Many businesses and even schools close on the first day of rifle season in Pennsylvania, which gives you an indication of how big deer hunting is in this state. Yet in some areas of Pennsylvania you would be hard pressed to find anyone to tell you that deer hunting in their state is good.
That's probably no surprise since deer hunters are passionate and are usually "armchair biologists." But when you add in about 300,000 deer taken per year by about 800,000 Pennsylvania hunters, and the fact that the state doesn't release a herd population estimate, folks can get a bit upset.
Despite all that, Pennsylvania deer and elk supervisor Chris Rosenberry characterized his state as providing numbers of deer more than quality – but noted that things are different in Pennsylvania than they were 10 years ago, when it was all about deer numbers. One important difference is that overall buck quality is better.
The bottom line is that deer hunting is still huge in Pennsylvania, and probably always will be.
Deer Population: Pennsylvania won't issue a deer forecast, but Rosenberry said, "We have to enough to sustain a harvest of 300,000 deer per year for the last six years."
Economic Impact of Deer Hunting: $1.5 billion
Numbers and Quality
The southeast part of the state and parts of western Pennsylvania have the highest harvests, Rosenberry said, and some of the best-quality deer are found in the same areas. "Those areas have a fair amount of development, and what's not developed is agriculture. Development means limited access so the bucks get older," he noted.
Current Status of the Deer Population: 1-5 scale with 1 being poor and 5 being optimal
Rosenberry gave it a 4. "If we compare today to 20 or 30 years ago, our hunter success rate is similar, but the difference is we're killing two times as many adult bucks as before. Now an adult [buck that's killed] is two and a half years old and older. In the past, the vast majority were one and a half years old with their first set of antlers."
Status 5 Years From Now
Rosenberry predicts Pennsylvania will still be a 4 five years from now. "We've been in a [herd] stabilization mode for the last five or six years, and except in certain areas I don't see us getting out of that too often."
Biggest Factors Over the Next 5 Years
The biggest short-term issue for Pennsylvania is the aging of its forests and the lack of forest regeneration. "Our forest is more mature than it was 50 years ago," he said. But he noted that right now, "the vast majority of Pennsylvania deer are dying because of hunting, and that's something we can control."
Though there has been some recent reporting about deer diseases in Pennsylvania, Rosenberry said right now he's "not dealing with significant disease issues." Epizootic hemorrhagic disease is sporadic and local. And though Pennsylvania biologists haven't detected chronic wasting disease yet, "the last-known positive in Maryland was 10 miles from our southern border," he said. "So the reality is it's probably just a matter of time until we have it somewhere."
Any Doom and Gloom?
To the question of whether he can foresee any areas of his state having a large population decline or crash at some point, he said, "None that we're seeing any indications of right now.
"Our objective in almost all units for the last six years has been to stabilize deer populations, and by the data we have we've done that. There's not much variation in reproduction or recruitment, so our deer populations are pretty much stable and I don't anticipate any changes to that."