HARRISBURG Again this year, when Pennsylvania's two-week firearms deer season opens Monday, a select group of hunters including those in Wildlife Management Unit 4B will be participating in a unique aspect of the Pennsylvania Game Commission Deer Management Program.

From opening day through Friday, Dec. 4, only antlered deer will be legal in WMU 3C, which is comprised of Susquehanna County and portions of Bradford, Wayne and Wyoming counties other than for those holding DMAP permits to take an antlerless deer on DMAP properties. This the second season for this four-year experiment, which is also being conducted in WMUs 2D, 2G and 4B, and is being conducted jointly by the PGC and U. S. Geological Survey's Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Pennsylvania State University.

Concurrent antlered and antlerless deer hunting opens Saturday, Dec. 5, in these four WMUs and remains in effect through the second week of the season, Monday-Saturday, Dec. 7-12. Throughout the rest of the state, concurrent antlered and antlerless hunting, which began in 2001, is in effect the entire two weeks of the season.

When the PGC board of game commissioners passed this change last year, it said each of the four WMUs was selected for specific reasons. In WMUs 2G and 4B, there was ongoing deer research; WMU 2D is an area where antler restrictions are set at four points on one side and is where the agency previously had deer research conducted; and WMU 3C is an area where antler restrictions are set at three points on one side and is an area of the state where no extensive deer research has been conducted.

These changes in the four WMUs will pave the way for the PGC to investigate the relationship between antlerless allocations and season length and assess hunter satisfaction with the modified season structure in the four WMUs. It will also use the four-year study to determine the impact and effectiveness of the proposed five-day antlered/seven-day concurrent season before additional WMUs may be considered for this season configuration.

Leading the study are PGC Deer and Elk Section supervisor Dr. Chris Rosenberry and Cooperative Research Unit head Dr. Duane Diefenbach. Both recognize the importance of considering both the biological and social ramifications of the project findings.

"The research will address biological and social aspects of the shortened antlerless season in the four WMUs," Rosenberry said earlier this year at PGC headquarters. "The study will seek to answer several questions, including if hunters see more deer and if the shorter antlerless season allow deer population objectives to be met.

"As with all of our deer studies, we will address these various questions using radio-collared deer, ear-tagged deer, deer harvest data and hunter surveys. Although many believe a shorter season may reduce the antlerless harvest, it is important to remember that the antlerless harvest is the method of meeting the population objective for a WMU and can be adjusted with the antlerless allocation.

"If fewer deer are being harvested and the population objective is not being met, then we would recommend an increase in the allocation to achieve the proper antlerless harvest. It is important to note that in 2008-09, as a result of the shorter antlerless deer season for firearms hunters, in three of the four WMUs 2D, 3C and 4B the antlerless harvest dropped, and in WMU 2G the antlerless harvest was similar to the previous year."

Diefenbach said that the reward tags to collect deer harvest information are clearly marked "reward" and provide a toll-free number to call and report harvest information and obtain a $100 reward. Deer wearing radio collars will not be marked with reward tags.

"This is not the first time reward tags have been used in Pennsylvania," Diefenbach said. "Reward tags have been used on pheasants, doves and turkeys, and in these past studiews we have not seen any increase in poaching or other illegal activity regarding reward tagged animals.

"Reward tags provide advantages to our research, including reduced cost when compared to radio collars and less bias in terms of visibility to hunters. Small ear tags on the inside of a deer's ear will be less visible than radio collars."

According to PGC executive director Carl Roe, the study is just the most recent opportunity for the agency and Cooperative Research Unit to further both organization's understanding of deer and deer hunting in Pennsylvania.

"Through this cooperative relationship, thousands of deer have been captured in Pennsylvania in the last nine years," Roe said. "Using these deer, we have learned a great deal about deer and deer hunting.

"The quality of the collaborative work between the Game Commission and Cooperative Research Unit is evidenced by the publication of numerous scientific research articles in national and international wildlife journals."

So, while deer hunting is already a rewarding outdoors experience, those hunting in one of the four WMUs participating in this research project have an opportunity to help improve the quality of hunting throughout the state and even earn a cash reward for their effort.