For the opening of Pennsylvania firearms hunting season on Saturday, I found myself crouched in my Chesco tree stand waiting for the opening bell at 6:28 am. It didn’t take long for the action to get underway as the first shot rang out not far away at 6:38 a.m. – just 10 minutes after the legal firing time. A few ticks past seven I spotted a red fox hopping through the forest. Fifteen minutes later, four deer poured down the slope, three roe deer and a goatee.
I carried a crossbow rather than a gun, and all four Whitetails flew within easy bow range of my position. But for someone like me who doesn’t own an antlered stag brand (thanks in part to a mix-up on the HuntFish website where I bought my licenses), none of these bald specimens were legal game. Hardly a deer with antlers showed up that morning before I had to call it a day and attend to some family responsibilities, including finding the right Christmas tree for us and our daughter’s tribe.
Opening day deer hunters and Christmas tree seekers enjoyed excellent weather conditions at Saturday’s opening, with mild temperatures, clear skies and calm winds. Sunday was less favorable here in our south-east neck of Penn’s Woods, where a steady rain picked up mid-morning, turning to a total washout in the afternoon, and by then probably chasing all but the most persistent hunters out of the deerwoods.
I did not hunt on Saturday afternoon or Sunday, although I did enlist the help of my son-in-law to relocate one of my stands of trees later on Saturday. Meanwhile, on opening night, I spotted a five-point buck lurking in the woods near our home. And while that five-pointer would have been legal, I wouldn’t be a threat to him, as I’ve had my eye on a hefty eight-pointer that I’ve encountered a few times during our archery season. I think I might run into him again sometime during Weapons Season, so I’ll keep holding on until then.
The state’s deer season began Saturday and lasted through December 10. The hunt is only closed on Sundays. We might note that hunters here in Keystone state take more deer per square mile than their peers almost anywhere else in the country.
David Stainbrook, department head of deer and elk management at the Pennsylvania (PGC) Game Commission, said one way to measure trends is to look at buck harvest per square mile. This is a good general barometer of the abundance of the deer population. According to the National Deer Association, in the 10 hunting seasons between 2011 and 2020, Pennsylvania ranked second three times, third twice, fourth three times, and fifth twice in the nation for buck harvest per square mile. The bucker crop over the decade averaged 3.2 per square mile, the same as last year.
Of course, the buck harvest per square mile varies between individual Wildlife Management Units (WMUs), with some producing more than others. For example, WMU 2D has averaged $4.9 per square mile over the past three seasons. That was great in Pennsylvania. Seven other WMUs also averaged at least $4 per square mile during this period.
“Success at tomboy starts with exploring and knowing the land,” Stainbrook said. “But patience and time are also important. Perseverance is important as an extra day of hunting can mean the difference between a successful season and an unsuccessful one.”
The folks at PGC will tell you that a flexible season designed to keep many people off work — the weekend after Thanksgiving — gives hunters a chance to get out that way while also making memories with family and friends. In any case, that’s the agency’s main justification for moving the traditional opening date from the first Monday after Thanksgiving to Saturday, and combining it with one of three Sundays when hunting is now legal.
“Pennsylvania’s firearm hunting season draws more than 600,000 hunters to Penn’s Woods each year, and it’s not hard to see why,” said Bryan Burhans, executive director of the Game Commission. “A productive stag herd that includes a high proportion of mature bucks spread across the Commonwealth thanks to antler point restrictions, coupled with a season as user-friendly as any we have offered, sets the stage for an exciting time. ”
Tom Tatum is the outdoor columnist for MediaNews Group. You can reach him at [email protected]