Pennsylvania Bowhunters Await Fall Deer Archery Season
HARRISBURG – There really isn’t much commotion in the days leading up to and for the start of Pennsylvania’s six-week fall archery deer season, which begins Oct. 4. According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, if passersby didn’t see bowhunters entering or leaving the woods, most wouldn’t know whitetail hunting had begun in the Commonwealth.
“Hunting deer with a bow has always been a passion – or at least a favorite pastime – for hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians,” said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. “On the first day of the season, thousands of hunters will take to the woods in order to start filling their freezers with venison. It also marks the time when bowhunters begin to be rewarded for all the time they’ve spent on ranges practicing, scouting and running trail cameras in recent months.
“The start of our archery deer season also represents the beginning of relief for some landowners who are sustaining crop and property damage from deer. This is especially true for people who live in Pennsylvania’s developed areas around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, where deer populations remain exceedingly high.”
Bowhunters who have purchased and received antlerless deer licenses to hunt in Wildlife Management Units 2B, 5C and 5D will once again get an early start on the rest of the state. They may begin hunting for antlerless deer only in these WMUs beginning Sept. 20. There also are two late fall archery antlerless deer seasons in WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D that run from Nov. 17-29, and Dec. 15-23.
Statewide, including WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D, archers can hunt antlered or antlerless deer from Oct. 4 to Nov. 15, and the late statewide archery deer season runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 10.
Pennsylvania’s deer archery season made its debut in 1951, and was developed to provide additional recreational opportunities to hunters. Today, it is an essential tool for deer managers in their never-ending efforts to reduce deer populations in suburbia near Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and other cities. In fact, bowhunting often represents the only way residents in many suburban communities can get low-cost relief from deer populations.
Of course, there’s quite a difference between hunting in the nooks and crannies of suburbia and the big woods of the state’s mountainous northern tier. One offers a backdrop of backyards and woodlots flanked by endless roads and serenaded by the drone of endless activity. The other provides a chance for a hunter to submerge himself or herself in all things wild.
Choosing a hunting location is really a matter of hunter preference and tolerance, and often is related to accessibility. If a hunter’s primary goal is to harvest a deer, he or she can do that in any county of the state. But if a hunter is looking for a huge buck, a large population of deer, or a wilderness experience, then the choices become more involved.
“The great thing about hunting, especially in the fall archery season, is that you have a lot of flexibility in deciding where you want to hunt and what you want to hunt for,” explained Calvin W. DuBrock, Game Commission Bureau of Wildlife Management director. “If you’re interested in seeing sizeable numbers of deer, without spending a lot of time walking into a woodland interior, then hunting in suburbia may be to your liking. If you prefer wilderness settings and fewer hunters, the big woods should be your destination.”
The Game Commission encourages hunters to spend as much time as possible afield this fall prior to and during the hunting seasons to pattern deer movements and identify areas where fall foods are abundant. Hunt as often as you can, and scout every time you head afield. Try to figure out which food sources deer are using. And pay attention to prevailing wind direction. These adjustments really can make a difference.
There is no reason to believe that deer hunting will be any easier this fall, although drought-like conditions in some areas of the state may make it easier to pattern deer movements to food and water sources. An early leaf drop also may increase your ability to see deer at a distance. Gypsy moth caterpillar defoliation on hundreds of thousands of forestland acres again has limited acorn production in stands of oak.
“Hunters should expect to find deer populations similar to those they encountered last year,” said Dr. Christopher Rosenberry, who supervises the Game Commission’s Deer Management Section. “But they should keep in mind that fall is a time of transition and adjustment for deer, and that what they experienced afield last year or saw over summer may be different this autumn for a variety of reasons, including deer behavior, food availability and landscape changes.
“Don’t be surprised if a buck you have been watching all summer and fall ‘disappears’ in October. Based on our research in Pennsylvania, there is a good chance he’ll travel an average of three to five miles from your area, but the good news is there probably is another buck from some other place headed into your hunting area.”
Since most of Pennsylvania is comprised of private property and most hunters hunt on private property, it stands to reason that getting permission to hunt private property, particularly in urban/suburban areas, is important. But, in addition to securing good hunting territory, a hunter is reducing conflicts between deer and landowners. It is a chance for hunters to showcase the importance of hunting.
“Archers in Pennsylvania’s more developed areas can be ambassadors for ethical and effective deer management,” Rosenberry said. “They have opportunities to get into areas where gun hunters cannot because of the reduced 50-yard safety zone restriction. We encourage archers living in these areas to look into gaining access to help reduce deer impacts in these areas. But please respect landowners and their neighbors, because your actions can influence the future of hunting in your area.”
Other ways to increase your chances for success afield include heading into the interior of large tracts of public land open only to foot travel, or hunting on weekdays before work when fewer hunters are afield. The more time a hunter spends afield seeking fresh sign, the greater his or her chances will be. Hunting from a tree-stand can improve a hunter’s odds, as will hunting in multiple locations, and as undetectable as possible.
Many Game Commission field officers expect hunters in most WMUs to find favorable hunting opportunities afield this fall. But that doesn’t guarantee any hunter a deer, or suggest that hunters will do better or worse than last year. Deer numbers – as they always do – will vary from one WMU to the next, and even from township to township or within a township. There are areas with sizeable deer numbers and areas with limited numbers. Deer, however, can be found everywhere; they’re just not as abundant or as visible in some areas.
Antler restrictions, implemented in 2002, have led to a higher percentage of 2.5-year and older bucks being available to hunters each year. In recent years, about half of the bucks taken by hunters were 2.5 years old, or older. Typically, about 75 percent of the state’s overall buck harvest is taken in the concurrent rifle and flintlock muzzleloader seasons, but archers still manage to take their share.
The Game Commission urges bowhunters to take only responsible shots at deer to ensure a quick, clean kill. For most, that’s a shot of 20 yards or less at a deer broadside or quartering away. Bowhunters should shoot at only deer that are within their maximum effective shooting range – the furthest distance from which a hunter can consistently place arrows into a pie pan-sized target.
Archers also are reminded of regulatory changes in equipment requirements that took effect in 2002. All bows must have a peak draw weight of at least 35 pounds, and broadheads must have at least a 7/8th-inch outside diameter and no less than two cutting edges. Cutting edges must be in the same plane throughout the length of the cutting surface.
Hunters may use illuminated nocks for arrows and bolts, which can be affixed at the aft end of an arrow or bolt and aid in tracking or locating the arrow or bolt after being launched. However, transmitter-tracking arrows still are illegal.
Tree-stands and climbing devices that cause damage to trees are unlawful to use or occupy unless the user has written permission from the landowner. Tree-stands – or tree steps – penetrating a tree’s cambium layer cause damage. It is unlawful to construct or occupy constructed tree-stands on State Game Lands, state forests or state parks.
Other safety tips bowhunters should consider before heading afield and while hunting include:
- Make sure someone knows where you’re hunting and when you expect to return home. Leave a note or topographic map with your family or a friend. Pack a cellular telephone for emergencies.
- Always use a fall-restraint device – preferably a full-body harness – when hunting from a tree-stand. Wear the device from the moment you leave the ground until you return. Don’t climb dead, wet or icy trees. Stay on the ground on blustery days.
- Get in good physical condition before the season starts. Fatigue can impact judgment, coordination and reaction time, as well as accuracy. Staying physically fit makes a difference.
- Always carry a whistle to signal passersby in the event you become immobile. A compass and matches or lighter and tinder also are essential survival gear items to have along. An extra flashlight bulb also can be helpful.
- Use a hoist rope to lift your bow and backpack to your tree-stand. Trying to climb with either will place you at unnecessary risk.
- Don’t sleep in a tree-stand! If you can’t stay awake, return to the ground.
- Always carry broadhead-tipped arrows in a protective quiver.
- If you use a mechanical release, always keep your index finger away from the trigger when drawing.
- Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for all equipment and check your equipment before each use.
- Practice climbing with your tree-stand before dawn on the opening day of the season. Consider placing non-slip material on the deck of your tree-stand if it’s not already there.