Pennsylvania's overall deer harvest is best in 14 years, but buck harvest down 10 percent

Robert Livengood, of Dover, loads his .30-caliber rifle before hunting with his son Owen, 12, at a State Game Land near New Salem on the first day of regular firearm season on Monday, Nov. 26, 2018. The overall 2018-19 Pennsylvania deer harvest was the highest in 14 years. The overall buck harvest, however, was down 10 percent.
  • The overall 2018-19 Pennsylvania deer harvest was the best in 14 years.
  • The 2018-19 state buck harvest, however, was down 10 percent.
  • Steady rain on opening day of the firearms season may have hurt the buck harvest.

Pennsylvania deer hunters enjoyed their most successful overall harvest in nearly a decade and a half.

That success, however, didn't extend to the buck season.

According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the most recent hunting seasons produced the highest overall deer harvest in 14 years.

The commission reported that a total of 374,690 deer were harvested during the state’s 2018-19 hunting seasons, which closed in January.

That total tops the previous year’s harvest of 367,159 by about 10 percent. The last time the total deer harvest exceeded the 2018-19 total was in 2004-05.

Buck harvest down: Hunters posted a buck harvest of 147,750, ending a four-year run of successive annual increases in buck harvests, The 2018-19 buck harvest placed fourth overall since the start of antler restrictions in 2002. The 2018-19 buck harvest, however, represents a 10 percent decline from the 2017-18 buck harvest of 163,750. The largest harvest in the antler-restrictions era — 165,416 — occurred in the first year.

Although the total deer harvest was not impacted by downpours on the opening day of the firearms deer season, the buck harvest seemed to have taken a hit, according to the commission. About half of the firearms season’s overall buck harvest typically occurs on the season’s opening day, when hunter participation is usually at its highest.

Steady rain in most of the state persisted through the morning, if not longer, of the firearms season opener, making hunting for deer, as well as staying dry and warm while afield, more difficult. When hunter participation drops on the best harvest day of any season, the harvest typically suffers.

“This year’s opening-day antlered harvest was down significantly from last year’s harvest,” Christopher Rosenberry said in a news release from the commission. Rosenberry is the commission's Deer and Elk Section supervisor. “Although the rest of the firearms season’s daily harvests were similar to, or above, last year’s, they did not make up for the low opening-day harvest.”

Antlerless harvest up: Hunters still managed to take plenty of antlerless deer, which was anticipated with a 2018-19 allocation of antlerless deer licenses that exceeded the previous license year.

The 2018-19 overall antlerless deer harvest was 226,940, which is about 10 percent larger than the 2017-18 harvest of 203,409.

The percentage of older bucks in the 2018-19 deer harvest remained high. About 64 percent of the bucks taken by hunters were at least 2½ years old. The remainder were 1½ years old.

That's good news, according to Bryan Burhans, the commission's executive director.

“That almost two-thirds of the bucks taken last year in Pennsylvania were at least 2½ years old is a tribute to the science our deer managers use and the sacrifices a generation of hunters made in the commonwealth,” Burhans said in a news release. “The bucks being taken every day in Pennsylvania’s deer seasons are living proof that this commonwealth has never managed whitetails better.”

About 66 percent of the antlerless deer harvest was adult females. Button-bucks comprised 17 percent and doe fawns made up 17 percent.

Bowhunting and muzzleloader numbers: Bowhunters accounted for about a third of Pennsylvania’s 2018-19 overall deer harvest, taking 110,719 deer (54,350 bucks and 56,369 antlerless deer) with either bows or crossbows. The buck harvest, however, also was down in the 2018-19 archery seasons, by 13 percent. The previous license year, bowhunters took 62,830 bucks. Unseasonably warm weather and rain impacted many fall bowhunting days in 2018, according to the commission.

The muzzleloader harvest – 23,909 – was similar to the previous year’s harvest of 23,490. The 2018-19 muzzleloader harvest included 1,290 antlered bucks compared to 1,310 bucks in the 2017-18 seasons.

Agency staff currently is working to develop its 2019 antlerless deer license recommendations, which will be considered at the April 9 commission meeting.

Information for this story was provided by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.