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Down year for deer

| Sunday, Dec. 16, 2007

John Ozohonish had 30 hunters, each as optimistic as the next, register for the buck pool in his sporting goods store before the state of Pennsylvania's firearms deer season.

Two weeks later, though, just four had killed anything with a rack.

Chuck Kobasik of Rices Landing shot the winning deer, a nine-point with a 21-inch spread. That's an impressive buck by any standard, but in this case, it didn't have a lot of competition either.

"The guys that got bucks got some nice ones, but the kill seemed down," said Ozohonish, owner of Ozie's Sporting Goods in Rices Landing.

That seems to be how things went across much of western Pennsylvania. Though official harvest figures from the 2007 deer season won't be available until March, many expect the harvest will prove smaller than last year's.

A couple of factors may have contributed to that.

Lousy weather on opening day -- in the form of a day-long, soaking rain -- undoubtedly impacted the harvest, said Mark Zimmerman, a partner in Hoffer's Ligonier Valley Packing.

Hoffer's usually butchers 800 or so deer a year, Zimmerman said. He expects to do 20 percent fewer this year, even with the late deer seasons yet to come.

"We were down 100 on the first day, and that's right about where we stayed. Whatever you lose that first day, you're not going to get back," Zimmerman said.

Likewise, the Fredericktown Deer Shop handled close to 1,000 deer last year. This year, it's done only 679, said manager Mark Givonelli.

He, too, blamed that partly on the weather. Typically, the shop gets 400 deer in on opening day. This year, it had just 150. The kill was actually better than normal the rest of the week, but nothing could overcome that slow beginning, he said.

The presence of the disease EHD in deer herds before the season might also have kept the kill down, Givonelli said.

"We were getting a lot of calls from people worried about EHD, wondering whether it was even safe to shoot a deer," he said.

Others believe this year's smaller harvest is the result of there just being too few deer in places.

Bill Chepanoske operates Trophy Crossroads Taxidermy Studios in Elizabeth. Now semi-retired, he typically gets 10 to 15 deer each year to mount. This year, he got five.

It's no surprise, he said, that they were all taken locally. His son and a group of friends, for example, killed five does on the last day of the season near Claysville. They also missed an eight point and had a 10-point run in front of their vehicle as they were leaving.

By comparison, Chepanoske spent five days hunting in Elk County and never saw a deer.

"Places like Washington and Allegheny counties have always had nice deer, but the three-point areas need looked at," Chepanoske said.

A lack of hunters, at least in places, may have also contributed to the slow pace.

David Grove, a wildlife conservation officer cadet in southern Indiana County for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, said things were "really, really busy" there, especially once snow fell. But hunters were hard to find elsewhere.

Beth Fife, the commission's officer in eastern Allegheny County, was expecting to be busy on the two Fridays and Saturdays of the season, as is usually the case. This year, though, she saw relatively few hunters and got almost no calls about them.

"I kept tapping my radio just to make sure it was working," Fife said.

Add all those things up and this deer season was a tough one all the way around, said Chris Goch of Backwoods Taxidermy in Allegheny Township, near Leechburg. Expecting to get 30 to 40 deer to mount, he ended up with about 25.

"Overall, it was just a slower year, definitely," Goch said.

Additional Information:

Better late than never

If there's a good side to the way this year's deer season went, it's that there should be plenty of deer still left in the woods, said Jeffery Kendall, a Game Commission wildlife conservation officer in Lawrence County. Hunters can start looking for them soon.

The statewide late archery and flintlock muzzleloader deer seasons run concurrently from Dec. 26 to Jan. 12.

In wildlife management unit 2B, meanwhile, archers can shoot deer now through Dec. 22. Hunters can also shoot deer in unit 2B from Dec. 26 to Jan. 26 using any legal sporting arm, including shotguns.

In most cases, hunters need a doe tag or a DMAP tag to take an antlerless deer. Flintlock hunters can take a doe or a buck, provided it has the correct number of points, with their back tag.

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