BUCK-LADEN POPULATION AWAITS BOWHUNTERS
HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania's bowhunters are gearing up for an unprecedented opportunity to hunt big bucks when they head afield for the start of Pennsylvania's six-week archery deer season, which begins Saturday, Oct. 4.
"It should be a pleasant surprise for many hunters when they see what is out there," noted Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Vern Ross. "There are more big bucks in the woods than there has been in some time, and it's directly related to the sacrifices hunters made last year with antler restrictions.
"Antler restrictions saved more bucks this past season than at any other time in the past 60 years. It's a phenomenal accomplishment, one for which all Pennsylvania hunters should be proud. Buck hunting is just starting to get better, and the best is yet to come."
The Game Commission implemented antler restrictions and continues to increase hunting pressure on adult antlerless deer to rectify long-standing imbalances within the state's deer populations and on the habitat that supports them. The effort began in 1999, when Dr. Gary Alt was appointed to supervise the agency's new Deer Management Section, and continues under his guidance today.
"Our management strategy is to balance deer populations with their habitat and to increase the number of older bucks in the population to provide a more natural breeding ecology," Alt said. "Last year, hunters made considerable progress toward our management goals. This included a substantial increase in the antlerless deer harvest and reciprocal decrease in the buck harvest.
"Interestingly, the overall size of Pennsylvania's deer harvest didn't change much from 2001 to 2002. But the composition of the harvest varied greatly. The overall antlerless deer harvest increased about 20 percent, while the statewide buck kill declined 19 percent."
Alt is pleased with the deer program's progress to date and the continuing support of hunters, but is quick to point out there's still plenty of work ahead to bring the state's deer populations to more manageable levels.
"I'd like to thank Pennsylvania hunters for their willingness to help move our deer management program forward," Alt said. "So long as we stay on course, I have no doubt we'll bring our deer populations under control, a benefit that will surely and positively impact most Pennsylvanians and countless wild animals and plants. But there still is much more work to do, especially as it relates to reducing excessive localized numbers of antlerless deer and protecting young antlered deer."
To give landowners the ability to crank up the pressure on excessive local deer populations, the Game Commission implemented a new program called the Deer Management Assistance Program, which directs additional hunter pressure to properties where landowners would like to reduce the number of antlerless deer in their local population because they are causing property damage. This year, landowners participating in DMAP will provide interested hunters the opportunity to apply for more than 31,000 antlerless deer permits.
Combined with a statewide allocation of 973,000 antlerless licenses, the DMAP permits and antlerless deer licenses should stall statewide deer herd growth and direct additional hunting pressure to specific areas where excessive deer populations require thinning.
"Virtually all Pennsylvanians had an opportunity to purchase at least one antlerless license and a majority had the opportunity to buy a second," noted Alt. "Additionally, more than 30,000 DMAP permits for antlerless deer also were available to hunters. If you are looking to put some venison in the freezer, there's plenty of opportunity to do it."
For the second time in the last three years, archers also shot more antlerless deer than antlered bucks - 36,172 antlerless deer to 33,476 antlered deer - and the overall archery season harvest dropped below 70,000 for the first time in four years.
The protection afforded bucks during the 2002-2003 hunting seasons has had a profound effect on what hunters are seeing afield.
"This fall we are beginning to see the fruits of antler restrictions," Alt explained. "More bucks in general are being seen, especially large-rack bucks. We knew they would grow much larger if they could live longer, and now the evidence is showing up statewide - especially in the four-point restriction area. We encourage hunters to shoot antlerless deer to eat and to consider passing up on small bucks even if they technically meet the minimum antler requirements. Leaving more young bucks live for at least another year will provide hunters the thrill of seeing larger bucks and improve the herd's composition."
Hunters last year did a fine job of following the state's new antler restrictions last year. In fact, based on other states' experiences, the Game Commission had expected anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 mistakes during the first season with antler restrictions. However, agency Wildlife Conservation Officers (WCOs) handled only 2,096 mistake kills, of which, 2,050 resulted in the hunter paying a $25 administrative fee and surrendering the antlers. WCOs rejected the mistake kill claims of only 29 hunters, who were fined $500. An additional 17 hunters shot bucks in mistake for antlerless deer.
"I am very proud and pleased with the overall support hunters have shown for our evolving deer management program and their willingness to adapt to the regulatory changes needed to improve the program," Alt emphasized. "There's simply no way to move forward without the support of hunters and the Board of Game Commissioners. Continuing to work together, we will develop one of the best deer management programs in the United States."
Bowhunters heading out for the opener should expect to find field conditions that will vary greatly from the drought-impacted conditions they experienced the past two years. The availability and quantity of fall foods will vary from location to location and may cause deer to change the travel patterns they've been using in previous archery deer seasons.
"Hunters should spend time scouting before and during the season to ensure they're hunting areas where deer are active," Alt advised. "Good hunting locations can go sour in a hurry for a variety of reasons. That's why successful bowhunters work the woods from several locations. Where they hunt is influenced daily by factors ranging from wind, temperatures, hunter pressure, farming activity in nearby fields and acorn and leaf drop."
The Game Commission urges bowhunters to take only responsible shots at deer to ensure a quick, clean kill. For most, that's a shot 20 yards or less at a deer broadside or quartering away. Bowhunters should shoot at only deer that are in 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 tackle requirements that took effect in 2002. All bows must have a peak draw weight of at least 35 pounds. In addition, broadheads must have an outside diameter of at least 7/8th-inch with no less than two cutting edges in the same plane throughout the length of the cutting surface.
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