By Lisa Byers
Another holiday has come and gone. Now it’s time for Pennsylvania’s unofficial holiday: Monday’s opening day of the two-week general deer hunting season.
“Unofficial?” Steve Preston said. “It’s an official holiday. It’s Pennsylvania. It’s official.
“The whole season winds up to the crescendo. And it should be another good buck season.”
Preston, the Northwest Division chairman of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, is predicting a successful season for hunters.
“I’ve hit two with my car just in the last month,” he said. “So the population must be up a little. And there are some healthy-looking buck around.”
Local outdoorsman John Crooks said it’s hard to tell what kind of a season it will be, but he’s predicting the opposite. Crooks said he had a slower-than-usual archery season, but did note that he passed up a couple of legal buck in an attempt to bag a larger one.
“It’s my personal opinion,” Crooks said, “but I don’t think the deer are here are like they used to be. There is too much highway mortality. They don’t have a handle on how many deer are killed on the road. The herd is down.
“Areas where you go spotting … you either see a lot or you go miles and miles and never see a deer. The herds are down locally. And that is due in part to shooting too many doe and the antler restrictions.”
The key to success, however, is getting out in the woods, which both Preston and Crooks said has been a struggle the last couple of years for a variety of reasons.
Weather is a big variable. For those hunters looking for snow, though, they should be in luck. The forecast is calling for at least a 30 percent chance of snow now through Wednesday.
Another factor is antler restriction.
“A lot of hunters get discouraged with the antler restriction,” Crooks said. “It is very hard to count points on a walking or running deer. And not only do you have to count, they have to be an inch long.
“It’s very difficult and that has discouraged a lot of people. Many just shoot a doe and go home.”
That is something Preston would like to see change. It’s all about adaptation.
“Everything changes, including hunting,” he said. “You can be the old guy sitting on the stump the last 50 years and never change or you can change with it. There are a lot more opportunities out there than there has ever been. Hunting is as good as it has ever been.
“The problem is there are too many one-day hunters.”
For those hunters preparing to head out to the woods on Monday, Crooks and Preston have some advise. Both said it’s important to be sure you respect private property when you are looking for a place to camp out for the day, while searching for your prized deer.
Ask permission before setting up shop for the day and be aware of your surroundings.
“Even where we hunt is changing,” Preston said. “There is more population, more buildings. Maybe a house is sitting where it wasn’t before.”
“Safety is the biggest thing,” Crooks said.
Crooks also advises hunters to keep their eyes open for dead deer. Earlier this fall, the Pennsylvania State Game Commission said Epizootic hemorrhagic disease was suspected of killing 14 white-tailed deer in North Shenango Township. Crooks said the disease had killed between 70 and 80 percent of the Pymatuning Wildlife Refuge population. More information on the disease can be found by visiting pgc.state.pa.us.
Crooks said he will be in his tree stand first thing Monday morning and will leave at dark.
“I spend a lot of time out there,” he said. “I hunt every day. I’ve hunted since I was 12 years old. I’m 63 right now. It’s all I want to do.”
“Have a great time in the woods,” Preston said. “It’s a beautiful time. Take that young fellow or gal out and show them what sportsmanship and hunting is all about. And above all, be safe.”
The Pennsylvania Game Commission reminds all hunters that they must wear 250 square inches of fluorescent orange on the head, chest and back combined at all times while out hunting and advise that it is “illegal to hunt, chase or disturb deer within 150 yards of any occupied building without the occupant’s permission,” a press release noted.
To report a deer harvest, visit pgc.state.pa.us or call (855) 724-PAHUNT1.
Lisa Byers can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.