Penn's Woods looked like a pumpkin patch on Monday as hundreds of thousands of hunters took the fields and woods in Pennsylvania in search of the state mammal.
Firearms deer season kicked off on Monday, and brought with it hunters eagerly looking forward to harvest a buck or a doe, hopefully as early as possible, on opening day.
"In addition to being a rich part of our state's heritage, deer season is critical in managing Pennsylvania's whitetails," Roe said. "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."
Just check out any highway in the fall, where deer have been killed by vehicles, to see the overabundance. Rural homeowners, and even some in the more suburban areas, are seeing deer feasting on a variety of backyard trees and bushes, damaging landscape.
Deer do the same thing to the forest, passing up beech trees to browse on oak and other vital hardwoods, threatening the sustainability of the forests as we know them.
While the entire state opened up for antlered deer on Monday, several of the Wildlife Management Units have regressed to the old "split-season" ways. Antlerless deer in WMUs 2A, 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2GT, 3B, 3C, 4B, 4D and 4E will not begin until Dec. 3. Unlike the old split season when antlered deer were out of season once antlerless season began, both antlered and antlerless deer will be legal game through Dec. 10.
The rest of the state, including our local WMUs, is using the concurrent antlered/antlerless season that has been in place since 2001 when the game commission aimed to reduce the herd of deer to one that will not damage the forest and surrounding landscapes to the point of wiping out the most beneficial and desirable trees and shrubs.
It took a few years, but the implementation of the concurrent season and the advent of antler restrictions (an antlered deer must have at least three "points" on one antler) has hunters reporting bigger-bodied and more-mature deer over the last three years. The reduced herd size apparently allowed the remaining deer to feed more readily and become healthier.
The split-season was reintroduced to the western and norther tier of the state because many of the board of commissioners were receiving complaints from hunters that they could not find deer. Studies have shown, however, that the majority of hunters rarely go more than a quarter-mile from where they park their car, which could be a major reason why hunters aren't seeing a lot of deer, especially in heavily forested areas where deer can hunker down and won't move until you practically step on them.
With less of an antlerless season in the split-season areas, more does will survive the winter to bear young, increasing the population in areas where the forest may not be healthy and sustainable. This situation can create a habitat and feeding problem for a variety of wildlife, so the state agency needs to get a handle on population numbers and harvests.
Many hunters and a few hunting organizations deride the state game commission for its method of determining the population of deer in the state, as well as the harvest. According to the game commission, it is estimated that less than 10 percent of successful deer hunters comply with mandatory reporting of successful kills. That reporting has to improve, and hunters are the ones who need to take ownership of reporting their success.
This year, successful hunters can report their harvest in one of three ways: use the postage-paid card that came with the 2011-12 Hunting & Trapping Digest, report it online at http://www.pgc.state.pa.us , or by telephone by calling 1-855-PAHUNT1 (1-855-724-8681).
A harvest tag must be filled out and properly attached to a deer's ear before the carcass can be moved from where it was killed. If you're planning to have the deer mounted, you can tie the tag to the base of the ear. It is not legal to tag the antlers.
Hunters have 10 days to report their deer harvest, and five if they are using a homemade tag.
During firearms deer season, hunters must wear a minimum of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange on their head, chest and back combined at all times.
Rifles are not allowed in Montgomery, Delaware, Chester or Allegheny counties during firearms deer season.
If you wish to donate your venison through Hunters Sharing the Harvest, call 1-866-474-2141 to find a participating local meat processor.