Deer firearms season begins Saturday

Nov. 25—Deer firearms season begins Saturday and runs until Dec. 10.

Hunting will not be permitted on Dec. 4.

Hunters may take only one antlered deer, and as many antlerless deer per antlerless licenses that they possess.

According to the National Deer Association, between 2011 and 2020, Pennsylvania hunters took 3.2 bucks per square mile, ranking second in the nation for buck harvest per square mile three times. The state ranked third twice, fourth three times and fifth twice.

Although the legalization of crossbows has drawn many deer hunters into the woods earlier in the season, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, firearms season still brings more than 600,000 orange-clad hunters afield.

This season, hunters will have to put their boots on the grounds to properly scout and find available food sources.

"The acorn crop is kind of sparse," state Game Warden Shawn Harshaw said. "Certain places have some and certain places don't."

Pennsylvania Game Commission foresters blame several consecutive years of heavy spongy moth defoliation as well as drought-like conditions this year for the lack of acorn production, regardless of elevation.

Most of the black bears that Harshaw has recently checked revealed a diet of acorns, so isolated patches of productive oaks should draw deer.

"The bears are mainly on the acorns, so I'm assuming the deer are also," Harshaw said.

"A lot of the corn is already down, but deer are still using those fields because there's still a lot of feed in them."

Harshaw said that opening-day pressure has decreased dramatically from how things used to be.

"I don't have nearly the pressure that I had 30 years ago when I started," Harshaw said.

"There were places where you would see 50 cars and now you may only see 10 to 15.

"A lot of it has to do with weather. If it's rainy, a lot of guys just don't go out. If we still had snow, there would probably be a ton of guys out."

Thanks to antler point restrictions statewide, there exists a higher proportion of mature bucks, and Harshaw has seen some impressive bucks on his rounds.

"I've been seeing a lot of large bucks," Harshaw said. "Pretty much anywhere hunters go, they should be seeing deer. The main thing I would like is for everyone to be safe, because we had a fatality last year. Be as careful as you can be and know what's beyond your target."

Hunters must wear a minimum of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange on the head, chest and back combined. A hat and vest will satisfy the requirement. Successful hunters must attach a completed tag to the deer's ear, and not the antler, before the animal can be moved.

Harshaw also urged hunters to reacquaint themselves with all game laws, antler point restrictions, seasons and bag limits. Extended black bear season runs concurrently with deer firearms to Dec. 3 in local Wildlife Management Units 2C, 4A and 4D, and to Dec. 10 in 2B.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission website also shows where successful hunters can find head drop-off bins for free chronic wasting disease (CWD) testing, as well as a link to an instructional video for those who wish to test the animal themselves.

John Rucosky is a photographer for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5055. Follow him on Twitter @JohnRucosky.