Pennsylvania stacks up well in national deer stats
Did you get your deer?
That’s often the first question hunters ask one another at the close of another season.
Last season, the answer for many — at least more than usual — was yes.
According to Pennsylvania Game Commission estimates, hunters killed 367,159 deer in the 2017-18 seasons. That was 9 percent more than the year prior, when they killed 333,254.
The buck harvest increased by an even greater rate, or 10 percent. Hunters killed 163,750 rack-carrying deer in 2017-18, compared to 149,460 the season prior.
Just more than one of every five deer hunters killed a buck last year, the commission reported.
That buck harvest was pretty significant in another way, too. It was the second-highest since antler restrictions were put in place in 2002.
The only year better was that first year, when hunters took 165,416 bucks.
Many of the deer were really nice, too, said Bryan Burhans, executive director of the commission.
“Huge bucks are being taken everywhere,” he said.
As for the doe kill, hunters took an estimated 203,409 in 2017-18. That was up 11 percent compared to 2016-17. In that season, hunters killed 183,794.
About 64 percent of the antlerless deer harvest was adult females; button-bucks comprised 19 percent, and doe fawns made up 17 percent.
It wasn’t just in one area of the state where hunters did well, either. The good fortune was spread around pretty evenly.
In only three of 23 wildlife management units did the deer kill decrease, the commission said.
Pennsylvania’s deer hunting is on a bit of a roll, in fact, to hear one organization tell it.
The Quality Deer Management Association, or QDMA, each year releases a “Whitetail Report.” It’s billed as “an annual report on the status of the white-tailed deer, the foundation of the hunting industry in North America.”
Its 2018 version puts Pennsylvania deer hunting in a pretty good light.
The report comes out prior to most states releasing their more recent harvest totals. So its finding is based on 2016-17 hunting seasons.
But according to the report, Pennsylvania lead — as it usually does — 13 states across the Northeast in buck kill.
What’s more, it ranked fourth in the nation in total buck kill in 2016-17, and second in bucks killed per square mile.
“In fact, we’re just three-tenths of a deer from being No. 1 in the nation,” Burhans said.
Pennsylvania produced 3.3 bucks per square mile in 2016-17. Michigan produced 3.5.
The national average was 1.6.
According to QDMA, Pennsylvania also ranked third in the nation for total doe harvest. It ranked third for does killed per square mile.
Of course, deer management is — far and away — the most controversial aspect of wildlife management in Pennsylvania. And some don’t believe the commission’s harvest estimates.
But scientists largely do.
Recently, researchers from Simon Fraser University collaborated with colleagues from around the nation on a project looking at wildlife management programs across North America. They rated them on four factors: measurable objectives, quantitative evidence, transparency and independent scientific review.
They looked at the management plans for 667 species across 62 states and Canadian provinces.
Most didn’t fare well.
“Our results provide limited support for the assumption that wildlife management in North America is guided by science,” researchers said.
The commission’s deer management program was an exception. It tied for first place among deer management programs continent-wide.
“These findings further recognize the quality of our agency’s wildlife biologists. And the effectiveness of our deer management program translates to great deer hunting,” Burhans said.
Archers especially took advantage of the whitetails out there.
Continuing what has become a long-term trend, they accounted for a large and growing percentage of the state’s deer harvest.
They killed 118,110 deer — 62,830 bucks and 55,280 antlerless deer — with either bows or crossbows. That’s about a third of the total take.
But muzzleloader hunters did well, too. They harvested 23,490 deer, including 1,310 bucks.
Both the archery and muzzleloader takes were up over the prior year.