Hunters killed 343,110 deer in Pennsylvania last year to continue a five-year trend of increasing harvests, according to Game Commission estimates.
Hunters killed 343,110 deer in Pennsylvania last year to continue a five-year trend of increasing harvests, according to Game Commission estimates. (Photo courtesy, Jake Dingel/PGC)

HARRISBURG >> A hunter's chances of bagging a white-tailed deer in Pennsylvania have improved in recent years.
This year however may prove to be a challenge for the 750,000 men, women and children taking to the woods and fields next week. Acorns, the deer's forest food stuff, are scarce.
Roofs go unshingled and phones unanswered during Pennsylvania's firearms deer season, an unofficial state holiday that starts Monday and ends Dec. 14. All school districts in Franklin County will be closed Monday. Only Waynesboro schools reopen Tuesday. The remainder reopen for classes on Wednesday.
Just one of every eight hunters will be fortunate enough to bag a buck, according to Pennsylvania Game Commission data. Prior to outlawing the harvest of spike bucks, about one in seven were that lucky.
Deer populations are stable or increasing in most of the state, according to Chris Rosenberry, who supervises the Game Commission's deer and elk section.
Hunters killed 343,110 deer in Pennsylvania last year to continue a five-year trend of increasing harvests, according to Game Commission estimates. The trend also holds true generally for the three local game management areas -- 4A, 4B and 5A.
Ten years ago, prior to major changes in management of the state deer herd, the statewide haul was 464,890 buck and doe.
The season starts later than usual this year and after more than 90 percent of doe have been bred. What may be more important to the hunter is the food supply.
The acorn crop, or mast, is "really spotty," said District Forester James Smith of Buchanan State Forest. A spring frost hit the white and chestnut oaks this year. Red oaks were hit last spring, and they take two years to recover.
"The deer are lower on the mountain," Smith said. "There is corn still standing. Most of the bear were eating corn. I expect that's where the deer will be as well. They'll be scrambling for food. Deer hunters can expect to do their scouting for deer outside their traditional areas."
District Forester Roy Brubaker of Michaux State Forest said that with the mast crop "virtually non-existent," deer will focus on farm crops at the forest edge or in areas with high levels of desirable browse.
Deer also may seek cover in areas that hunters find difficult to press, according to Brubaker.
"Many acres of the Michaux, particularly south of route 30, are in a dense, pole timber stage of growth from disturbances in the eighties from wind/ice storms and gypsy moths," he said. "There are also large acreages of dense laurel/scrub oak cover. Finding trails leading from food sources to these areas, or bedding and heavily used trails within these cover types can help hunters zero in on a successful hunt."
The local weather on the all-important first day promises to be seasonal in the mid-40s with a light breeze and a 60 percent chance of light rain, according to
There's only hope for a tracking snow during the two-week season. Snow showers are forecast for Thursday morning and flurries on Sunday. What falls after Thursday may stick around as daily high temperatures hover around freezing.
State forests do not maintain their roads in winter. Poor weather may impact a hunter's ability to get into the mountain, or to get back out, Smith said.
Non-hunters venturing outdoors this season might want to consider wearing orange, according to a Game Commission spokesman. Regulations require a hunter to wear a minimum of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange material on head, chest and back combined. An orange hat and vest will satisfy the requirement.
Last year Pennsylvania had 33 hunting-related shooting incidents, none fatal. Shotguns, not rifles, were used in most incidents. Most involved small game hunting, not deer hunting. Nearly all were in daylight.
State forest roads gated at other times of the year are open for the two-week rifle season. For details visit .
The 2013-14 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest is available online at
Jim Hook can be reached at 262-4759.
Why is

to Hunters?

White-tailed deer hunters sometimes become very upset because they see a scarcity of deer one year in the same area in which they were abundant the previous year. They conclude that too many deer were killed the previous year while in fact the difference in deer could be due primarily to the amount of mast(acorns,hickory and beech nuts, etc). Mast may have been scarce the first year so deer were more concentrated around fields and field edges, making them easier to harvest. The next year the deer were probably more scattered because mast was more abundant and widely distributed, making it harder for hunters to locate and kill deer. Wildlife professionals can regulate hunting seasons to protect our wildlife resources and improve wildlife habitat, but they cannot control the weather conditions that determine flowering and subsequent year to year mast abundance.
There was a gathering in West Virginia several years ago of some retired biologists who probably had 50 or more years of hunting experience. They unanimously agreed that hunters today probably know more hunting techniques than previous generations but are less knowledgeable about the woods. Anyone who takes time to learn how to recognize wildlife mast species and the mast conditions in an area will be well on their way to becoming a better hunter.


White-Tailed Deer

The white-tailed
deer is Pennsylvania’s
state animal.
Deer play an
important role in our forests,
and everyone admires their
graceful beauty. “Whitetails”
have been a part of Penn’s
Woods for many centuries.
Native Americans depended
on white-tailed deer as a
source of food, clothing, shelter,
and goods for trading.
It is estimated that Pennsylvania
had 8 to 10 deer per
square mile during those
times. Deer were in balance
with their forest habitat. Deer
populations were kept in
check by large predators, such
as mountain lions and wolves.

Today, Pennsylvania has
an estimated 1.5 million
deer—about 30 deer per
square mile.

Prepared by Gary J. San Julian,
 professor of wildlife ecology, and
Sanford S. Smith, natural resources
 and youth specialist, in Penn
State’s School of Forest Resources.
 Contributors: Theresa M. Alberici,
wildlife education specialist, and Joe
 Kosack, information specialist,
Pennsylvania Game News, with the 
Pennsylvania Game Commission.
Support for the printing of this 
document was provided by the Sandy
Cochran Memorial Fund.
Visit Penn State’s College of Agricultural
 Sciences on the Web:
Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences
 research, extension, and resident education 
programs are
funded in part by Pennsylvania counties, 
the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and 
the U.S. Department
of Agriculture.
This publication is available from the 
Publications Distribution Center, The 
Pennsylvania State University,
112 Agricultural Administration Building, 
University Park, PA 16802. For information
(814) 865-6713.