For more than 100 years, hunters who killed a buck in Pennsylvania were done chasing antlers until the following season.
One buck a year is, and long has been, the limit. A Pennsylvania Game Commissioner wonders if it's time for that to change.
The reason is money.
Commissioner Michael Mitrick of York County recently asked agency staff to explore the idea of allowing a limited number of hunters to shoot a second buck, provided it was taken in the statewide firearms deer season.
“I brought this up is because it's pretty obvious we're not going to get a license fee increase this year from the legislature. So as an additional way of trying to generate some funds, I thought by having a second buck permit in some fashion would be a way to possibly raise some amount of money,” Mitrick said.
His initial thought, he said, is to award 10,000 or so tags via a lottery or straight sale. They might cost $100 or $150 each.
That would generate $1 million or $1.5 million for an agency that hasn't seen license fees increase since 1999.
He suggested hunters would be required to buy them early, much like spring, when hunters can get a tag for a second gobbler but only before the season starts.
“The number of deer harvested would be relatively small. But the potential gain to the commission would be incredible,” Mitrick said.
Chris Rosenberry, chief of the commission's deer and elk section, agreed the impact on the deer population would be small.
“I think biologically, under that scenario of 10,000, if they're used at the same rate as every other tag, you're talking about 2,000 bucks (killed) across the whole state,” he said. “Antler restrictions are already in place to sort of put a top on how many bucks can be harvested anyhow, so I don't think it would necessarily be that big of an issue.”
Will hunters want second tag? What's less clear is if hunters want a second buck tag.
Commission executive director Bryan Burhans said the agency surveyed deer hunters this year. They were asked, among other things, what they thought of a second buck tag. They also were asked if they would prefer a lottery system versus being able to buy one over the counter.
That information still is being tabulated, Rosenberry said. A full report will be available by the commission's April board meeting.
Mitrick asked if it might be possible to propose a second buck tag in January — before survey results are available — and adjust later if needed. Others warned they might not want to, though, based on social considerations.
Voicing concerns: Commission president Brian Hoover of Chester County, for example, voiced two concerns.
“Most rifle hunters are already complaining the archery hunters get too much. That would be one,” he said. “The idea of allowing them to take one buck, then come back and get another, might prove unpopular, he said.
Archers aren't killing as many bucks as some think, Burhans said.
“According to (Rosenberry's) data, 85 to 90 percent of the bucks are still out there roaming the woods when rifle deer season gets here,” Burhans said. “So although it's true that 40 percent of the bucks harvested are taken during archery season, it's not 40 percent of the bucks out there.”
But he agreed that perception persists. The feeling among some, he said, is archers are taking a disproportionate percentage of the biggest bucks available, with rifle hunters left to make do with what remains.
Hoover's second concern is that a second buck tag would be viewed as a “money grab.”
“Well, it is a money grab,” Mitrick said.
But perhaps if it were “spun in a certain way” it would prove palatable, he added.
Complicating factor: There's another complicating factor.
The commission could create second buck tags on its own, provided they are classified as “permits” and awarded via lottery, Burhans said. It has that authority and has used it to create permits for elk, bobcats, fishers and, most recently, stocked pheasants.
Creation of second buck “licenses,” though, would require legislation, said deputy director of field operations Rich Palmer.
Where things go from here remains to be seen.
Burhans said there's a saying that goes “slow is fast.” Commissioners perhaps should wait to see what the deer hunter survey says. Then, he added, they can chart a course.
“In other words, a lot of the pushback is going to come from misconceptions about what's going on. So I think one word of caution would be is: If we move slower, maybe it takes us two years to get there,” Burhans said.
“But if we spend the time educating our hunters and getting that buy-in from the hunting public, that slow is fast means we'll get to the finish quicker.”
“It's a perception issue,” he said. “We've got to be careful what the perception is.”
Bob Frye is the everybodyadventures.com editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or email@example.com. See other stories, blogs, videos and more at everybodyadventures.com.