Believe it or not, deer season kicks off next week.
It's not the start of the tradition-rich firearms season, but come Oct. 5, archery hunters will stalk the state's woods and fields. For the next few months, hunting season will be in high gear.
But with a new season comes new rules. It's especially true after chronic wasting disease was discovered within the state last year. If you hunted within the state's so-called Disease Management Areas (DMA) last season, you know the rules were strict.
There are still some vital rules to follow, but the Game Commission has removed some key requirements.
Now that three free-roaming deer have tested positive for the disease, the game plan has changed. Biologists are no longer working to keep chronic wasting disease out of the state. It's already here and will likely stay that way. That means the focus is on managing the spread of the disease -- not stopping it.
"Now that we know CWD is in the wild, our mission is to determine how prevalent it is in the areas in which it's been found and to do what we can to slow its spread," said Calvin DuBrock, director of the Game Commission's Bureau of Wildlife Management. "We have already begun collecting and testing samples to give us a clearer picture of the disease's impact, and we will be asking hunters within the state's two Disease Management Areas to comply with special rules, but there won't be quite so many demands on hunters this year in relation to our monitoring."
The biggest rule change is that hunters that harvest a deer within a DMA no longer have to take the animal to a check-in station. The Commission plans to use other, less time-consuming methods of monitoring the spread of the disease.
For now, there are just two DMAs. One covers about 600 square miles in York and Adams counties, while the other spans nearly 900 square miles in parts of Blair, Bedford, Huntingdon and Cambria counties.
Folks that plan to hunt within these two areas need to keep some important rules in mind. First, no high-risk parts of a harvested deer (the head, the spine, etc.) may be taken outside of the DMA.
To ensure you don't accidentally take these parts where they don't belong -- and risk spreading the disease -- take your deer to a cooperating butcher within the DMA. They will dispose of the carcass properly. And since chronic wasting disease cannot impact humans, the processed meat of impacted deer is safe to eat and can be taken outside the management area.
The second important rule to remember if you hunt or live within a DMA is that no urine-based scent lures are allowed and feeding free-roaming deer is illegal. The goal with these rules is to minimize the artificial congregation of deer.
As we turn the calendar page to October, we welcome a fresh hunting season, but we also enter a new chapter in Pennsylvania's deer hunting heritage. Chronic wasting disease is here to stay. That means the rules are changing. So far, we have little to worry about.
A new season is upon us. Get outside and enjoy it. But remember the new rules.
-- Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sports@york dispatch.com.