Buck season optimism

Hunters who take Pennsylvania bucks during the 2017 archery or firearms seasons are eligible to submit photos of their trophies to the Game Commission's Buck Harvest Photo Contest. (By Richard Sayer)Hunters who take Pennsylvania bucks during the 2017 archery or firearms seasons are eligible to submit photos of their trophies to the Game Commission's Buck Harvest Photo Contest. (By Richard Sayer)
By JIM MEYER
Staff Writer

“Opening day” packs promise for hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania hunters as they await the first day of rifle deer season on Monday.

Pennsylvania Game Commission spokesman Travis Lau says hunters can expect an increase in the buck harvest for the third straight year.

“It’s always hard to tell, but all the components seem to be there,” Lau said.

During archery season, which concluded Nov. 11, unseasonably warm weather and an abundance of fall mast made it more challenging to pattern deer movements

“Mast consists of fruit and nuts, generally acorns,” Lau said. “When there’s food everywhere, deer are harder to find.”

Most of Pennsylvania’s deer harvest comes from hunters participating in the firearms season. It has been the state’s principal tool for managing deer for more than a century.

It is also the season that draws the largest crowd, to the extent that many schools in the region close their doors on the opening day.

About a quarter of the season’s buck harvest occurs on the opener, but this season has the potential to be something special and not just on opening day.

Precipitation through spring and summer have fostered an exceptional supply of fall foods. Trees held their leaves longer, and grazing grass continued to grow.

“Last summer was certainly one of the wettest on record,” Lau said.

These conditions have made deer movements tough to sort out. Often, there isn’t a pattern.

Deer are keying on food sources within good cover and staying there. That makes hunting more challenging, especially if you don’t scout to confirm deer are using the area you plan to hunt.

“Agency deer biologists believe there’s a chance we’ll see the state’s buck harvest increase for the third consecutive year,” Game Commission executive director Bryan Burhans said in a press release. “It’s an exciting possibility that banks on last year’s massive acorn crop and a mild winter paving the way for big bucks to get bigger and for more young bucks grow into legal racks.”

Older, larger-racked bucks are making up more of the deer harvest with each passing year. Last year, 149,460 bucks were taken by hunters, making it the second-largest buck harvest in Pennsylvania since antler restrictions were started in 2002.

In addition to its Big Buck Photo Contest, which started last year, the Game Commission is launching the first Beyond the Hunt Photo contest this year.

The Game Commission is encouraging hunters to snap a photo of the landscape or wildlife, hunting buddies, a meal shared at deer camp or any special memory of the Pennsylvania hunting experience.

“Hunting’s about much more than just the harvest,” Lau said. “This contest is a way to promote the importance of preserving those memories. It’s not just about the big buck.”

Photos Beyond the Hunt can be emailed to pgc-contest@pa.gov with the subject line “BTH.” Photos must depict an aspect of hunting other than the harvest with a short explanation of why it is meaningful to you. Photos must be taken in Pennsylvania. Entries will be accepted through Dec. 31.

Hunters who take Pennsylvania bucks during the 2017 archery or firearms seasons are eligible to submit photos of their trophies to the Game Commission’s Buck Harvest Photo Contest. Photos will be accepted through Dec. 17, and also should be emailed to pgc-contest@pa.gov. Use “Buck Harvest” in the subject line.

Game Commission staff will narrow the submitted photos in each contest into groups of contenders to be posted on the agency’s Facebook page, where users will determine the winning photos by “liking” the images. Those submitting the images of the winning archery and firearms bucks will win trail cameras.