Pennsylvania's 2007 Deer Outlook -- Part 1: Our Best Hunting Hotspots

So far, Pennsylvania's new deer-management system -- to stabilize local whitetail populations and produce more and bigger bucks -- is working. Here's how things are shaping up for the 2007 season. (October 2007)

Photo by Kenny Bahr.

The Keystone State's "new" deer-management plan has been around long enough now that some of the initial furor is dying down.

Though this may not mean acceptance on some hunters' part, at least sportsmen are beginning to adapt to the changes.

Pennsylvania's total harvest for the 2006-07 seasons was 361,560 deer. This included 135,290 antlered deer and 226,270 antlerless deer.

The total harvest was an increase of 2 percent over the 2005-06 seasons. These numbers represent a small reversal of a declining trend over the past few years, and it was done without increasing the antlerless harvest.

License sales have been dropping, however. In 2005, general hunting license sales fell below 1 million for the first time in many years.

Sales for 2006 appear to be down about 2 percent. Unfortunately, junior hunting license sales were down steeply, to 11 percent for junior licenses and 13 percent for junior combination licenses.

Hunters have frequently asked why deer-management changes had to be made. In cooperation with university researchers, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has been conducting large-scale cutting-edge studies to help biologists make more enlightened decisions in the future and increase their understanding of white-tailed deer management.

One such project, begun in 2005, focuses on the survival rates and relative harvest vulnerability of does, hunter density and dispersal on public and private lands, and how female deer respond to hunter movements.

Initially, this study is taking place in the big woods of WMU 2B and in the ridge and valley area of WMU 4B, concentrating on state forests.

Does are captured, fitted with radio collars and released. During hunting season, hunters' movements will be tracked from the air to determine the relationship between their activity and deer movement. (Continued)

Hunters are encouraged to harvest collared or ear-tagged deer and to report them to the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Bureau of Wildlife Management by calling toll free, at 1-877-PSU-DOES.

Hunters may also report online through the Game Commission's Web site, at www.pgc.state.pa.us.

A fawn study conducted in 2000 and 2001 by Penn State graduate student Justin Vreeland tagged 218 fawns to determine fawn survival rates, major causes of fawn mortality, and when fawns are most vulnerable. This study was done in the Quehanna Wild Area in Elk, Clearfield and Cameron counties, and the Penns Valley area in eastern Centre County. Captured fawns were fitted with radio collars to track their movements.

The greatest cause of mortality -- 22 percent -- was predation, 84 percent of which occurred in the Quehanna Wild Area. Coyotes and bears were the most frequent predators.

Bobcats also ate a few fawns. Half of all predation occurred during the month of June, with declining amounts through July and August.

Other natural causes combined, including disease and starvation, were the second leading cause of mortality. Hunters harvested relatively few fawns, and vehicle collisions accounted for even fewer fawns.

In the past, management goals had been defined by deer densities. According to the PGC, the new system provides more accurate ways to measure progress toward stated goals.

Last year, the deer management plan was updated to redefine management goals, based on what's already been learned.

Management goals are now based on deer health, habitat health and deer-human conflicts. In the past, management goals had been defined by deer densities. According to the PGC, the new system provides more accurate ways to measure progress toward stated goals.

Here's a look at each management region and how things are shaping up for the 2007 deer season:

SOUTHWEST REGION

For several years, Pennsylvania's best deer hunting has been in the Southwest Region. But hunting pressure is heavy due to the human population in and around Pittsburgh.

The Southwest Region counties haven't become the destination area that the "Big Woods" of the north-central counties once were, and to a lesser extent still are. However, many hunters who live in this region are staying home.

Last winter wasn't hard on deer in this region, according to Barry Zaffuto, regional Information and Education supervisor. Going into the spring, deer were in good shape.

A study of whitetail reproductive characteristics indicates that fawn production in WMUs 2A, 2B, 2C, and 2D -- most of the Southwest Region -- is among the best in Pennsylvania. This indicates that the deer population is in good health.

The 2006-07 harvest in WMU 2A was 25,100 total deer, a decrease of 11 percent from the previous year. In WMU 2B, the harvest of 22,300 total deer was a 13-percent increase. In WMU 2C, the harvest of 21,100 deer matched the harvest from the year before. And in WMU 2D, the total harvest of 31,300 deer was a 2-percent decline.

An antlerless license allocation for WMU 2B of 68,000, the same as the previous year, is intended to decrease the population. The WMU 2A allocation is 60,000 tags, an increase of 5,000 over last year. The allocations for WMU 2C and WMU 2D are the same as last year's. The goal, again, is to stabilize the deer population in these latter three wildlife management units.

Southwest Region deer hunters are advised to start scouting now for places to hunt in Allegheny, Westmoreland or Washington counties.

NORTHWEST REGION

"If I wanted to kill a deer, I'd head to Erie or Crawford county game lands where there's a lot of vegetation on the ground," said Pat Anderson, a Northwest Region Land Management supervisor.

Habitat in the Northwest Region is varied. To the west is gently rolling land caused by glaciation and now largely agricultural. To the east, the land is more rugged and mostly forested. There is rolling farmland in WMUs 1B and 1A. In WMU 2D, there is fairly rugged terrain, but with more devel

opment and farmland.

Last year, hunters took 18,800 deer from WMU 1B -- a 10 percent increase over the year before. In WMU 1A, the total harvest was 19,000 deer, an increase of less than 1 percent. The WMU 2F harvest was 15,200 total deer, a 6 percent increase.

License sales have been dropping, however. In 2005, general hunting license sales fell below 1 million for the first time in many years.

Antlerless allocations have been set at 42,000 in WMU 1A, 30,000 in WMU 1B, 56,000 in WMU 2D and 28,000 in WMU 2F, all to stabilize the deer population.

WMU 2F is largely made up of the Allegheny National Forest. This includes portions of Forest and Warren counties.

It's generally agreed that deer numbers have dropped on the ANF, yet the U.S. Forest Service can usually point to areas that still have too many deer.

The Allegheny National Forest contains more than 500,000 acres of public land, attracting hunters from a broad area.

Check the forest's Web site at www.fs.fed.us/r9/Allegheny for maps and more information.

Northwest Region deer hunters are advised to focus on WMU 1A or WMU 1B.

NORTH-CENTRAL REGION

The North-Central Region is similar to WMU 2F, in that it's composed of the Allegheny Highlands -- a heavily forested area of rugged hills famous among deer hunters as Pennsylvania's "Big Woods."

This region still attracts many traveling hunters because of the tradition and adventure associated with a week of deer hunting in the Big Woods.

Total deer harvests were up all over the North-Central Region last year, when 13,300 deer were harvested in WMU 3A, for a 5 percent increase.

In WMU 2G, 11,800 deer were taken (for a 5 percent increase), 15,200 in WMU 2E (10 percent increase) and in WMU 4D, the total harvest of 16,700 was a 19 percent increase.

Antlerless allocations are 29,000 in WMU 3A (identical to last year), 26,000 in WMU 2G (an increase of 7,000 over last year), 21,000 for WMU 2E (same as the year before) and 40,000 in WMU 4D (also the same as the previous year).

All are intended to stabilize the population trend.

Our suggestion for deer hunters of the North-Central Region is to hunt away from the roads and scout for mast crops.

SOUTH-CENTRAL REGION

Hunters may feel encouraged that total deer harvests increased across the South-Central Region.

The most recent deer harvests have been 13,700 total deer from WMU 4A, which was a 19 percent increase, 11,600 for WMU 4A (a 14 percent increase) and 7,400 total deer in WMU 5A (a 4 percent increase).

An antlerless license allocation of 23,000 for WMU 4B -- a drop of 8,000 licenses -- is intended to slightly increase the population trend.

For several years, Pennsylvania's best deer hunting has been in the Southwest Region. But hunting pressure is often heavy due to the human population in and around Pittsburgh.

The goal is to stabilize the population through keeping allocations the same at 29,000 for WMU 4A and increasing licenses for WMU 5A by 3,000, to 22,000.

Hunting in the South-Central Region is a game of its own. Judging solely from the number of deer taken each year, this region doesn't stack up well against other areas of the state. But there is an approach to hunting that can greatly improve the likelihood of success.

One tip for deer hunters in the South-Central Region, said Rob Crisewell, the PGC's regional Information and Education supervisor, is to focus on mountaintop game lands because parts of them are difficult to access.

SOUTHEAST REGION

Urban-suburban deer problems continue to trouble deer managers in the Southeast Region, where the most limiting factor on deer management is property access.

Recently, there have been new regulations and proposals designed to deal with the situation.

Last year, the harvest in WMU 5D was 5,400 deer, a 5 percent increase from the 2005-06 hunting seasons; 23,800 total deer in WMU 5C, a 6 percent decrease; 18,400 total deer in WMU 5B, a 4-percent decrease; and 15,000 total deer in WMU 4C, also a 4-percent decrease.

Antlerless allocations this year are 20,000 in WMU 5D, the same as last year; 84,000 in WMU 5C, an increase of 5,000 tags intended to decrease the population trend; 53,000 for WMU 5B, the same as the year before; and 39,000 at WMU 4C -- the same as the previous year.

Deer hunters in the Southeast Region are advised to head north for more public lands.

NORTHEAST REGION

"If hunters are not willing to change and keep up with adapting wildlife, they're not going to be as successful as they could be because the numbers of deer just aren't there any more," said Tim Conway, the PGC's Northeast Region Information and Education supervisor.

The situation for hunters in the Northeast Region is essentially the same as elsewhere in the Commonwealth.

Conway said that most people in the region are in favor of the new deer management plan. Or at least they far outnumber the ones who come up to him at sports shows and complain.

"I'd have to say the majority of people are in favor of this," he concluded.

The harvests last year were 12,400 total deer in WMU 3D, an 11 percent increase from the previous season; 15,900 total deer in WMU 3C, a 6 percent decrease; 17,100 total deer in WMU 3B, a 1-percent increase; and 13,100 total deer in WMU 4E, a 4 percent decrease.

Antlerless license allocations are 38,000 for WMU 3D, 27,000 for WMU 3C, 43,000 for WMU 3B and 38,000 for WMU 4E. All are the same as the year before, designed to stabilize present population trends.

For more information about deer hunting in Pennsylvania -- including guidelines for acquiring antlerless deer and Deer Management Assistance Program licenses -- contact the Pennsylvania Game Commission at 2001 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17110-9797.

You can also call (717) 787-4250, or check the PGC's Web site at www.pgc.state.pa.us.

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