Most recent Pennsylvania deer harvest shows decline

STAFF REPORT
Pennsylvania hunters will not be allowed to use semiautomatic rifles to hunt big game, such as the buck pictured above.

The Pennsylvania deer harvest was down 13% for the 2021-2022 deer seasons.

However, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, which reported that statistic on Thursday, that decline should not be cause for concern.

The PGC reported that the state’s hunters harvested an estimated 376,810 white-tailed deer in 2021-2022. The statewide buck harvest was estimated at 145,320 and the antlerless harvest at 231,490.

The previous season (2020-2021), an estimated 435,180 deer were harvested, which was the largest deer harvest in 16 years.

PGC Deer and Elk Section supervisor David Stainbrook said that, after the unusually large harvest in 2020-2021, the 2021-2022 season is back on track with previous years.

Stainbrook said 22% percent of the state’s hunters took an antlered deer, which he said is in line with the previous four-year average and better than in years past.

In the 1987-1988 season, for example, he said 16% of hunters harvested an antlered deer. In the 2007-2008 season, 15% filled a tag.

“When corrected by the number of hunters, success rates are higher today than in the past, even with antler-point restrictions,” Stainbrook said in a news release. “That our hunters are able to replicate that level of harvest speaks to just how sustainable our deer population is here in Pennsylvania.”

The PGC said the harvest also points to how antlerless allocations – and not length of seasons – drive deer harvests. The 2021 firearms deer season featured two weeks of concurrent buck and doe hunting for the first time statewide in more than a decade. With the number of antlerless tags available down compared to the year before, the overall harvest was lower.

Of the deer taken by hunters, many of the bucks harvested were older. The PGC reports that 62% of antlered deer taken by hunters were 2.5 years old or older, while only 38% percent were 1.5 years old.

That’s an almost complete reversal of how things were two decades ago. Game Commission executive director Bryan Burhans credited that to how hunters have embraced antler restrictions, in place since 2002.

“Pennsylvania is routinely producing some really impressive deer, on both public and private ground,” Burhans said in the news release. “We see that in the entries coming into our Big Game Records Program, in the photos smiling hunters share, and in the deer we see when our staff visits deer processors to collect harvest data.

“We couldn’t have any of that without a well-managed deer herd and cooperation on the part of our hunters.”

Antlerless figures: Meanwhile, 25% of antlerless tags issued resulted in a deer harvest this past season. That’s in line with previous years, too, according to the PGC.

Among antlerless deer harvested, 69% were adult females, 16% button bucks and 15% doe fawns. All of those figures are consistent with long-term averages.

As in years past, bowhunters accounted for a little over one-third of the total deer harvest, taking 130,650 whitetails (68,580 bucks and 62,070 antlerless deer) with either bows or crossbows. The 2020-2021 archery harvest was 160,480 deer (80,130 bucks and 80,350 antlerless deer).

The estimated muzzleloader harvest was 21,060 (1,020 bucks, 20,040 antlerless deer). The 2020-2021 muzzleloader harvest was 28,260 (1,140 bucks, 27,120 antlerless deer).

Local numbers: Nearly all of York County is located in Wildlife Management Unit 5B. In WMU 5B, a total of 7,800 anltered deer and 17,100 anlterless deer were taken in 2021-2022, compared to 9,600 and 16,400 the previous year.

The season-specific 2021-2022 deer harvest estimates for WMU 5B (with 2020-2021 harvest estimates in parentheses) are as follows: archery, 5,040 antlered (5,840) and 7,280 antlerless (7,730); and muzzleloader, 60 antlered (60) and 1,320 antlerless (1,470).