Pennsylvania’s annual firearms deer hunting season gets underway Saturday, Nov. 28 instead of the traditional Monday opener. And as a first, the opener is followed by a Sunday (Nov. 29) deer hunting opportunity. The season then continues from Nov. 30 – Dec. 12.
Aside from the first Sunday firearms hunt, there has been some added changes. For hunters in 10 Wildlife Management Units (WMUs), they will have concurrent antlered/antlerless hunting throughout the 14-day season. But that’s not all.
According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC), the firearms season has a new twist in that a regulatory change now allows hunters to harvest a second deer before tagging the first as has been required. Provided of course hunters have the appropriate harvest tags and no attempt is made to move the deer before it’s tagged.
During the 2019-2020 season, hunters took 389,431 deer, the highest overall deer harvest in 15 years. This was the second highest since the 2004-05 seasons when 409,320 were taken.
The 2019-20 statewide buck harvest of 163,240 saw a 10-percent increase in the number of bucks taken over the 2018-19 season when 147,750 bucks were taken.
“The size and quality of bucks in Penn’s Woods right now, probably hasn’t been duplicated in the Commonwealth in over 150 years,” noted PGC Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “The number of record book bucks taken is incredible. In fact, it’s beginning to look like no rack sitting atop record-book listings in unapproachable.” You won’t believe what’s running around Penn’s Woods,” he concluded.
Surprisingly, the PGC made no mention of former deer biologist Gary Alt’s plan to institute a point restriction in areas of the state. Alt came under heavy criticism after this move. But judging what Burhans has said, it seems Alt’s plan back then has now reaped bigger racks on Pennsy bucks.
Insofar as bucks are concerned, the PGC says hunters continue to experience antlered-buck harvest-success levels comparable to historic highs in the late 1990’s and early 2000s. The agency notes that in recent years, about 22 percent of all hunters have harvested an antlered deer, and they look for this trend to continue.
Likewise, the 2019-20 antlerless deer harvest was 226,191 which included 10,461 taken with CWD Deer Management Assistance Program permits. This was similar to the 2018-19 overall antlerless deer harvest of 226,940. In 2017-18 seasons, the antlerless harvest was 203,409.
Pennsylvania’s buck harvest increased for three consecutive years until the 2018-19 firearms season’s opener when heavy rain kept many hunters home. But last season, there was an uptick in buck harvest numbers. It also caused the percentage of 2.5-year old bucks being taken. During the 2019-20 seasons, 2.5-year old and older bucks comprised 66 percent of the buck harvest, up from 64 percent in the 2018-19 seasons. Over the previous four years, PGC records indicate the percentage of 2.5-year old and older bucks taken was between 56 and 59 percent.
The 10 WMUs where hunters can take both antlerless and antlered deer are 2B, 2C, 2D, 2E, 4A, 4B, 4D, 5A, 5C and 5D. In 1A, 1B, 2A, 2F, 2G, 2H, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4C and 5B, a seven-day antlered deer season will be followed by a seven-day concurrent season.
As for field conditions, the PGC notes that drought and late-spring frosts impacted fall foods in some areas of Pennsylvania. Warmer-than-seasonal temperatures this fall made grazing grass available in many places. Soft and hard mast crops have been remarkably plentiful in many areas, but spotty in others according to PGC field reports.
BEAR HARVEST REPORTS
Those looking to track Pennsylvania’s 2020 bear harvest can find harvest totals, breakdowns of harvests by county and season, and a list of the 10 heaviest bears harvested so far by visiting the Game Commission’s website.
Go to www.pgc.pa.gov, click on the Black Bear Harvest link under “Quick Clicks,” then click on the map under “Bear Check Station Data.” The map is updated continually as hunters check their bears and the records are entered into the database. Hunters already have taken nearly 2,000 bears this season.
The four-day statewide bear season runs Saturday, Nov. 21 through Tuesday, Nov. 24. The season includes a day of Sunday hunting – Sunday, Nov. 22. Except for foxes, coyotes and crows, which long have been hunted on Sundays within open seasons in Pennsylvania, only bears may be hunted on Sunday, Nov. 22, and hunters must possess a bear license in addition to a general license to hunt bears.
Those who harvest bears during the four-day statewide season are required within 24 hours to take their bears to a Game Commission check station. Due to COVID-19 protocols, public access to check stations will be limited this year, and only successful hunters and members of their hunting party will be allowed in the checking area.
Bear harvest results also will not be reported at check stations, but the real-time harvest map makes it easy for anyone to stay up to date.
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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.