HARRISBURG, PA - Opening day of Pennsylvania’s statewide firearms deer season is not, officially, a state holiday. Never has been.
But you could be excused for thinking otherwise.
The busiest single day on the hunting calendar by far, it annually causes about half a million people to do whatever they can to get into the woods.
What else would you expect in a state where deer hunting has such a long-standing and strong culture?
The National Deer Association (NDA) regularly ranks Pennsylvania tops in the country for hunter density. It says there were 14.4 hunters per square mile here in 2021, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Only three other states – New York (12), Wisconsin (11.4) and New Jersey (10.5) – hit double digits.
Expect similar crowds this year. The season starts on Saturday, Nov. 25, continues on Sunday, Nov. 26, then runs through Saturday, Dec. 9, excluding only Sunday, Dec. 3. Hunters will be out in force throughout.
“Pennsylvania’s firearms deer season is truly a tradition unlike any other,” said Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “We’ve got lots of deer and lots of hunters pursuing them, some from camps far from home, others in woodlots and fields near where they live. But all share the same passion for wildlife, hunting and conservation. That’s something special.”
Pennsylvania’s hunters typically do well overall, too, compared to their counterparts around the country.
According to the NDA, Pennsylvania ranked in the top five states in 2021 for antlered buck harvest; antlered buck harvest per square mile; antlerless deer harvest; antlerless deer harvest per square mile; and antlerless deer per antlered buck harvest. That wasn’t the first time, either. Pennsylvania stands among the top states in those categories all the time, it noted.
“We are in a very productive part of the country for deer, and we have a lot of deer out there,” said David Stainbrook, Game Commission Deer and Elk Section Supervisor.
Last season, in 2022-23, hunters harvested an estimated 422,960 white-tailed deer: an estimated 164,190 bucks and 258,770 antlerless deer. The buck harvest in particular – considered a good indicator of the overall deer population trend – was 2% higher than the most-recent three-year average, so right in line with recent trends.
Some of those bucks were very nice in terms of antler structure. Thanks to antler point restrictions, the average Pennsylvania buck harvested is older and usually bigger than those of yesteryear.
Whereas once hunters harvested 80% of Pennsylvania bucks as 1.5-year-old yearlings, now more than 60% of the antlered harvest is made up of bucks 2.5 years old or older. That one extra year typically allows them to express twice as much of their antler potential, and even more if they reach older ages.
But every deer harvested, regardless of whether it’s got antlers or not, provides healthy venison for the table. They serve up memories, too, on opening day and later in the season. And the harvesting of antlerless deer is critical to achieve deer management goals.
“Success in harvesting deer starts with scouting and knowing the land,” said Game Commission deer biologist Bret Wallingford. “But patience and putting in time are important, too. So this season, hunters should hit the woods every chance they get.
“Persistence matters, as one additional day hunting can make the difference between a successful season and an unsuccessful one.”
Hunters are permitted to harvest one antlered deer with a valid general hunting license, which costs $20.97 for adult residents and $101.97 for adult nonresidents.
To take an antlerless deer, a hunter must possess either a valid antlerless deer license or valid Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) permit. A mentored hunter under the age of 7 cannot apply for their own antlerless license or DMAP permit, but can harvest an antlerless deer if an antlerless license or DMAP permit is transferred to them by a mentor at the time of harvest.
Antlerless deer licenses can be used anywhere within the Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) for which they’re issued. Two WMUs – 2B, which surrounds Pittsburgh, and 4A, in southcentral Pennsylvania – still had antlerless licenses available at the time of this release.
Hunters can check up-to-the-minute availability at https://huntfish.pa.gov/pa/antlerlesswmu/remainingquotas.
Getting a license, should any remain, is simpler than in past seasons. As recently as last year, hunters applied for “doe” tags using pink envelopes that had to be mailed to county treasurers. Now, hunters can buy licenses directly from any license issuing agent or online at www.huntfish.pa.gov.
Be aware that licenses purchased online must be mailed, to provide hunters with an actual harvest tag. So hunters buying their license close to opening day may want to do so in person at a vendor, so as to get their harvest tag immediately and be able to lawfully hunt.
A DMAP permit, meanwhile, can be used only on the specific property for which it is issued. Some DMAP permits might remain available on private and public properties throughout the state. Visit the DMAP Participating Properties locator on the Game Commission’s website to learn more about where they are available.
As for mentored hunting permits, they’re available to hunters of all ages. Mentored hunters ages 7 and older receive an antlered deer harvest tag with their permit and can apply for their own antlerless deer license. Those under 7 must receive deer harvest tags from their mentors. A mentor can transfer an antlered deer harvest tag and an antlerless license and/or DMAP permit to a mentored hunter under 7.
Mentored hunting permit fees are $2.97 for residents and nonresidents under 12; $6.97 for residents 12 to 16; $41.97 for nonresidents 12 to 16; $20.97 for residents 17 and older; and $101.97 for nonresidents 17 and older.
Hunters 12 or older who are certified through the Game Commission’s Hunter-Trapper Education program qualify to purchase general hunting licenses, which provide more privileges. Certified hunters 12 to 16 can obtain junior licenses, the least expensive of which cost $6.97 for residents and $41.97 for nonresidents.
Those holding senior lifetime licenses are reminded they must obtain a new antlered deer harvest tag each year, free of charge, to participate in the season.
Hunters are reminded the field possession of expired licenses or tags, or another hunter’s licenses or tags, is unlawful.
Deer season regulations
Antler point restrictions vary by WMU. In most WMUs, a buck with three points to a side, counting the brow tine, is legal to harvest. But in WMUs 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B and 2D, a buck must have three points not counting the brow tine.
Junior license holders, mentored youth, disabled hunters with a permit to use a vehicle, and resident active-duty U.S. Armed Services personnel, can harvest antlered deer with two or more points on one antler, or a spike three or more inches in length.
For a complete breakdown of antler restrictions, WMU boundaries and other regulations, consult the 2023-24 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, which is provided to hunters and available online at the Game Commission’s website, www.pgc.pa.gov.
Deer hunters everywhere statewide, meanwhile, must wear at all times a minimum of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange material on their head, chest and back combined, visible from 360 degrees, during the firearms deer season. An orange hat and vest will satisfy the requirement.
Nonhunters who might be afield during deer season and other hunting seasons should consider wearing orange, as well. And on state game lands between Nov. 15 and Dec. 15, nonhunters are required to meet the 250-square-inch fluorescent orange requirement.
Hunters who harvest a deer are required to affix a valid tag to the ear – not an antler – before the deer is moved. Hunters can use a large safety pin to attach the tag, as it won’t damage the ear. The tag must be filled out with a ballpoint pen.
Hunters must then report their harvest to the Game Commission within 10 days. Harvests can be reported online at www.huntfish.pa.gov, by calling 1-800-838-4431 or by mailing in the postage-paid cards that are provided in the digest.
Mentored youth hunters are required to report deer harvests within five days. And hunters with DMAP permits must report on their hunting success within 10 days of the last possible date of harvest, regardless of whether they harvest deer.
Chronic Wasting Disease
There are new rules in place this year for those hunting within a Disease Management Area (DMA) or the Established Area (EA). They’re meant to make things easier on hunters while still addressing CWD concerns.
Previously, hunters who harvested a deer within a DMA or the EA had to either process it themselves within those boundaries – leaving behind high-risk parts like the head and backbone – or take it to an approved processor and/or taxidermist specific to that DMA or EA.
Those protections helped limit the human-assisted spread of CWD. But they also meant hunters who harvested a deer in a DMA or the EA, yet lived somewhere else, likely had to make a return trip to pick up their meat or mount.
Starting this season, hunters who harvest a deer within a DMA or EA – or even outside Pennsylvania – can take it directly to any Game Commission-approved processor or taxidermist anywhere in the state that will dispose of high-risk parts properly. The list of cooperators is available on the agency website, www.pgc.pa.gov.
The changes do three things: ensure the proper disposal of high-risk parts, one way of preventing CWD’s spread to new areas; enhance CWD surveillance, as cooperators must allow Game Commission staff to do biological sampling, such as CWD sample collection and deer aging; and make taking deer within a DMA or the EA more convenient for hunters.
The new rules don’t allow a hunter to take a deer from a DMA or the EA and process it themselves at home. Nor can hunters place any high-risk cervid parts from deer killed within a DMA or EA on the landscape away from the kill site.
Just remember one thing: there are, across Pennsylvania, fewer butchers handling deer than in years past. Some get all that they can handle quickly, too, especially around opening day.
So it’s a good idea for all hunters – and especially those removing a deer from a DMA or the EA – to call ahead and make sure your processor of choice is open and accepting whitetails before you get there.
And once again, hunters who harvest a deer in a DMA or the EA can get it tested for CWD for free by placing the animal’s head in one of many collection bins, the locations of which are identified on the Game Commission website.
Test results can then be checked at the Game Commission’s CWD dashboard, https://pgcdatacollection.pa.gov/CWDResultsLookup.
Extended hunting opportunity
Deer hunters – including firearms hunters – can take advantage of additional days afield in DMAP Unit 6396, which encompasses more than 140,000 acres in Dauphin, Northumberland and Schuylkill counties.
The Game Commission extended the late archery and flintlock muzzleloader deer seasons within DMAP Unit 6396 and will hold an extended firearms season for antlerless deer there, as well.
These after-Christmas seasons all will run from Dec. 26 to Jan. 27 within DMAP Unit 6396, as well as in Wildlife Management Units 2B, 5C and 5D. In the rest of the state – including the areas of WMUs 4C and 4E outside of DMAP Unit 6396 – there is no extended firearms deer season, and the late archery and flintlock deer seasons run from Dec. 26 to Jan. 15.
The extended firearms deer season is for antlerless deer only. Hunters participating in this season must wear, at all times, 250 square inches of fluorescent orange material on the head, chest and back combined, with orange visible from 360 degrees. Within DMAP Unit 6396, hunters seeking antlerless deer in this season must have either a valid DMAP Unit 6396 permit or a valid antlerless license for the WMU where they’re hunting. Hunters in the extended firearms deer season have the same firearms options as in the regular firearms deer season.
The late archery and flintlock deer seasons are open for antlered and antlerless deer hunting.
DMAP Unit 6396 is within CWD DMA 8, which the Game Commission established earlier this year in response to two CWD detections in Dauphin County: the first CWD detections in free-ranging deer east of the Susquehanna River.
The additional hunting opportunities within DMAP Unit 6396 serve to help limit the establishment and spread of CWD in this area.
Each hunter may purchase up to two DMAP Unit 6396 permits while supplies last. DMAP Unit 6396 includes portions of State Game Lands 210 and 211, and all of State Game Lands 264. A map of the unit is available at the DMAP participating properties page at www.pgc.pa.gov.
“Increasing opportunities to harvest deer within the DMAP area demonstrates our commitment to using hunters as the first line of defense against the spread of CWD,” Burhans said. “CWD is a serious threat to Pennsylvania’s deer and elk. Hunters who participate in these extended seasons will be playing a significant role in the fight against this disease.”
Extended bear season
Hunters can harvest a black bear in some WMUs throughout the opening week of deer season. But not as many as before.
The extended bear season runs Nov. 25-Dec. 2 in WMUs 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4C, 4E and 5A, and from Nov. 25-Dec. 9 in WMUs 2B, 5B, 5C and 5D.
Note that there is no extended bear hunting this year in WMUs 1B, 2C, 4A, 4B and 4D because of declining nuisance-bear complaints in those units.
To participate in the extended bear season, a hunter needs a general hunting license, as well as a bear license. In periods where the extended bear season overlaps portions of the firearms deer season, properly licensed hunters may also harvest deer.
Fluorescent orange requirements for the extended bear season and firearms deer season are identical.
MEDIA CONTACT: Travis Lau - 717-705-6541
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