slit in the ear to attach the tag will require additional work by a taxidermist.
Hunters are reminded that they have 10 days to report deer harvests (five days for persons using homemade tags). Reporting is easier than ever before. Hunters can report their kill using the postage paid card supplied with their 2011-12 Digest, or online using the Internet at www.pgc.state.pa.us, or calling 1-855-PAHUNT1 (1-855-724-8681). (Please see third article for more information.)