The traditional after Thanksgiving firearms deer hunting season opener (Monday, Nov. 27) has, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC), the largest turnout of hunters who harvest about a quarter of the season’s bucks. But the agency says this season has the potential of seeing a buck harvest increase for the third straight year.
The reasoning behind this, says PGC Executive Director Bryan Burhans, is due to last year’s massive acorn crop and mild winter that paved the way for big bucks to get bigger and for more young bucks grow into legal racks.
Said Burhans, “There’s no doubt something special is happening. For the past few months, hunters have been sending us trail-cam photos of amazing bucks, maybe even new state records. Our field officers are seeing plenty of bucks from farm country to the big woods. Some are real wall-hangers.”
The PGC says that larger racked older bucks are making up more of the deer harvest with each passing year. Last year, 149,460 bucks were taken, making it the second largest buck harvest in Pennsylvania since antler restrictions were started in 2002.
Chris Rosenberry, PGC deer biologist, says that in 2016, 56 percent of the antlered buck harvest was made up of bucks 2 1/2 years old and older, with the rest being 1 1/2 years old.
Rosenberry goes on to say, “Older, bigger-racked bucks are more of the norm in the forests of Pennsylvania than they have been for at least a couple decades. There’s no doubt antler restrictions paved the way. It was a big step forward 15 years ago, and today we’re seeing the results for protecting young bucks.”
That statement on antler restrictions drew a lot of flack from sportsmen back then when Gary Alt, former famed bear biologist turned deer manager, proposed the restrictions. In retrospect, it appears Alt did the right thing.
As for the conditions, Dave Gustafson, PGC Forestry Division chief, said there were regional bumper crops of red oak acorns last year, the deer’s favorite food. But despite cyclical years, field officers are seeing decent red-oak acorn crops this year too. And areas that didn’t see red-oak acorns last year, have a better-than-average crop this year. He surmises that hunters who find acorns beneath white and chestnut oaks are likely to find other oak trees that are producing acorns in numbers.
“Hunters seeking deer feeding areas need to look for beechnuts, Crabapples and other soft mast. Deer make a mess when they eat, so hunters should look for raked-up leaves, droppings and partially eaten mast,” Gustafson suggests.
Added to this, and because of the warm fall we experienced, the rut may still be on for at least the first week of the season. According to Bob Danenhower, of Bob’s Taxidermy in Orefield, when the weather is warm like we had during the archery season, doe (antlerless deer) may not go into heat as quickly. So if the rut continues, it should make for an interesting start to the firearms deer hunting season.
PGC PHOTO CONTEST
The PGC is sponsoring their first Beyond the Hunt Photo Contest, that offers hunters an opportunity to win a generous price package.
But unlike the typical grin-with-deer photo, this contest encourages a photo of the landscape or wildlife surrounding your favorite hunting spot, the person sitting bedside you in the stand, the meal you share after a successful hunt or any other special moment of your Pennsylvania hunting experience.
To enter, submit a photo showing an aspect of hunting other than the harvest and provide a short explanation about why it’s meaningful to you. Hunters may enter multiple submissions to email@example.com using “BTH” in the subject line.
There’s also the Buck Harvest Photo Contest that does allow including your trophy buck taken in Pennsylvania during the archery and firearms seasons. Again, multiple entries may be submitted but they must be sent in by Dec. 17 to the above PGC email address. These winners will receive trail cameras.
Nick Hromiak has been an outdoors and automotive writer for over 30 years. He's been published in numerous national and state-wide outdoor magazines and newspapers.