Much has changed since the days when deer hunters took to the woods for Pennsylvania's firearms buck season. In the last 50 years there have been major changes in safety regulations and to the way the Pennsylvania Game Commission manages the statewide deer herd
Gone are the red-and-blacked checked Woolrich coats and bibs in place of fluorescent safety orange coats and hats, and "buck" season is now "deer" season with two weeks of concurrent antlered and antlerless hunting opening this Monday and continuing through Saturday, Dec. 8. There is, however, one recent regulatory change that effects those who will be hunting the first five days of the season in Wildlife Management Unit 4E, which includes the northern portion of Schuylkill County.
WMU 4E is one of 11 WMUs where there is a split-season the first five days through Friday, Nov. 30. During the first five days, antlered deer only may be hunted, with concurrent hunting opening Saturday, Dec. 1, and remaining in effect the final week.
Only those hunting with a Deer Management Assistance Program permit may take a doe during the first five days of the season in WMU 4E. Other WMUs governed by this regulation are 2A, 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 3B, 3C, 4B and 4D.
As for the requirement for wearing safety orange, a minimum of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange material must be worn on the head, chest and back combined at all times while hunting during deer season. While almost every hunter is aware of this regulation, even if some cut corners, sometimes overlooked is the regulation that makes it illegal to hunt, chase or disturb deer within 150 yards of any occupied building without the occupant's permission when using a firearm, or 50 yards if using archery tackle.
In addition to the implementation of split seasons in these WMUs, the other major change in recent years was the change in antler restrictions, which has resulted in bucks being able to mature and produce larger racks. Other than in some western Pennsylvania test WMUs, where brow tines may be assumed if there are two visible points on one side, a legal buck must have three visible points on one side to be legal.
There is an exception to the regulation for junior license holders, mentored youth hunters, disabled hunters with a permit to use a vehicle and resident active-duty U.S. Armed Services personnel. These hunters have a minimum antler restriction of one antler with at least two points, or one antler three or more inches in length.
Equally important to deer management has been the commitment by recent board of game commissioners to recruit young hunters through the Mentored Youth Hunting Program. This year, a hunter may transfer one WMU-specific antlerless tag to a youngster in the MYHP, but only one tag may be transferred, and all MYHP rules and regulations must be obeyed – including just one firearm being carried by the adult hunter until reaching a stationary hunting position.
Without question, the biggest regulatory change in recent years is the concurrent season for bear and deer in some WMUs and portions of others. During the first week of the firearms deer season, bear hunting is open in WMUs 3A and 3C and portions of WMUs 2G and 3B and is open Wednesday-Saturday in WMUs 3D, 4C, 4D and 4E.
While not a change, one aspect of tagging a deer that some hunters are unaware is that a hand-made tag must be attached to the carcass if the head with the tag from the license is taken to a taxidermist. A hunter should list their name, address and license number to the carcass if it is being taken to a butcher or being taken home for processing,.
Another major change is the options hunters have to report to the PGC that they have taken a deer. In addition to mailing the postage-paid cards that are supplied in the hunting and trapping digest provided with each license, hunters are able to report online or by calling a toll-free telephone number.
And, finally, for anyone who has ever punctured a $250 GoreTex hunting coat or lost a hunting license in heavy cover, Pennsylvania has finally joined the majority of states and the Canadian providences in not requiring a hunting license be displayed on an outside garment. This regulation went into effect earlier this year in time for spring gobbler season, and while licenses need not be displayed, hunters must continue to carry a photo ID with their license.