Pennsylvania hunters posted their highest overall deer harvest in 15 years when they took 389,431 deer during the state’s 2019-20 hunting seasons, which closed in January, the Game Commission has reported.
The 2019-20 deer harvest topped the previous year’s harvest of 374,690 by about 4%. The last time the total deer harvest exceeded this season’s total was in 2004-05, when 409,320 whitetails were taken.
The statewide buck harvest saw a generous bump of 10%, coming in at 163,240. In the 2018-19 seasons, 147,750 bucks were taken. In the preceding license year, 163,750 bucks were harvested. The largest harvest in the antler-restrictions era – 165,416 – occurred in the first year.
“One of the highlights of the 2019-20 deer harvest was deer hunters continue to experience antlered harvest success levels comparable to historic highs in the late 1990s and early 2000s,” noted Christopher Rosenberry, Game Commission Deer and Elk Section supervisor. “In recent years, about 17 to 18% of all hunters harvested an antlered deer, and we look for this trend to continue.
The antlerless deer harvest over the 2019-20 seasons was 226,191, which includes 10,461 taken with chronic wasting disease Deer Management Assistance Program permits. The 2018-19 overall antlerless deer harvest was 226,940, which was about 10% larger than the 2017-18 harvest of 203,409.
Except on Deer Management Assistance Program properties and in Wildlife Management Areas 2B, 5B and 5D, antlerless deer hunting with firearms doesn’t begin until the first Saturday of deer rifle season. That has limited antlerless deer hunting to seven of the rifle season’s 13 days.
Still, hunters took a good number of antlerless deer, mirroring the 2018-19 antlerless deer harvest.
“Keeping harvest pressure on antlerless deer is critical in our ongoing efforts to address the risk of chronic wasting disease (CWD), particularly in Disease Management Areas,” explained Rosenberry. “That hunters took over 10,000 antlerless deer with DMA DMAP permits illustrates the cooperation we need from deer hunters to help whitetails where CWD threats are at their greatest in Penn’s Woods.”
Across the 23 Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) used by the Game Commission to manage whitetails, the antlerless deer harvest decreased in almost half of them. The largest harvest declines occurred in WMU 2H, 39%, WMU 3A, 23% and WMU 1B, 20%.
WMUs posting the largest antlerless deer harvest increases were WMU 3B, 23%; WMU 4D, 21%; and WMU 4B, 20%.
On the antlered deer side of WMU-level harvests, the buck harvest dropped in only three units: WMUs 2C, 2H and 5D. The largest increases in antlered deer harvest were in WMU 2G, 29%; WMU 3C, 22%; WMU 4C, 21%; and WMU 3A, 19%.
The percentage of older bucks in the 2019-20 deer harvest remained amazingly high. About 66% of the bucks taken by hunters were at least 2 1/2 years old. The remainder were 1 1/2 years old.
“Pennsylvania deer hunters consistently continue to take 2 1/2-year and older bucks over younger antlered bucks – by a two-to-one margin – in the Commonwealth,” said Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “If you hunted deer before antler restrictions, you know how significant this is. Most of us have waited a lifetime for deer hunting like Pennsylvania has today.
“The whitetail bucks roaming Penn’s Woods today are a product of an intensely managed deer herd,” Burhans noted. “But their existence also hinged on the willingness of deer hunters to sacrifice shooting spikes and small fork-horns for bucks with substantially more headgear!”
About 69% of the antlerless deer harvest was adult females; button-bucks comprised 16% and doe fawns made up 15%. In the 2018-19 seasons, adult females comprised 66% of the antlerless deer harvest.
Bowhunters accounted for about a third of Pennsylvania’s 2019-20 overall deer harvest, taking 145,908 deer (74,190 bucks and 71,718 antlerless deer) with either bows or crossbows. The 2018-19 archery buck harvest was 54,350, while the archery antlerless deer harvest was 56,369; unseasonably warm weather and rain impacted many fall bowhunting days in 2018.
“That bowhunters added 35,000 more deer to the overall archery deer harvest suggests bowhunters continue to improve their harvest success,” Rosenberry said. “Overall, though, bowhunters still are responsible for about a third of the statewide overall deer harvest, which is similar to the 2018-19 seasons.”
The muzzleloader harvest – 29,604 – was up from to the previous year’s harvest of 23,909. The 2019-20 muzzleloader harvest included 1,260 antlered bucks compared to 1,290 bucks in the 2018-19 seasons.