The Pennsylvania Game Commission on Monday reported results from the 2015-16 deer seasons, which closed in January.
Hunters harvested an estimated 315,813 deer — an increase of about 4 percent compared to the 2014-15 harvest of 303,973.
Of those, 137,580 were antlered deer — an increase of about 15 percent compared to the previous license year, when an estimated 119,260 bucks were taken. Hunters also harvested an estimated 178,233 antlerless deer in 2015-16, which represents an about 4 percent decrease compared to the 184,713 antlerless deer taken in 2014-15.
The local numbers mirrored the state-wide numbers. In Wildlife Management Unit 5B, which includes York County, the antlered deer harvest was 8,000, up from 6,900 in 2014-2015. That's an increase of nearly 16 percent. The antlerless harvest decreased from 12,400 to 11,500. That's a decrease of little more than 7 percent. The overall harvest in WMU 5B was 19,500, compared to 19,300 the year before — an increase of just more than 1 percent.
The percentage of older bucks in the harvest might well be the most eye-popping number in the report.
Lots of older bucks taken: A whopping 59 percent of whitetail bucks taken by Pennsylvania hunters during the 2015-16 deer seasons were 2½ years old or older, making for the highest percentage of adult bucks in the harvest in decades.
Game Commission Wildlife Management Director Wayne Laroche pointed out that the trend of more adult bucks in the harvest started when antler restrictions were put into place. More yearling bucks are making it through the first hunting season through which they carry a rack. Season after season, a greater proportion of the annual buck harvest has been made of adult bucks.
In 2014-15, 57 percent of the bucks taken by hunters were 2½ or older.
“But to see that number now at nearly 60 percent is remarkable,” Laroche said. “It goes to show what antler restrictions have accomplished — they’ve created a Pennsylvania where every deer hunter in the woods has a real chance of taking the buck of a lifetime.”
While the 137,580 bucks taken in 2015-16 is a sharp increase over 2014-15, it compares to a 2013-14 estimate of 134,280 bucks. In 2014-15, a number of factors, including poor weather on key hunting days and limited deer movements because of exceptionally abundant mast, contributed to a reduced deer harvest overall.
The decrease in the 2015-16 antlerless harvest was a predictable outcome, given that 33,000 fewer antlerless licenses were allocated statewide in 2015-16, compared to the previous year.
Reducing the allocation within a Wildlife Management Unit allows deer numbers to grow there. Records show it takes an allocation of about four antlerless licenses to harvest one antlerless deer, and the success rate for antlerless-deer hunters again was consistent at about 25 percent in 2015-16.
Game Commission head happy with harvest: Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough congratulated deer hunters on their successes.
“While the Game Commission again reduced the number of antlerless licenses that were allocated in 2015-16, and the antlerless harvest dropped accordingly, as expected, the overall increase in the harvest — and, in particular, the buck harvest — show this was another outstanding deer season in Pennsylvania,” Hough said. “The pictures I’ve seen of trophy bucks this season came from all over the Commonwealth — including the big woods of the northcentral — and they were jaw-dropping and impressive. And the best news is there are plenty of new memories waiting to be made when deer hunters get back out there in the coming license year.”
Harvest estimates are based on more than 24,000 deer checked by Game Commission personnel and more than 100,000 harvest reports submitted by successful hunters. Because some harvests go unreported, estimates provide a more accurate picture of hunter success. However, in 2015-16 the rate at which successful hunters reported their harvests increased slightly.
The antlerless harvest included about 63 percent adult females, about 20 percent button bucks and about 17 percent doe fawns. The rates are similar to long-term averages.
Agency staff currently is working to develop 2016-17 antlerless deer license allocation recommendations, which will be considered at the April 5 meeting of the Board of Game Commissioners. Laroche said that in addition to harvest data, staff will be looking at deer health measures, forest regeneration and deer-human conflicts for each WMU.
Total deer harvest estimates by WMU for 2015-16 (with 2014-15 figures in parentheses) are as follows: