HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s only unofficial holiday — the Monday after Thanksgiving — marks the opening day of the two-week general deer season and will feature nearly 750,000 individuals sporting fluorescent orange while canvassing the woods for that trophy buck.
Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) 2-A, 2-F and 3-B have been added to the split-season structure, in which the first five days are open for antlered deer only, and the remaining seven days are open for antlered and antlerless deer, said Jerry Feaser, Pennsylvania Game Commission public information officer.
2-F includes the northern portion of Jefferson and Clarion counties; portions of Elk, McKean, Warren and Venango counties; and all of Forest County in the five-day split season, Feaser said.
The reason for the embargo on hunting antlerless deer for the first five days of rifle hunting season is because there are certain areas where hunters have been saying that they've seen too few deer, according to Feaser.
The Game Commission can adjust the amount of antlerless deer being harvested in three ways, he said, adding, "You can adjust antlerless license allocations; limit the number of days for hunting antlerless deer; or you can do a combination of the two."
For many years, the commission just dropped license allocations back from its highs of 2005, Feaser said, and even after that, hunters were still saying they were seeing too few deer.
When considering licensing allocations, the game commission board looks at habitat health and the reproductive health of the deer herd, he said.
"We got away from just a numbers game,” Feaser said. "How are the deer impacting all of the other wildlife that depend on that same habitat?”
Feaser said because of those reductions from 2005, the habitat has been given some opportunity to recover.
There are still some areas that are not recovering as well as others, he said.
When the commission takes away the opportunity to hunt antlerless deer on the first Monday — one of the days of hunting season with the highest participation — hunters are giving the does a chance to become educated and survive that season, he said.
According to Feaser, new antler restrictions are in place this year for the five WMUs in western Pennsylvania that were previously designated as a four-point on one side area.
Under the new antler restrictions, which represent the first change since 2002, hunters in WMUs 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B and 2D need to identify three antler points, not including the brow tine, which is the point immediately above the antler burr, Feaser said.
Deer season will open with a five-day, antlered deer-only season in WMUs 2A, 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 3B, 3C, 4B, 4D and 4E from Monday through Friday.
It is followed in these WMUs by seven days of concurrent, antlered and antlerless deer hunting beginning Dec. 3, and continuing through Dec. 10.
The rest of the state follows the two-week concurrent, antlered and antlerless season — Monday through Dec. 10 — that has been in place since 2001.
Feaser said hunters must follow all of the orange safety rules that are in effect.
Hunters must wear 250 square inches of fluorescent orange material on the head, chest and back combined at all times while afield during the seasons.
They also are advised that it’s illegal to hunt, chase or disturb deer within 150 yards of any occupied building without the occupant's permission if they are using a firearm, or 50 yards if they are using a bow or crossbow.
During the two-week season, hunters may use any legal sporting arm, as permitted by law.
Rifles are not permitted to be used in Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware or Montgomery counties; however, shotguns and muzzleloaders are legal.
Feaser said all hunters who bag a deer must fill out his or her harvest tag and attach it to the deer’s ear before moving the carcass.
The tag can be secured to the base of the ear with a string drawn very tightly, if the hunter plans to have the deer mounted, Feaser said.