Deer Key In Keystone State

Pennsylvania's strong deer hunting heritage began in colonial times

Deer Key In Keystone State
The Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving are the two busiest days on Pennsylvania highways for two reasons: people heading home after turkey day, and Pennsy hunters heading to deer camp – which they've been doing for hundreds of years.

That may be no surprise since Pennsylvania is one of the oldest states in the U.S., and deer hunting is one of the oldest traditions in the state.

"Deer hunting in Pennsylvania goes back to colonial times – it's just that simple," said Joe Kosack, a wildlife education specialist for the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC). "A fascination with whitetail deer has always been something Pennsylvanians hold near and dear to their hearts."

Penn State estimated the deer herd at 1.37 million. (Jake Dingel/PGC photo)

Because of its early start, the state was active sooner than most in deer management. It was one of the first states to enact a law protecting deer, and then in 1895 created the PGC "because hunters weren't happy with the number of deer they were seeing," Kosack said.

By 1907 the state created a law, conventionally known as "the Buck Law," that protected antlerless deer.


"Everybody kind of thought it was a cool thing – the right thing from a gallantry standpoint," he said. "It was 'protecting moms.' Everybody liked it."


That early measure helped jumpstart the deer population in Pennsylvania, along with deforestation that was occurring due to farming.

"The deer population took off, and within a short amount of time we were starting to have problems with crop damage," said Kosack. (Vehicle accidents weren't yet a problem because this was in the 1920s, just 12 years after the Ford Model T came out.)

Because of farmer complaints, Pennsylvania held its first deer season – but "ran into all sorts of problems because no one wanted to shoot antlerless deer," Kosack said. The PGC was "trying to sell doe licenses, and hunters didn't want us to allow it."

After a while the habitat took a beating from too many deer, the population suffered, and the PGC was forced to ban the antlered-deer harvest in 1928 and 1938.


"That's the only way we could get people to go out and hunt," he said. "We had to battle sometimes to get the seasons we needed to make sure the resource was managed properly."

That passion for deer and the resultant battles over what's "right" for deer continue to this day in Pennsylvania, where hunting has an estimated economic impact of $4.8 billion, much of that whitetails, according to the Center for Rural Pennsylvania.

To cut down on some of the deer debates, the PGC now refuses to publish an estimate of the number of animals in the herd. Penn State University recently estimated it at 1.37 million animals. If true, that puts the state in the top tier of whitetail numbers, along with southern states and some midwestern states like Minnesota.


It can be said that arguing over deer is a tradition in the state, just like the fact that ever since the 1960s, deer season always opens on the Monday after Thanksgiving. Since Pennsylvania is still largely rural, that means farm kids don't go to school that Monday. And since they and their teachers want to be out hunting, some rural school districts still give that day off.

Another tradition the state maintains is a traditional flintlock muzzleloader season after Christmas. No in-lines, no percussions and no optics.

"It's been that way for a very long time," said Kosack, a line that pretty much sums up everything about Pennsylvania deer hunting.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Mustad

Mustad's Inkvader Octopus Live Jig

From big fish to small, just about any saltwater game fish out there will love the new Mustad Inkvader Octopus Live Jig that Mustad's Russ Whisler shows to OSG's Lynn Burkhead.

Mustad

Mustad's Saltwater Jig Lineup

Russ Whisler shows OSG's Lynn Burkhead the innovative features and great color schemes in Mustad's voluminous lineup of saltwater jigs introduced at ICAST 2019.

Costa

Costa's Award Winning Waterwoman Sunglasses

Costa's Amanda Sabin tells OSG's Lynn Burkhead about all of the great features that made the new Waterwoman frame a big winner at the 2019 ICAST show as well as out on the water.

Mustad Skatter Shad Bladed Jig

Mustad Skatter Shad Bladed Jig

As Mustad continues to expand into an all-around tackle company, Reid McKinstry shows off some innovative features that make the Mustad Skatter Shad bladed jig a winner in big bass waters.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Dozens of different bait types are commonly used for catfish, including these great options. Catfish

12 Great Catfish Baits

Jeff Samsel

Dozens of different bait types are commonly used for catfish, including these great options.

From Monksville Reservoir to Union Lake, plus five other picks, here's where you'll find the Garden State's hottest bass fishing. Destinations

7 Best Bets for New Jersey Bass

J.B. Kasper - October 04, 2010

From Monksville Reservoir to Union Lake, plus five other picks, here's where you'll find the...

Celebrate with great food for your backyard BBQ or picnic with these outdoor recipes. Wild Game

10 Recipes for Your Outdoor BBQ

Game & Fish Online Staff

Celebrate with great food for your backyard BBQ or picnic with these outdoor recipes.

While catfish are still catfish, the difference between day and night tactics and strategies can be profound, even when fishing the same lake or river. Catfish

How to Catch Catfish Day and Night

Terry Madewell - April 04, 2018

While catfish are still catfish, the difference between day and night tactics and strategies...

See More Trending Articles

More Stories

 Missouri hunter Tim Phillips is all smiles after using his late grandfather's worn Marlin 30.30 Stories

Grandpa's Gun Tags Giant Buck, Ends Multi-Year Quest

Lynn Burkhead - November 21, 2017

Missouri hunter Tim Phillips is all smiles after using his late grandfather's worn Marlin...

A father and daughter with their dogs on a dry ground mountain lion hunt get more than they bargain Stories

Arizona Mountain Lion Hunt Turns Into Dangerous Jaguar Encounter

Aaron Decker - November 30, 2011

A father and daughter with their dogs on a dry ground mountain lion hunt get more than they...

A rimfire, old standard and new import top our list of favorite rifles for coyote hunting 

All Stories

3 Coyote Guns

Brad Fitzpatrick - September 28, 2017

A rimfire, old standard and new import top our list of favorite rifles for coyote hunting...

It was a difficult question for a young hunter to ask, and the answer didn't come any easier. Stories

Deer Camp Lesson Learned the Hard Way

Jeff Johnston - February 04, 2020

It was a difficult question for a young hunter to ask, and the answer didn't come any easier.

See More Stories

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.