The Pennsylvania Game Commissioners gave final approval for the 2020-21 hunting/trapping seasons and bag limits with some significant changes. They are as follows:
Expanding Sunday hunting on three days – Sunday, Nov. 15 for archery deer hunting, Sunday, Nov. 22 for bear hunting during the bear firearms season, and Sunday, Nov. 29 for deer hunting during the firearms deer season.
Adopted a 14-day concurrent firearms deer season for antlered and antlerless deer in 10 WMUs and retaining a split-season in the remaining 13 WMUs.
Extended the statewide archery deer season to end Nov. 20, giving bowhunters the opportunity to take advantage of peak and post rut activity.
Opened squirrel season statewide on Sept. 12 to create more opportunities for younger hunters to get afield.
Shifted the statewide general bear season to run from Saturday through Tuesday – adding an additional Sunday opportunity for bear hunters.
Brought back a three-day Thanksgiving turkey season, running
Wednesday through Friday in select WMUs; removing the Thanksgiving turkey season in WMUs 1A, 2A, 4A, 4B, 4D and 4E, but making the regular season two weeks (Oct. 31-Nov. 14) instead of one.
Increased the bear hunting opportunities for archers by adding a week to the archery bear season and creating an overlap in the first week with the muzzleloader deer and bear seasons.
Moved the start of the extended bear seasons to Monday of the first week of firearms deer season in all WMUs with extended bear seasons.
Permitted either-sex pheasant hunting statewide, outside of Wild Pheasant Recovery Areas.
The commissioners also set the number of antlerless deer licenses to be allocated, as well as the number of elk licenses to be allocated for the coming license year as follows:
The board voted to allocate 932,000 antlerless deer licenses statewide, which is up from the 903,000 licenses allocated for 2019-20. Some Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) increases were tempered by the addition of a 14-day seasons to WMU’s containing Disease Management Areas. Allocations by WMU are as follows, with the allocation from the previous license year appearing in parentheses: WMU 1A – 49,000 (49,000); WMU 1B – 41,000 (35,000); WMU 2A – 46,000 (46,000); WMU 2B – 49,000 (54,000); WMU 2C – 58,000 (52,000); WMU 2D – 60,000 (66,000); WMU 2E – 39,000 (32,000); WMU 2F – 36,000 (31,000); WMU 2G – 27,000 (26,000); WMU 2H – 7,000 (6,000); WMU 3A – 21,000 (20,000); WMU 3B – 33,000 (38,000); WMU 3C – 49,000 (46,000); WMU 3D – 36,000 (25,000); WMU 4A – 49,000 (41,000); WMU 4B – 33,000 (32,000); WMU 4C – 32,000 (36,000); WMU 4D – 45,000 (46,000); WMU 4E – 37,000 (34,000); WMU 5A – 26,000 (22,000); WMU 5B – 60,000 (67,000); WMU 5C – 70,000 (70,000); and WMU 5D – 29,000 (29,000).
The board also voted to issue 164 elk licenses (36 antlered, 128 antlerless) across three 2020-21 seasons. For the one-week general season to run Nov. 2-7, 26 antlered and 78 antlerless tags have been allocated. In the archery season open only in select Elk Hunt Zones, to run from Sept. 12-26, 10 antlered and 16 antlerless licenses are available. And there are 34 licenses available for a late antlerless-only elk season to run from Jan. 2-9.
All elk licenses will be awarded by lottery, and hunters must apply separately for all seasons they wish to be eligible to hunt. Each application costs $11.90, meaning a hunter can enter all three drawings for $35.70. Individuals can be drawn for a maximum of one elk license per license year.
While carrying firearms generally is prohibited while bowhunting, archery deer hunters long have been permitted to carry muzzleloaders to hunt deer during times when the archery and muzzleloader deer seasons overlap. But a change approved by the PGC Commissioners will allow properly licensed hunters to carry both a bow and muzzleloader afield when an archery deer season overlaps with a muzzleloader bear season, as well. The rule also applies to an archery bear season that overlaps with a muzzleloader deer or bear season.
A muzzleloader bear season that overlaps with the October muzzleloader deer season and archery deer season was adopted as part of 2020-21 hunting seasons, so a properly licensed hunter will be able to carry a muzzleloader to hunt bears and antlerless deer, as well as a bow to hunt antlered or antlerless deer.
DEER TAGGING CHANGES
Hunters with multiple deer tags must no longer tag the first deer they harvest before attempting to harvest a second. The board adopted a measure that makes effective statewide the tagging requirements that long have applied in the state’s Special Regulations Areas, where hunters possessing multiple tags may attempt to fill them without first tagging a harvested deer. The PGC said lifting the restriction benefits deer hunters with multiple tags, who no longer are forced to pass up opportunities to harvest additional deer.
MENTORED YOUTH HUNTER CHANGES
Initially open only to youth under 12, Pennsylvania’s mentored hunting program has expanded incrementally in recent years to offer opportunities to unlicensed hunters of all ages. The PGC says that because the program is a tool to recruit new hunters, it only made sense to open it to everybody. But phasing-in program eligibility for hunters of different ages brought about a mix of different rules that many found confusing to follow – potentially undermining the goal of hunter recruitment. As such, the PGC Board adopted new standards that simplify the program and make it more uniform for hunters of all ages.
First off, mentored hunters of all ages now are eligible to hunt the same species. This expands opportunities in each age class and eliminates confusion about which species different-aged hunters may hunt.
Secondly, while mentored hunters under the age of 7 will continue to be issued permits that do not contain deer or turkey harvest tags – meaning the deer and turkey tags they use will continue to be provided through transfer from their adult mentors – mentored hunters of all other ages will be issued their own tags.
Finally, mentored hunters ages 7 and older now can apply for their own antlerless deer licenses and Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) permits, as well as migratory bird licenses and pheasant permits.
With the changes, all mentored hunters may hunt the following species: rabbit, snowshoe hare, ruffed grouse, mourning doves, bobwhite quail, pheasants, crows, squirrels, porcupines, woodchucks, coyotes, deer and wild turkeys.
Safety requirements that prohibit mentored hunters under 17 from carrying a firearm while moving, limit mentors to accompanying one youngster at a time, and require the mentor and mentored hunter under 17 to possess no more than one sporting arm between them, remain unchanged.
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.