Changing deer herd, sharing the harvest and an off tip
Say what you want about how Pennsylvania manages its deer herd, but one thing is definitely true, says C.J. Winand, a Maryland-based biologist and deer-hunting author.
The state once had too many whitetails.
When he was in school at West Virginia, Pennsylvania was known as the “browse line state,” he said. Students would go into the woods and sample the number of tree stems. A healthy forest should have about 10,000 per acre, he said.
There were places in Pennsylvania with 27.
“There was no regeneration whatsoever,” Winand said. “It was sad.”
Something had to change. Those forests could no longer sustain the deer herd as it existed, he said.
“Deer eat a lot. One deer is going to eat three quarters of a ton of vegetation a year,” Winand said.
So now there are fewer but healthier deer.
That reduction in numbers means some hunters struggle to find them more than ever. But others will kill more than one a season.
Perhaps they'll share that bounty.
That's the hope of Hunters Sharing the Harvest, the program for donating venison to feed the hungry.
Each year hunters donate enough “extra” deer to provide 200,000 meals through local food banks, soup kitchens and pantries.
At one time, hunters had to pay to have those deer processed. That's true no more.
Donations from Pennsylvania Game Commission and corporate sponsors cover costs. All hunters need do is take a deer to a participating processor. They do the rest.
Details about the program, including a list of processors and ways to make tax deductible monetary contributions, are at sharedeer.org.
In the meantime, if you're still looking to bag a deer, consider your clothes.
They might be glowing.
Tom Richardson, a hunting guide from Michigan, said one thing most hunters don't realize is that many camouflage hunting clothes – like all garments – are made of fabric treated with ultraviolet, or UV, brighteners. That's to make them appear better to human eyes.
Those same brighteners make those clothes almost glow to deer, though, he added.
A recent University of Georgia study backs that up, suggesting clothes washed in ordinary laundry soaps, which contain brighteners, stand out to deer.
“If you're UV hot, deer can pick you out easier than you can spot another hunter wearing orange in the woods,” Richardson said. “You glow blue.”
Checking your hunting clothes with a black light will tell you whether they've visible to deer that way, he said.
If they are, he recommends washing them with any of several products meant to eliminate that glow, like U-V-Killer, Sport Wash or similar products.
If you want one other tip, one that can work well in areas with oak trees and not a ton of hunting pressure, Richardson suggests acting like a nut.
Or, at least an acorn.
When in his tree stand, he'll use his squirrel call to sound like two bushytails scrapping. At the same time, he'll occasionally drop a small stone out of his stand.
It's not the fighting squirrels that attract deer, he said.
“But when they hear stuff hitting the ground after hearing the squirrels, they think it's acorns,” Richardson said.
Bucks, does and fawns all often come in, head down, “looking for a free meal.”