Big bucks are roaming Penns Woods
The traditional after Thanksgiving firearms deer hunting season opener (Monday, Nov. 27) has, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC), the largest turnout of hunters who harvest about a quarter of the season’s bucks. But the agency says this season has the potential of seeing a buck harvest increase for the third straight year.
The reasoning behind this, says PGC Executive Director Bryan Burhans, is due to last year’s massive acorn crop and mild winter that paved the way for big bucks to get bigger and for more young bucks grow into legal racks.
“There’s no doubt something special is happening,” said Burhans. “For the past few months, hunters have been sending us trail-cam photos of amazing bucks, maybe even new state records.
“Our field officers are seeing plenty of bucks from farm country to the big woods. Some are real wall-hangers.”
The PGC says that larger-racked older bucks are making up more of the deer harvest with each passing year. Last year, 149,460 bucks were taken, making it the second largest buck harvest in Pennsylvania since antler restrictions were started in 2002.
PGC deer biologist Chris Rosenberry says that in 2016, 56 percent of the antlered buck harvest was made up of bucks 2 1/2 years old and older, with the rest being 1 1/2 years old.
“Older, bigger-racked bucks are more of the norm in the forests of Pennsylvania than they have been for at least a couple decades,” said Rosenberry. “There’s no doubt antler restrictions paved the way. It was a big step forward 15 years ago, and today we’re seeing the results for protecting young bucks.”
That statement on antler restrictions drew a lot of flack from sportsmen back then when Gary Alt, former bear biologist turned deer manager, proposed the restrictions. In retrospect, it appears Alt did the right thing.
As for the conditions, Dave Gustafson, PGC Forestry Division chief, said there were regional bumper crops of red oak acorns last year, the deer’s favorite food.
Despite cyclical years, field officers are seeing decent red-oak acorn crops this year too. And areas that didn’t see red-oak acorns last year have a better-than-average crop this year. He surmises that hunters who find acorns beneath white and chestnut oaks are likely to find other oak trees that are producing acorns in numbers.
“Hunters seeking deer feeding areas need to look for beechnuts, Crabapples and other soft mast,” Gustafson said. “Deer make a mess when they eat, so hunters should look for raked-up leaves, droppings and partially eaten mast,”