Hunters will be forced to make adjustments
Change is normal when it comes to deer hunting in Pennsylvania.
Almost annually for the past decade, hunters have had to deal with a new season, a new boundary or a new rule.
This year will be no different. The statewide firearms deer season begins tomorrow, and the rules regarding when antlerless deer become fair game and what constitutes a legal buck is again changing in some wildlife management units.
Three additional wildlife management units have been added to the list of those where doe season doesn't begin until the first Saturday. The first five days, Nov. 28 to Dec. 2, will be limited to buck-only hunting not only in 2C, 2D, 2E, 2G, 3C, 4B, 4D and 4E, but also in units 2A, 2F and 3B this year. Does will be legal from Dec. 3-10.
Concurrent buck and doe hunting will be allowed every day of the 12-day deer season in all other units across the state.
Local Pennsylvania Game Commission officers are hoping hunters are aware of the change.
"Just talking to people and from what we're hearing, I'm not totally sure people in unit 2A realize the rules have changed," said Tom Fazi, information and education supervisor in the commission's southwest region office. "We're trying to get the word out so there is no confusion."
"A lot of people from Pittsburgh hunt Raccoon Creek State Park. They might not be aware of the split season," wildlife conservation officer Matt Kramer in Beaver County said.
Likewise, officers aren't sure hunters know about or understand the new antler restrictions.
This year, in what is the first change to antler restrictions since 2002, hunters in units 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B and 2D can shoot a buck with "3-up" antlers.
A "3-up" buck is defined as one that has three points to one side, but — unlike in the rest of the state, where a buck needs only three points of any kind — those three points cannot include the brow tine.
That's causing confusion. Commission officers have investigated at least a half dozen cases of too-small bucks being shot in units 2A and 2B by archers. All had three points on at least one side, but only if you count the brow tine, said wildlife conservation officer Gary Fujak, whose district lies in northern Allegheny County.
"I've been talking to a lot of people about the new rule and what it means, but there's still some confusion out there. I've been telling guys that if they're not sure about a deer, to look for four points on a side, as if the old rules were still in place," Fujak said. "If they do that, they can be sure they're OK."
No matter the rules, the season is expected to be a good one overall, though with some variation.
Ongoing Marcellus shale drilling will have changed the landscape in some areas, said commission executive director Carl Roe. The northcentral region of the state — home to so many hunting camps — has been especially impacted.
Wild foods, meanwhile, vary in abundance and distribution all over this year, according to a survey of officers in the southwest region. Some places, closer to agricultural areas, will offer excellent hunting, most said. More mountainous areas, by comparison, have deer, but they're more scattered.
"There are areas that the hard mast crop did not do so good this year and other areas that the mast crop is excellent. So you will need to look for the hard mast and you should find the deer," wildlife conservation officer Wade Kramer in Somerset County said.
• Hunters must wear 250 square inches of fluorescent orange material on the head, chest and back combined at all times while afield during deer season.
• It's illegal to hunt, chase or disturb deer within 150 yards of any occupied building without the occupant's permission if using a firearm.
• Hunters may use any legal sporting arm, including shotguns and muzzleloaders, but rifles are not permitted to be used in Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware or Montgomery counties.
• All hunters who take a deer must fill out their harvest tag and attach it to the deer's ear before moving the carcass.
• Hunters have 10 days to report harvesting a deer. Reports can be filed using the postage paid card in the hunting digest, on-line at www.pgc.state.pa.us or by calling 1-855-PAHUNT1.