Reporting deer harvests growing rare
Opportunities to hunt deer are not over. There's the late season in wildlife management unit 2B and the flintlock and late archery seasons.
But the majority of the harvest has already been recorded.
You wouldn't know, though, to judge by what hunters say. Today, as has been the case for decades, hunters are required by law to report killing a deer to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
Fewer than four in 10 do, however.
“Thirty-seven percent of antlered deer and 33 percent of antlerless deer were reported in 2011,” said Chris Rosenberry, the commission's lead deer biologist. “Generally, there has been a steady downward trend (in reporting) since 1982. Reporting rates have dropped 20 percent in the last 30 years.”
That makes Pennsylvania the worst of a bad lot.
Biologists all over rely on deer harvest reports to decide how to manage herds, said Paul Johansen, assistant chief in charge of game management for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
“It gives us the data we need to make management decisions on season lengths and license allocations,” he said.
Yet hunters don't always buy in.
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation requires hunters to report killing a deer within seven days of taking it, said spokeswoman Lori Severino. Yet, “in general, the reporting rate is between 40 and 45 percent,” she said.
In West Virginia, it's about 60 to 65 percent and dropping, Johansen said.
In Maryland, it's about 85 percent, said Brian Eyler, deer project leader for that state's Department of Natural Resources.
Requiring hunters to physically take a deer to a check station to report a deer — rather than report the kill by phone, mail or internet, the options here in Pennsylvania — doesn't seem to make any difference.
The Ohio Division of Wildlife used to require hunters to physically check in a deer. Starting in 2011, it went to online and phone reporting.
Reporting rates have stayed about the same, said spokeswoman Susie Vance.
“People who are willing to report their deer, honest hunters, conservationists, will go to any length to do so. And people who aren't going to report a deer just aren't, no matter what,” she said.
“We've found that you can't regulate for the percentage that isn't playing by the rules because they never were going to anyway,” added Eyler. “You're never going to get 100 percent compliance.”
Check stations are much more costly, though, which is why West Virginia is in the process of moving away from them, at least in part. Johansen said the division of natural resources wants to offer hunters the option of reporting deer via the phone and internet.
“I don't know that we'll ever get away from check stations completely here, because they're kind of a tradition in West Virginia and some people who get a deer like to come in and show it off a little bit, I guess you'd say,” Johansen said. “But it is our hope, in a few years, that we'll have electronic checks for the convenience of our hunters.”
No system is perfect, though, so states are left to figure out harvests as best they can.
In Pennsylvania, since 1982, the Game Commission has been estimating harvests by counting deer actually reported, by doing hunter surveys and by checking 20,000 deer a year at processors to figure out what percentage gets reported.
That's a peer-reviewed method that's statistically accurate, said Tom Fazi, information and education supervisor in the commission's southwest region office.
“That's the biggest complaint we get, that people don't believe our deer harvest numbers. Yet, many of them don't report their kills,” Fazi said. “You can't have it both ways.”
Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-838-5148.