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Changes to deer harvest reporting possible in Pennsylvania

| Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, 9:57 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania hunters may see a new system for reporting a deer harvest.

Any change can't some soon enough for some.

Currently, when a hunter kills a deer, he is required to report it to the commission within 10 days. Reporting can be done using a mail-in paper card, by phone or online.

Few comply using any means. Commission estimates are that fewer than 40 percent of successful hunters report their deer.

Hunters who take a deer using a deer management assistance program, or DMAP, permit, aren't much better. Hunters with a DMAP tag are required to file a report whether they killed a deer or not. Only 47 percent do, Matt Hough, executive director of the commission, told members of the state House of Representatives game and fisheries committee Tuesday at the capital.

Hough was delivering the commission's annual report to lawmakers.

Rep. Joe Emrick, a Northampton County Republican, said the result is few hunters believe the commission's annual deer kill estimates.

Hough, for example, said hunters killed an estimated 343,110 deer in 2012-13. Emrick wasn't buying it, not after having what he described as his worst deer season in a decade last year.

“If I told (that number) to the guys I know and hunt with, they'd think that you were joking. They would laugh,” Emrick said.

Commissioner Dave Putnam of Centre County defended the agency's harvest estimates after the meeting, saying that the deer reported, combined with information collected by visiting deer processing shops around the state, yields a harvest estimate with a 97 percent confidence interval.

“This is not a guess. It's a scientific estimate with some precision to it,” Putnam said.

Emrick thinks the commission can and should do better, though, and suggested it try to get better data by more aggressively fining hunters who don't report their deer.

“I can drive past 80 police officers running radar, and if they're not going to enforce the law, nothing's going to change. People aren't going to slow down,” he said.

Hunters who don't report their deer harvest can be fined $25, said Rich Palmer, chief law enforcement officer for the commission as head of its bureau of wildlife protection. A few such people are cited each year, he added.

But cases are hard to win given that hunters have “almost a built-in defense,” he said.

“They say, ‘Hey, I mailed it in. It must have gotten lost.' How do I prove that he didn't?” Palmer said.

Still, the commission is looking into possible changes. Some states require a hunter to call a toll-free number within 24 hours of taking a deer, Putnam said. They're given a number that must be written on their harvest tag. Only when they have that number is their deer officially “legal,” he said.

Board members will be discussing that idea and maybe others at their next meeting, he said.

Emrick said something needs to be done.

“I'm becoming more and more a proponent of radically changing our harvest reporting rate,” he said.

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

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