Monday, April 10, 2006

PENNSYLVANIA PERSPECTIVES: Too many or too few deer?

from - Chambersburg PA

Hunters: There are fewer deer in area woods

We recently asked hunters who read Public Opinion whether they're seeing fewer deer in the woods. Yes, they are! We heard from so many hunters that we'll be publishing more comments later in the week.

They shared their thoughts on why there are fewer deer and offered suggestions for making hunting more enjoyable.

Despite fewer deer, I enjoy hunting

George Naugle, St. Thomas: There is no question there are fewer deer in the places I hunt. It is also not rocket science why the numbers are down. One needs only to look at the harvest figures published by the Pennsylvania Game Commission for the years from 2000 through 2004 to find out why.

In 2000, we harvested 504,600 deer in Pennsylvania. This was followed by a harvest of 486,014 in 2001, 517,529 in 2002, 464,890 in 2003 and another 409,320 in 2004.
This is a tremendous number of deer. We hunters were also being encouraged to take mature does and to avoid taking button bucks during those years. Mature does give birth to twin fawns, occasionally triplets. Taking them out of the herd reduces the number of fawns being born at the same time it reduces the overall herd. In my opinion, this was necessary to bring a ratio of does to bucks more in line with what it should be.

While the number of deer I am seeing has been reduced, I will not agree that the population is "unhuntable." During the past year while hunting exclusively on state gamelands, I saw less than 30 deer during the two-week rifle season. That is still enough for me to take as many deer as I had tags for, one of which was a nice, fat, eight-point buck. I hunted 10 out of the 12 days of the 2005 rifle season. ...

I enjoy every minute of my hunting, whether I am seeing deer or not. It sure beats work. Getting out in the woods for a few days or hours is its own reward to me. I think that if you absolutely must take a deer in order to have had fun, you are missing the point of hunting. It is not the same as shopping. Actually with the lower populations of deer, hunting is more rewarding than it used to be.

Have we reduced the population enough? If the goal was to bring the doe-to-buck ratio more in line, I think we did. Of the 30 or so deer I saw last rifle season, eight were bucks and six would have been legal to shoot. I have hunted many years out of my 52 years of hunting (I am 64) in which I saw a hundred or more deer and not one legal buck. In this sense, hunting is better than it ever has been, and I find myself in agreement with the (April 3) article written by Ben Moyer and Bryon Shissler.

We hunters do have to adjust our expectations and hunt smarter. I would prefer to see one nice rack buck any day rather than 20 does and fawns, but that is the type of hunter I am. I am also seeing signs of the damage that was done by too many deer for too many years being repaired. There used to be a browse line in the woods I hunt. Browse is the primary food deer eat during the winter months. The browse line is disappearing, and I see underbrush and sprout growth where I haven't seen such in years.

I believe we need to keep populations low for a few more years but not reduce them any more than we have. When we have healthy forests, we can allow more deer to inhabit them.

There are those who will state that they hunted hard and saw no deer this past season. As I said previously, I hunted 10 out of the 12 days during rifle season. I saw four other hunters in the woods during all of that time. Again, I hunt exclusively on state game lands. Where are they all hunting? Here is a hint for them. I had to drag the deer I killed half a mile or more to get them back to my cabin. Since I hunt high on the mountain, it is mostly downhill. You can't get there without walking some.

Hunters kill too many female deer

Larry Highlands, Shippensburg: In recent years I have noticed fewer deer in the field. I think the reason is because of the doe license allocations and the bonus license. When you kill a doe you are killing two or maybe three deer.
To me, after many years of hunting, I always find it enjoyable. I think there needs to be some compromise between hunters and officials. I certainly hope each side uses some common sense.

Last year was worst hunting year ever

Todd Shuman, Newburg: I've been hunting in Pennsylvania for 23 years, and the 2005 deer season was the worst season for seeing deer or signs of deer.
I hunted the entire first week from our cabin in Franklin County, in the pouring rain, fog, wind, etc. I did not see a deer until the first Saturday.

I am also an avid archery hunter. During the entire month and half of archery, I saw four different bucks and only one was legal to take.

My opinion is the slaughtering of the doe and button bucks is the main reason for the drastic reduction in deer in the 4B management unit, and statewide. The Pennsylvania Game Commission divided the state into different management units, but are still hunting the state with the same rules and regulations state-wide.

Each unit should be looked upon as such. Our deer per hunter ratio in 4B cannot compare to the areas surrounding Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. So why do we hunt by the same set of rules? If the state passes the license increase this year, it will be crippling to the PGC. I for one will be hunting out of state.

Many hunters are frustrated in Pa.

Chuck Bowers, Shippensburg: I see fewer deer since the Pennsylvania Game Commission started harvesting does in the past three years, starting in archery season up to the late muzzle-loader season.
I was heading back to my truck at 1 p.m. the first day of buck season. I was sitting in the rain not seeing any deer, hardly any shooting, if any. I just couldn't take it any more.

I hunt on the Upper Strasburg Mountain on state game land. I always got something in the area I hunt. Not this year; I got zip. Now the Game Commission is going to increase the hunting license fee and, to top it off, I understand there will be a $20 fee for hunting, hiking, picnicking or anything else you might do on state land.

I heard some guys say they won't pay all that money for a hunting license or a fee to step on state game land. They'll just hunt without one. People are really upset over hearing all this. ...

... Why don't they bring it back the way it was? To get it back the way it was they would have to stop killing does for a year or two.

I've been to the Sportsman's Show in Harrisburg, telling the Game Commission there what I think of their hunting regulations. They don't want to hear it. Now I will say, from what I understand, there are a lot of deer around the Pittsburgh area and Philadelphia areas. All I know is that there are hardly any deer around here.

A lot of guys are getting into coyote hunting. I believe there's more of them than deer. I killed one two years ago. ... They are really smart animals. I also saw a mountain lion about eight years ago. Yes, a mountain lion.

Spring turkey hunting starts the end of April. Other surrounding states bring it in earlier. By the time the season gets here the turkeys are call-shy. That's from people out now calling them and hunting them. Where is the Game Commission now?

If they want to make some extra money, they should get in the woods now and listen to the gunshots in the mountain, because there is outlaw killing going on as we speak.

I think I'm going to do like a lot of other guys are doing and start hunting out of state.

Hunter disagrees with commission

Walter Sheely: Chambersburg: There are fewer deer. What would you expect when hunters are allowed to kill doe during the two weeks of buck season? The Game Commission has caved in to the insurance companies to reduce the deer herds. Now it (the commission) is complaining about the decrease in the sale of hunting licenses. Its answer is to increase the fee for hunting licenses.
It ... is going to take many more years to win back the hunters and the future hunters that (the commission) lost. Deer hunting is the main reason many hunters buy hunting licenses.

Consider changing hunting methods

Randy Wilson, Fayetteville: I enjoyed reading the "Hunters should alter their expectations" article on April 3 and agreed with several points.
It is probably easy for me to do so because of the deer hunting experience I gained while growing up in St. Lawrence County, New York, just south of the New York/Canada border.

During the two years I deer hunted, before joining the military and moving away, I recall hunting with my Dad all day just to find a single fresh deer track in the snow. Stillhunting and putting on drives was the common method of hunting at that time. Fast forward about 13 years and the deer population skyrocketed in the same location. Once that happened, my dad and I (when I went home on leave) would more often sit on stands and wait for the deer to come to us.

However, we continued to stillhunt some, primarily so I could learn more about the 40,000 acres of woods that my Dad has been hunting since he was old enough to do so. During the last couple of years we hunted together, we have gone more to the stillhunting method, and less hunting on stands, because the deer aren't as plentiful now.

How does all that relate to Pennsylvania? I moved to Fayetteville in July 2004 and have enjoyed two deer seasons here. While I wasn't able to spend as much time in the woods as I would like, I did enjoy success during both seasons through a combination of stillhunting and sitting on a stand.

I can't say how the present deer numbers compare to those in the past, but I can say that on many of the days, I did see deer.

Of the deer I saw, I could have shot a few of them. For me, the enjoyment is trying to match wits with the deer while learning about Michaux State Forest. To be successful, I changed my hunting habits along the way. If the stand hunting wasn't working, I tried the stillhunting. If the stillhunting wasn't working, I tried the stand hunting. We need to alter our expectations as well as our hunting methods to be successful.

Originally published April 10, 2006

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