It’ here. It’s deer … the firearms deer hunting season that is.
The much awaited rifle deer season gets underway statewide Saturday, Nov. 30, when the majority of sportsmen go afield in hopes of bagging a buck. And this year, the season opens on a Saturday after Thanksgiving instead of the Monday after the holiday as it has traditionally been.
According to Chris Rosenberry, supervisor of the Game Commissions Deer and Elk Section, “The Saturday opener will become the biggest harvest day for bucks with the following Monday playing a lesser role, but how much less remains to be seen.” He believes the second Saturday, since it runs concurrent with the start of the antlerless season, will probably become the second largest harvest day for bucks.
Said Rosenberry, “And now there is a third Saturday, as well, since the season was expanded from 12 days to 13 to accommodate a Saturday opener in which more hunters likely will be able to participate.”
Last year, the firearms season opener saw rainy weather nearly statewide and throughout much of the day, but even then, says the PGC, 30 percent of the antlered deer harvest in the 2018-19 harvest were taken on opening day. It was the best day of the season for buck.
The PGC says larger-racked and older bucks are making up more of the deer harvest with each passing year. Two seasons ago, 163,750 bucks were taken, making it the second-largest buck harvest in Pennsylvania since antler restrictions were started in 2002. It was the 10th best all-time harvest.
In the 2018-19 hunting seasons, the overall deer harvest was 374,690 (226,940 antlerless and 147,750 bucks). But despite the lower buck harvest in 2018-19, there were more 2.5-year-old and older bucks (64 percent) taken. Over the previous four-years, the percentage of 2.5-year-old and older bucks in the annual harvest was 57 percent (2017); 56 percent (2016); 59 percent (2015); 57 percent (2014).
Interestingly, the PGC claims only about a third of deer hunters harvest a whitetail during the slate of deer seasons.
In the past, Penn’s Woods produced some “book bucks” that made Pennsylvania’s Big Game Record book or Boone & Crockett Club rankings.
As for field conditions, the agency says that precipitation through spring and summer has fostered an exceptional supply of fall foods. Grazing grass was available in early November, soft and hard mast crops have been plentiful in many areas, spotty in others.
Rosenberry explained that deer typically key on food sources within good cover. And in the case of cornfields, they might never leave them until the corn comes down, so hunters are urged to confirm deer activity in areas they plan to hunt before they commit to them.
A couple weeks ago as I drove along Mauch Chunk Road a huge buck came running out of the uncut cornfield and across the highway just past the entrance to GEO Chemicals (Trojan Powder Co.). This was around 9:30 a.m. so I wondered why this beauty was hightailing it at that time of morning. As I drove farther south, I noticed a farmer taking down the corn in that field and he spooked the buck that was hiding in the standing corn.
Rosenberry goes on to say deer like to hang-out where food is the easiest to obtain (and this particular buck did just that). And deer usually make a mess wherever they eat so it shouldn’t be hard to sort out whether they’re using an area. The deer biologist suggests hunters do some scouting this week and look for raked-up leaves, droppings and partially eaten mast for confirmation.
BUCH HARVEST PHOTO CONTEST
If you take a buck, or a special buck, or your first buck, the PGC would like to hear from you.
The commission is looking for photo of your trophy from either the archery or firearms season, along with some limited background such as hometown, harvest date and county where buck was taken. Photos will be accepted through Dec. 20 and sent to email@example.com. Use “Buck Harvest” in the subject line.
The PGC will narrow the photos in each contest into groups of contenders to be posted on the agency’s Facebook page where users will determine the winning photos by “liking” the images. The winners in the archery and firearms bucks will win trail cameras.
For more information, check the PGCs website.
Last Saturday, the Lil-Le-Hi Cooperative trout nursery stocked some sizable trout in the Little Lehigh between the walk bridge near the Allentown Police Academy and downstream to Robin Hood Bridge. From field reports, 17-inchers and above appeared to be the average size.
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.