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.
Dr. James Kroll and Pat Hogan discuss the impact of wind on deer behavior.
(Via North American Whitetail)
WMU 2D is checkerboard habitat on sometimes rugged hills. Five state game lands are scattered along the northern border, four are scattered along the southern border, but only one small state game land is in the rest of the unit. Deer hunting is allowed on much of the private land, but permission must be requested and given. State Game Lands No. 262, in northeast Indiana County, has a nice mix of terrain that suite deer. A few areas are somewhat remote. Numerous small tributaries give this state game land character. With some scouting, visiting deer hunters should have good hunts.
WMU 3C is the northeast corner of Pennsylvania. With 10 state game lands, some large, public land access is fair. Terrain varies, but much of the unit is gently rolling. Habitat is checkerboard. State Game Lands No. 159, in northern Wayne County, can give deer hunters a taste of Poconos terrain and habitat, flat and swampy. Access is good. This large state game land, 9,368 acres, is comprised of two large sections. The northern section does not vary a lot in elevation, except for a couple of places. The southern section is steeper. Both sections have remote areas.
WMU 4E has a couple of large state game lands in the south, and about eight others scattered around the unit. Terrain includes some broad valleys and modest mountains. It is located in northern Columbia County, not far from the Lycoming County border, where it gives eastern Pennsylvania deer hunters an Appalachian Plateau hunting experience. With an area of 4,335 acres, also it gives deer hunters some room. As with most, if not all, state game lands, numerous food plots have been established at various locations.
CWD THREAT INTENSIFIES
The Pennsylvania Game Commission tested 5,707 deer for chronic wasting disease through 2016 and found 25 more cases of the deadly disease. All were in Disease Management Area 2, the only area in Pennsylvania where wild deer infected with CWD have been found. This brings to 47 deer the total number of cases of CWD in DMA 2, an accelerated increase that is cause for concern. As a result, the boundaries of DMA 2 will be enlarged.
CWD has been detected in three captive deer farms in 2016 and early 2017 in DMA 2, the first time captive deer have tested positive for CWD in this Disease Management Area.
Special regulations are in place in all three Disease Management Areas in an attempt to stop the spread of CWD. The use or possession of urine-based deer attractants is not allowed. Feeding wild, free range deer is prohibited. Moving certain high risk deer parts out of a Disease Management Area is not allowed. Testing deer for CWD is largely directed to the Disease Management Areas.
CWD has been detected in 22 states and two Canadian provinces. It has been detected in free-ranging reindeer in Norway.
Hunters should avoid shooting, handling or eating deer that appear sick. Wear rubber or nitrile gloves while field dressing deer. Bone out the meat of any deer. Wash hands, knife and anything else that touched a deer immediately after field dressing a deer.