Large bucks fueling excitement as archery opener nears
In a normal year, black bears would be all the rage in northern Somerset County right now.
Scott Tomlinson, the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s wildlife conservation officer there, said the bear situation has been the “highlight” of the year, with more sightings reported than ever.
The problem is that no one seems to care.
“Folks are really fired up about the upcoming buck season,” Tomlinson said. “They’ve been seeing some nice bucks early on, and that’s what everyone’s talking about.
“If we have as many big bucks as everybody’s telling me — if we even have half as many — it’s going to be a great season.”
Hunters get their first chance at the state’s bucks and does Saturday, when the statewide fall archery season opens. It runs through Nov. 15.
Last year’s archery season was notable for two reasons.
First, archers took 69,648 deer, counting those harvested in the late archery season that’s set for Dec. 26 through Jan. 10 this year. That was the first time in four years the archery harvest had dipped below 70,000.
Second, for the second time in three years, archers shot more does than bucks, 36,172 to 33,476.
Both facts can be attributed to the antler restrictions that were put into place prior to the 2002-2003 deer hunting seasons.
Those restrictions — which limited hunters to shooting deer with a minium of three or four points to a side, depending on where they were hunting — were meant to protect bucks and encourage hunters to shoot does, said Dr. Gary Alt, head of the PGC’s deer management section. For the most part, they worked, he said, though the results were better in the four-point areas than elsewhere.
The buck kill in the four-point counties declined by 36 percent. In the three-point areas, it dropped only 16 percent.
Even that was better than nothing, Alt said. And hunters should notice the results of their sacrifice as soon as this fall.
“We know that there were a lot more bucks saved as yearlings than at any other time in recent years, and probably in our lifetime,” Alt said. “I would think there are going to be a lot of eight- and 10-points in agricultural areas like Crawford and Lawrence this year.”
Reports from PGC officers in the field seem to support that.
Barry Seth, a wildlife conservation officer in Armstrong County, said “more bucks are being reported this year than I can remember in any prior year.”
Frankl Leichtenbeger, a WCO in Washington County, has heard similar things, and even seen four “very nice” eight-point bucks running together in one field.
“The payoff for last year’s antler restrictions looks to be lots of big bucks,” added Doug Dunkerly, a PGC land management officer serving Allegheny, Beaver, Greene and Washington counties. “They are numerous and they are big.”
Marrett Grund, a biologist in the PGC’s deer management section, is likewise anticipating there will be lots of fine bucks available.
“I would be surprised if we did not have an excellent season, in terms of nice-racked bucks,” he said. “The buck harvest should be about the same as last year, or slightly higher, but we’ll be taking bigger bucks than in previous years.”
That’s true, he said, despite the fact that the PGC board has toughened antler restrictions for 2003-2004 for most hunters.
The standard will be a buck with four points to a side in wildlife management units 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B, and 2D, and three points to a side in every other unit. Places that were previously considered “special regulations” areas — like Allegheny County — are no longer exempt from antler restrictions.
Commissioners changed the definition of a point for the coming season, too. Last year, hunters could count a brow tine as a point, regardless of its length. This year, brow tines must be at least one inch long.
Alt said he appreciated the way Pennsylvania’s hunters protected so many bucks last year. He’s hoping they’ll do at least as well this year, or perhaps even better.
He’s asking hunters to try to gauge how old a buck might be, and let the young ones go.
“If it’s a little basket rack, with antlers between its ears and little one-inch tines, let it go,” Alt said. “If hunters can pass on a deer with an eight-inch spread, in another year they might see one with an 18-inch spread.”
If they do, Somerset’s bears may never get any attention.
Here’s a look at the 2002 archery harvest, by county, for some selected counties. B stands for bucks killed; D stands for does taken.