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Frye: Never-ending debate flares up

| Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Deer harvest figures in Pennsylvania are like grainy, out-of-focus, black and white photos of large hairy animals.

Two people look at them. One sees evidence of a real-life Sasquatch, the other sees a guy in a gorilla suit.

Everyone's got their own conclusion, and there's no changing anyone's mind.

The Game Commission comes up with its annual deer kill estimates by counting the harvest cards hunters turn in, then compare that to what they find when they visit butcher shops across the state. They check about 25,000 deer a year.

Some, like commissioner Dave Putnam of Centre County, believe the agency's estimate is pretty reliable. Others disagree, and probably wouldn't believe any figure the agency came up with anyway.

How to address that has been the subject of long debate. Never does a season go by that someone doesn't offer up an idea to improve things.

Last week, state Rep. Bob Godshall of Montgomery County told commissioners he intends to introduce legislation that would require hunters to say whether they killed a deer before they could buy a hunting license the following year.

Putnam pointed out there's already a mandatory reporting mechanism in place. Hunters who kill a deer are required by law to report it, either online, by phone or by mailing in a postage-paid card.

Less than four in 10 do.

Would Godshall's plan change that? Not necessarily, as a hunter could say, truthfully or otherwise, he did or didn't get a deer just to get a license.

There's a bigger problem, though.

Now, the commission provides estimates of the fall deer harvest the following March. That's a few weeks prior to deciding how many doe licenses to make available for the next season.

Under Godshall's plan, a hunter who killed a deer with a bow in Allegheny County in September wouldn't have to tell the commission about it until the following summer, at least.

That would leave the commission in the spot of having to decide how many doe licenses to make available one year not knowing how many deer had been killed the year before.

At least we're not alone in this.

Like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin is a huge whitetail hunting state. There, for decades, hunters have been required to report taking a deer in person at a check station.

Starting next fall, that's going by the wayside. Instead, hunters will have to report their deer — wait for it — online or by phone.

Sound familiar?

Hunters there may believe the count. But Pennsylvania's history says they should expect otherwise.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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