Major change in deer regulations for hunters in WMU 4C
For many, the opening day of Pennsylvania's two-week statewide firearms deer season Monday, Dec. 1, is all about tradition.
This year, however, there is a major change in the regulations for those hunting Wildlife Management Unit 4C. For the first five days of the season from opening day through Friday, Dec. 5, only antlered deer are legal - as they have been in WMU 4E for several years - unless taking a doe with a required Deer Management Assistance Program permit.
WMU 4C is comprised of portions of Berks, Carbon, Columbia, Dauphin, Lebanon, Lehigh, Luzerne and Schuylkill counties. Beginning Saturday, Dec. 6, and from Monday-Saturday, Dec. 8-13, hunters may take antlerless deer if they have the proper WMU-specific antlerless license.
For a complete breakdown of regulations and WMU boundaries, as well as the areas of the state that will have a concurrent bear season during all or part of the firearms deer season, consult the "2014-15 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest," which is issued to hunters at the time they purchase their licenses. This information is available online at the Pennsylvania Game Commission website at www.pgc.state.pa.us.
One very important regulation that applies statewide is the requirement for each hunter to wear a minimum of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange material on his or her head, chest and back combined. An orange hat and vest will satisfy the requirement, and for safety's sake, non-hunters who might be afield during the deer season and other hunting seasons might also want to consider wearing orange at this time.
While deer populations are being tracked as stable or increasing in most of the state, many other factors influence deer hunting, with the availability of food sources in an area playing a role in the deer harvest at a local level. This has been a banner year for mast crops in much of the state, said PGC chief forester Dave Gustafson.
"Production of soft mast crops, such as apples, berries and grapes, is very good this year," Gustafson said. "Meanwhile, the availability of acorns statewide is good to great, with some areas particularly in southcentral Pennsylvania reporting bumper crops of red-oak acorns, and chestnut oaks and white oaks also are widely available.
"Some areas of the north central region also are reporting good beechnut crops this year. Although not widely distributed, these can be key food sources that are highly desirable for deer, as well as bear."
Just what the abundance of mast will mean for deer hunters remains to be seen.
While finding those food sources can be key to hunting success, if food is available everywhere, deer need not move to feed. When there is a good acorn crop, deer can become less visible because they might not as regularly frequent fields and forest openings.
What might bode well for hunters this year is their strength in numbers. License sales are trending slightly ahead of their pace from last season, and each year about 750,000 hunters participate in the opening day of deer season, and the mere presence of hunters increases deer sightings for more hunters overall.
"With deer populations increasing in some areas of the state, food sources readily available and hunter numbers appearing to be on the rise, the pieces are in place for an exceptional season," PGC executive director Matt Hough said. "And one thing hunters can do to increase their chances of success is to hunt longer into the day.
"Obviously, so much of what makes the firearms deer season and its opening day so special is the tradition behind it. Families and friends make new memories together, relive some of the old ones, and each year adds a new chapter to those books of memories.
"That makes me proud to be a hunter, and proud to be a Pennsylvanian. And the best news is that the elements are all in place for a standout deer season this year, all across Pennsylvania."
As part of an ongoing project, the Game Commission has placed GPS collars on several deer in different areas to study deer movements and other behaviors. New findings from the ongoing research into deer movements show that the middle of the day holds perhaps the best chances for seeing deer.
"There's always the opportunity to take the buck of a lifetime during the firearms deer season, and hundreds if not thousands of Pennsylvanians do that each year," Hough said. "For many hunters, the opportunity to spend time afield with friends and family and celebrate a great tradition is just as important, and I consider them the most fortunate hunters of all."