Deer rifle season begins Saturday in Pennsylvania

Gun hunters will be all over the state this weekend with the start of rifle season for Deer Saturday.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission said the season begins Saturday and will run through Dec. 10, with hunting closed only on Sunday, Dec. 4 through Dec. 10 in wildlife management units in York County, Philadelphia areas , Lehigh and Pittsburgh.

There are few changes to this year’s deer season from previous years, although parts of Lycoming, Northumberland, Montour, Columbia and Sullivan counties have a new chronic wasting disease management area. This area was established in April after a captive deer at a Lycoming County facility tested positive.

Most of Cumberland County is one of the south-central counties in a Disease Management Area where it is illegal to remove high-risk parts such as the head and spinal cord.

Pennsylvanians who suffer from “spring fever,” that constant urge to venture outdoors to hike, hunt, fish, and explore, should plan now to protect themselves and their families from potentially serious tick-borne illnesses — including Lyme disease and the rare but dangerous deer tick virus (DTV), which was first found in high levels in ticks at several locations across the state. “Lyme disease has been present in all 67 counties for some time, and unfortunately the prevalence of the very serious deer tick virus appears to be increasing in some tick populations,” said Patrick McDonnell, Pennsylvania Secretary of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Those in the affected areas can bring deer to approved processors within that disease management area or designated area and they will discard the high-risk parts, or hunters can bring their deer to approved taxidermists in those areas. Meat, antlers free of brain material and other low-risk parts can be transported from an affected area, the commission said.

hunting season

The commission expects the deer population to look good this year.

One way to measure deer herds is to look at how many are killed per square mile in each wildlife management unit, according to David Stainbrook, director of the commission’s department of deer and elk management. According to the National Deer Association, an average of $3.2 per square mile has been successfully hunted in Pennsylvania over the past decade, which the commission estimates is about the average for the last year.

Hunters will have more success given previous numbers in some areas, with those hunting in the Armstrong County region of western Pennsylvania seeing the highest average of bucks hunted. Above average hunts were also recorded in areas around Erie, Northumberland County, Clearfield County, Susquehanna County, Allegheny County, Greene County and Potter County.

“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.”

Paul Weiss, head of the commission’s forestry division, said hard fattening, particularly acorns favored by deer, has been very sporadic this year. He said several regions in the state are reporting poor acorn harvests this fall, which could be attributed to back-to-back years of severe, spongy moth defoliation coupled with drought.

However, Weiss said there are still niches of moderate red oak acorn production, particularly in state wildlife areas that have been sprayed to control spongy moths in the past two years.

Hunters also need to look a little more closely for acorn crops of white and chestnut oaks, which are also in decline this year, Weiss said. However, hickory and soft pulp like crab apple, hawthorn and grapes are about the same amount as last year.

“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. I can barely wait for it.”

Email Naomi Creason at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @SentinelCreason.