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Pa. Game Commission still debating length of buck, doe seasons

| Monday, March 17, 2014, 10:09 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Hunters upset with Pennsylvania's deer program want the same thing hunters upset with the deer program wanted in 1990.

More deer.

What, if anything, should be done about that is something Game Commissioners debated Monday at their work group meeting.

Commissioner Tim Layton of Somerset County asked agency staff in January to look at the pros and cons of returning to two weeks of buck-only hunting, followed by a three-day doe season. That's the way things were prior to 2001.

Now, firearms hunters get either 12 days of concurrent buck and doe hunting, or five days of buck-only hunting followed by seven days of concurrent hunting, depending on which wildlife management unit they hunt.

Some have suggested a return to the “old days” would boost hunter satisfaction.

History says that's unlikely, said Chris Rosenberry, head of the commission's deer management section.

He looked at the state's deer hunting past, breaking it down into two eras, from 1990-99 and from 2002-12.

In the 1990s, herds were increasing to the point that populations were above goal in all but one of the state's 67 counties, Rosenberry said. In the 2000s, they were lowered to reach those goals, and have been maintained there since, he said.

It hasn't mattered. The most common complaints then and now were that doe season was too long, that hunters weren't seeing enough deer and that all of the deer left were on private lands as opposed to public lands, he said.

Some statistics show those fears were unfounded then and still are now, he added.

Pennsylvania ranked second nationally in terms of antlerless deer killed per square mile in the days of a three-day doe season, he said, behind West Virginia and ahead of Wisconsin, New Jersey and Alabama. It still ranks second today, despite longer doe seasons, trailing Maryland and ahead of South Carolina, Delaware and Georgia.

As for fears that the new deer seasons are driving hunters away, Rosenberry pointed out that license sales, among hunters in general and deer hunters in particular, began falling in the 1980s. That trend has continued. If anything, though, the state is losing a smaller percentage of its hunters now than it did in the 1990s, he said.

The irony is that the same hunters complaining about too few deer as far back as the 1990s always wanted more time to hunt them, said Cal DuBrock, director of the commission's bureau of wildlife management. Every year from 1987 on, when he got involved with the commission, lawmakers and hunters would call before the three-day doe season was over asking if the commission was going to extend it to a Saturday, he said.

Commissioner Ron Weaner of Adams County said it's inconceivable to him that the commission would go back to a three-day doe season. Every other decision the commission has made in recent years has been about expanding opportunities to make it easier for hunters to get in the woods, he said.

“This does just the exact opposite. It makes no sense at all,” Weaner said.

Layton disagreed, suggesting that adding a three-day doe season to the end of buck season adds time, though “it doesn't make it any easier” to kill a deer.

The people asking for a three-day doe season aren't worried about opportunity, or the economies of towns with hunting camps or anything else, said commissioner Dave Putnam of Centre County.

“All of those emails we receive are a roundabout way of saying they want us to kill fewer deer,” 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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