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Oh Deer: The Fascinating Facts Behind Pennsylvania Hunting

by on September 27, 2016 5:00 AM

On Saturday I drove to Chambersburg for our son’s high school soccer game and took the back roads – Route 26 to US 22 to US 522 to Route 75 to US 30. Yes, I did get my quart of soft-serve at The Little Ice Creamer in Orbisonia. Ninety miles of mostly two-lane roads through valleys and forests and small towns and not a lot else.

Well, not a lot else except two things: a bunch of political yard signs – every last one for the exact same presidential candidate; and a few roadkill deer. Which reminded me that archery season for deer starts this coming Saturday.

Deer archery season was also brought up at our Mount Nittany Conservancy meeting on Sunday when we discussed repairs to the decades-long erosion at the Lynch Overlook. Note: This gratuitously placed information is an early hint for a future fundraising request to cover a long-term stabilization project at the most popular overlook on our geographic icon. So get your checkbooks ready! (Full disclosure – I serve as the President of the Mount Nittany Conservancy.)

And here’s something else I need to disclose: I’m not a hunter.

Never have been and probably never will be. Or at least I hope I’m never in a position where doing it becomes a necessity.

Now, I certainly appreciate the ability to field dress an animal, and am happy to know there are plenty of friends and neighbors who maintain that skill-set. Again, hopefully I’m never in a position where I need to barter a comparable talent in return for that one. I doubt consulting or writing will have much value in that trade.

It’s just that some kids were raised in hunting families and some weren’t. I wasn’t. Sure, in elementary school our entire grade made a day-long field trip to the local sportsmen’s club for a complete indoctrination to the ways of hunting wildlife, including the shooting of a .22 rifle. But that was as close to hunting as I ever got.

Living in Happy Valley, we all understand the passion many locals have for hunting. The first full day of regular deer season, Monday, Nov. 28, is conveniently a day when all local schools are closed. It’s listed on the school district’s calendar as being part of the Thanksgiving Holiday, but I think we all know what the real reason is – wink, wink.

So I look at hunting as an outsider and marvel at the scope of the enterprise in Pennsylvania.

The first thing that stands out to me is that the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) estimates that for the 2015-16 hunting season over 300,000 deer were harvested in our state. Three Hundred Thousand. That is one heck of a lot of deer.

Interestingly, the specific number the PGC estimates the harvest at is 315,813. Which is 10,000 more than the 2016 population of Pittsburgh. In 2015-16 hunters killed in Pennsylvania a number of deer equal to the population of the second-largest city in the state.

A quick disclaimer here – the PGC uses a formula to estimate the number of deer taken as there is currently no accurate method to get the exact number. The formula reminds me of a bad flashback to algebra class or “Good Will Hunting.” There are learned people in the PGC, media and academia, and plenty of hunters, who have opinions on the PGC, game management and these estimates, some of which were posted on these pages six years ago. I’ve already noted I’m not a hunter so will just take the PGC data as presented.

The other number that sticks out for me is the PGC says there are around 740,000 hunters in Pennsylvania. Three-quarters of a million people hunt. That is one heck of a lot of hunters.

As a non-hunter who does a fair amount of hiking I am always aware of the major hunting seasons and take care to go out on Sundays and wear bright neon colors – usually chartreuse or orange. But as I think about those numbers -- 740,000 people shooting 300,000 deer, the majority of which happens in a two-week window -- the thing that amazes me most is how few fatal hunting accidents there are.

When I explain this phenomenon to some friends or colleagues in urban areas, that the fine folks of Pennsylvania see fit to arm three-quarters of a million of our brethren and let them loose in the countryside to shoot and kill deer, and then ask my city friends how many people they think would die from accidents under those conditions, they say dozens or more.

Yet in 2014 there was only one. And in 2012 there were zero.

Guns. Bows-and-arrows. People. The expectation is that’s a mixture for a nasty cocktail. And somehow it’s not.

The PGC, rightly I believe, would say its mandatory hunter education program, which requires class time and training for all first-time hunting license buyers regardless of age, is doing its job. Started in 1959 as a voluntary program it became mandatory for everyone in 1982.

And the result is an extremely low rate of hunting fatalities.

As I said, I’m not a hunter, but I can appreciate the needs of those who do. There are 1.5 million acres of state forest land out there in Pennsylvania and millions more of private land like the Mount Nittany Conservancy. As we head further into the fall, when hikers in search of foliage and hunters in search of food start sharing the same space, be aware of your surroundings and enjoy the outdoors in safety. As Pete Wambach used to say on the radio, ”It's a beautiful day in Pennsylvania!”


John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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