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Deer Season About to Kick Off with a Bang

by and on November 24, 2018 5:00 AM

After the turkey settles in the stomach and all the leftovers are put away, many folks in Centre County start looking forward to the next big holiday. No, not Christmas, but the opening of firearms season for deer. It begins Monday, Nov. 26, and the state reports that the season looks to be “as promising as ever” for hunters.

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has reported that it has seen the statewide buck harvest increase over each of the past three years, with more than a million whitetails taken by hunters over that time. With only about one-third of hunters actually getting a deer from year to year, those numbers should make everybody feel a little better about getting out and seeing some action.

Conditions were poor during archery season this year, with unseasonably warm weather, later leafdrop and rain all making it more challenging to pattern deer movements. The six-week archery season concluded Nov. 12. That will leave more deer available for hunters during the season that draws the biggest crowd, firearms deer season, according to DCNR. Because of the big interest, firearms season has been the state’s principal deer-management tool for more than a century.

The first day of deer season is regarded as a holiday in many areas, with schools giving students and teachers a day off to hunt. That is the case at most Centre County schools.

DCNR reports that 45 percent of last season’s bucks were harvested on opening day.

“Opening days have been drawing the largest crowds of hunters for a long, long time,” said Pennsylvania Game Commission executive director Bryan Burhans. “It’s that day when anything really can happen, when lifetime bucks are taken, when hunters are bound to see more deer than any other day of the hunting season. It’s when every hunter wants to be tucked away in the woods waiting for a big buck to come his or her way.

“The firearms season opener is always worth the wait,” Burhans said. “But so is the first Saturday of the season. Last fall, hunters took more deer on the first Saturday than the opening day — a first in Pennsylvania’s deer-management history. So, if you can find the time, get afield for both days. They really are two of the best times to be deer hunting.”

Last year, 163,750 bucks were taken by hunters, making it the second-largest buck harvest in Pennsylvania since antler restrictions were put in place in 2002, and it was the 10th best of all time.

“Older, bigger-racked bucks are making up more of the buck harvest than they have for at least a couple decades,” Game Commission supervisor Christopher Rosenberry said. “Hunters like the bucks in Pennsylvania today compared to what many of them saw 30 years ago.”

But whether hunters get a trophy buck or if they are out with a young new hunter who bags his first deer, the season is special for many people across the state.

“Whether it’s a young hunter’s first deer, or a big buck that fell to a hunter on a dark-to-dark sit, they all matter to these hunters, their families and the communities in which they live,” said Burhans. “Hunting deer has been an exciting Pennsylvania pastime for centuries, and it’s sure to remain that way for many generations to come.”

The heavy rains have provided plenty of fall food for deer. But the late fall has lead to more cover and can make movements difficult to sort out, according to DCNR. Hunters are urged to confirm deer activity in the areas they plan to hunt.

“Scouting is important to every hunt,” Burhans said. “Deer like to hang out where food is the easiest to obtain. But hunter pressure and other disturbances can inspire their selection.”

It is important to be aware and prepared while hunting.

“Expect the unexpected on the firearms deer season opener,” Burhans said. “It is, hands-down, that one day when you never know if or when that buck is coming. You must be ready to take it. Don’t let that buck of a lifetime catch you playing with your smartphone.”

It is also important to be safe during the season and wear a harness while in tree stands.

“That means you must wear your harness, and be sure it’s connected to the tree, at all times you’re in the stand, as well as when you’re getting into and out of the stand, or climbing or descending trees,” said Meagan Thorpe, Game Commission hunter-education chief.

And while in the stand, it is important to have proper contact while you move around.

The Game Commission would like to hear about hunters who take a big buck, a special buck or their first buck. Hunters can send a photo of their buck, along with their name, age and hometown, harvest date and county in which the buck was taken to [email protected] by Monday, Dec. 17. Use “Buck Harvest” in the subject line.

Game Commission staff will narrow the submitted photos in each contest into groups of contenders to be posted on the agency’s Facebook page, where users will determine the winning photos by “liking” the images. Those submitting the images of the winning archery and firearms bucks will win trail cameras.

For more information, visit

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

Vincent Corso is writer for Town&Gown and the Centre County Gazette.
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