2017 Pennsylvania Deer Forecast
September 18, 2017
Pennsylvania deer hunters, as a lot, are traditionalists. As such, most hunt the same place year after year. This makes some sense if you hunt near home, or if you hunt from a camp. Hunting familiar territory has big advantages. But the old sportsmen's saying rings true: "You can't shoot 'em where they ain't."
Truthfully, it would be difficult to find any suitable habitat in Pennsylvania that is not inhabited by deer. Differences in hunting quality based on population density and deer quality vary little from one wildlife management unit to any other wildlife management unit in the state.
If there is any major change in deer hunting success during the coming deer hunting seasons, it will be due to the weather. No snow, too dry, too stormy — all can cause a reduced deer harvest.
Overall, our Pennsylvania deer population is stable, with only a few exceptions. The major change, at least from a deer hunter's perspective, has been improving trophy buck prospects just about everywhere.
We can look at the basic deer harvest figures and perhaps get some notion of where the best deer hunting is found in Pennsylvania. However, this picture becomes much clearer when other data is figured into the equation. Considerable data is provided by the Game Commission in the annual report, "2017-18 Deer Population Report & Antlerless License Allocations."
Deer populations are stable in most wildlife management units, except four where the deer population trend is increasing: WMU 1A, WMU 3A, WMU 3C and WMU 4E. In addition, the Pennsylvania Game Commission currently wants to decrease the deer population in WMU 2G, WMU 3D and WMU 4B. Management reaction in all seven of these wildlife management units is to use relatively high antlerless deer license allocation.
The number of licenses needed to harvest one antlerless deer is a pretty good indication of deer abundance. Of our 23 wildlife management units, less than four licenses were needed to harvest each antlerless deer in just seven units for the 2016-17 license seasons. Ranging in order from 3.2 licenses per antlerless deer to 3.8 licenses per antlerless deer: WMU 2H, WMU 2D, WMU 2F, WMU 3C, WMU 4E. WMU 1B and WMU 3B.
This season, only six wildlife management units are projected to take fewer than 4.0 licences to harvest each antlerless deer. Ranging from 3.3 licenses per antlerless deer to 3.8 licenses per antlerless deer: WMU 3C, WMU 2D, WMU 4E, WMU 1B, WMU 2E and WMU 3B. WMU 2E is new to the list. WMU 2F and WMU 2H disappeared.
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Only in WMU 2C has deer impact on their habitat been increasing over the past five years, strongly suggesting that 2C has too many deer for the habitat.
Trends in deer population after the deer seasons are stable or increasing in all wildlife management units.
Antlered deer harvests per square mile showed considerable range for the 2016-17 hunting season. Only one unit — WMU 2H — had fewer than two antlered deer harvested per square mile. On the other hand, antlered deer harvest rates of more than four per square mile took place in WMU 2B, WMU2D, WMU 2E, WMU 4E and WMU 5C.
All 10 remaining units have antlered deer harvest rates of three to four per square mile.
Buck harvest trends may be the best measure of hunting quality for any given region. But how do you rate WMU 2G, which is in the two to three antlered deer per square mile group against WMU 2D, which is very different land use. Rather than the vast forest of WMU 2G, WMU 2D is checkerboard habitat, a mix of wood lots, cultivated fields, grazing meadows and overgrown fields of various ages. You can get at these deer, if you can gain access to private land. WMU 2G has long distances between roads, unbroken forest and hills that are much higher and much steeper.
Most of the big bucks on WMU 2D are known by hunters. Some of the big bucks on WMU 2G do not see any hunters through entire hunting seasons. It is for this reason they get even bigger.
There is the question of personal taste. Hunters have various goals, various preference in surroundings. Rural hunt or big woods hunt, what kind of experience does a hunter want to have?
WMU 2D has had the greatest average annual deer harvest over the past five years at 30,960 deer per year. WMU 5C is second at 27,260 per year, WMU 5B is third at 20,260 per year. WMU 2B is fourth with 19,540 per square mile, and WMU 3C is fifth at 18,550 per square mile.
Putting all of this information together, the better wildlife management units for deer hunting should be clearer. Giving the corresponding wildlife management units a check for making each positive high position, only three units got four "good hunting" check marks: WMU 2D, WMU 3C and WMU 4E. All other units had two, or fewer, positive checks. Quite a difference.