Pennsylvania Hunters: The Buck of a Lifetime is out There

Pennsylvania’s statewide firearms deer season opens Nov. 30.

Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association Announces Big Buck Photo Contest
Pennsylvania Hunters: The Buck of a Lifetime is out There
Pennsylvania Game Commission
Pennsylvania Game Commission

Pennsylvania -( Whether you settle into your stand while it’s still dark, or wait until first light to head out.

Whether you pack a sandwich and stay all day, or head back in for a hot lunch and to warm up.

Whether you’re young or old, expert or inexperienced, focused on filling a tag or on just having fun, the buck of a lifetime could be just moments away.

This is the firearms deer season in Pennsylvania – a proud tradition that, once again this year, figures to see 750,000 hunters making new memories in fields and woodlots statewide.

The Nov. 30 opening day of the 12-day firearms deer season is just more than a week away. With the countdown on, Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough said thousands of the state’s hunters will experience their best days afield in the season to come.

“Living out those moments after a trophy buck appears; getting that chance and doing what you can to make the most of it – that’s what every deer hunter lives for,” Hough said. “Some of what makes the firearms deer so magical is the endless possibility a hunter’s ‘buck of a lifetime’ is just a moment away. But there’s more to it than that.

“For most hunters, opening day is as much about enjoying the company of family and friends and carrying on a rich tradition as it is about harvesting a deer, and that speaks volumes about why so many Pennsylvanians love to hunt,” Hough said. “And countless hunters are sure to get everything they want, and more, out of their deer seasons.

Statewide season
The statewide general firearms season runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12. In some parts of the state, properly licensed hunters may take either antlered or antlerless deer at any time during the season. In other areas, hunters may take only antlered deer during the season’s first five days, with the antlerless and antlered seasons then running concurrently from the first Saturday, Dec. 5, to the season’s close.
Hunters who plan to hunt within Wildlife Management Units 1A, 1B, 3A and 3D should note there has been a change in the season’s format this year. WMUs 1A, 1B, 3A and 3D now are among those management units where only antlered deer can be taken from Nov. 30 to Dec. 4.

Concurrent seasons for antlered and antlerless deer remain in place in WMUs 2B, 5A, 5B, 5C and 5D.

Rules regarding the number of points a legal buck must have on one antler also are different in different parts of the state, and young hunters statewide follow separate guidelines.

For a complete breakdown of antler restrictions, WMU boundaries and other regulations, consult the 2015-16 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, which is issued to hunters at the time they purchase their licenses. The digest also is available online at the Game Commission’s website,

One very important regulation that applies statewide is the requirement for all hunters to wear a minimum of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange material on their head, chest and back combined. An orange hat and vest will satisfy the requirement. And for safety’s sake, it’s a good idea for nonhunters who might be afield during the deer season and other hunting seasons to consider wearing orange as well.

Deer forecast

While deer populations are being tracked as stable or increasing in each of the state’s 23 wildlife management units, many other factors, such as food availability, influence local deer movements and deer hunting, said Christopher Rosenberry, who supervises the Game Commission’s Deer and Elk Section.

Mast crops are particularly spotty this year, said Dave Gustafson, the Game Commission’s chief forester. While production of acorns, beechnuts and soft mast crops such as apples, berries and grapes, is more consistent in western and southern portions of the state, in much of Pennsylvania finding mast is hit and miss, Gustafson said.

“Acorns or apples might be present on one ridgetop or slope, then you might not find another like it for miles,” Gustafson said. “In some areas, there are pockets where mast production is good, and then a sizeable surrounding area where mast doesn’t appear to be available. It’s one of those years where hunters might have to look hard to find those food sources that are important to deer.”

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing for hunters, Rosenberry said.

In fact, research shows that deer harvests tend to drop in years when mast is especially abundant. When there’s food everywhere, deer can be harder to find. When food is less abundant, deer tend to concentrate in the areas where it’s available.

“So finding food is a key to finding deer,” Rosenberry said.

The chances to take a trophy buck in Pennsylvania might be better than ever.

Rosenberry said 57 percent of the bucks harvested in the 2014-15 seasons were 2 1/2 years old or older – the highest percentage recorded in decades.

“Most years, the buck harvest is split evenly between yearling and adult bucks,” Rosenberry said. “We don’t know if last year’s result was an anomaly or the beginning of a trend, but older bucks were well represented in the harvest.”

Proper licensing

Hunters during the statewide firearms season can harvest antlered deer if they possess a valid general hunting license, which costs $20.70 for adult residents and $101.70 for adult nonresidents.

Each hunter between the ages of 12 and 16 must possess a junior license, which costs $6.70 for residents and $41.70 for nonresidents.

Hunters younger than 12 must possess a valid mentored youth hunting permit and be accompanied at all times by a properly licensed adult mentor, as well as follow other regulations.

Mentored hunting opportunities also are available for adults, but only antlerless deer may be taken by mentored adult hunters.

Those holding senior lifetime licenses are reminded they must obtain a new antlered deer harvest tag each year, free of charge, to participate in the season.

In order to harvest antlerless deer, a hunter must possess either a valid antlerless deer license or a valid permit. In the case of mentored hunters, the mentor must possess a valid tag that can be transferred to the mentored hunter at the time of harvest.

In addition to regular antlerless licenses, two types of permits can be used to take antlerless deer. The Deer Management Assistance Program, or DMAP permit, can be used only on the specific property for which it is issued, throughout the 12-day firearms season.

The Disease Management Area 2 permit, which was created to mitigate the effects of chronic wasting disease in free-ranging deer, can be used only in Disease Management Area 2 (DMA 2), which encompasses about 2,400 square miles within Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Huntingdon and Fulton counties.

Meanwhile, regular antlerless deer licenses can be used only within the wildlife management unit for which they’re issued.

DMAP permits for some properties might still be available, but antlerless licenses and DMA 2 permits are sold out.

General hunting licenses can be purchased online, but as the season nears, hunters might find it better to purchase licenses in person. Deer licenses purchased online are mailed, meaning they might not arrive in time if purchased too close to the start of the season.

Tagging and reporting

A valid tag must be affixed to the ear of each deer harvested before that deer is moved. The tag must be filled out with a ball-point pen by the hunter.

Within 10 days of a harvest, a successful hunter is required to make a report to the Game Commission. Harvests can be reported online at the Game Commission’s website, by clicking on the blue “Report a Harvest” button on the home page. Harvests also can be reported by mailing in the postage-paid cards inserted into the 2015-16 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, or successful hunters can call 1-855-PAHUNT1 (1-855-724-8681) to report by phone. Those reporting by phone are asked to have their license number and other information about the harvest ready at the time they call.

Mentored youth hunters are required to report deer harvests within five days. And hunters with DMAP or DMA 2 permits must report on their hunting success, regardless of whether they harvested deer.

By reporting their deer harvests, hunters play a key role in providing information used to estimate harvests and deer population within each WMU. Estimates are key to managing deer populations, and hunters are asked to do their parts in this important process.

Chronic wasting disease

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been detected in three areas of Pennsylvania, and special rules apply to hunters within each Disease Management Area (DMA).

There are three DMAs. DMA 1 encompasses parts of York and Adams counties. DMA 2 includes parts of Bedford, Blair, Huntingdon, Cambria and Fulton counties. And DMA 3 includes about 350 square miles in Clearfield and Jefferson counties.

For the specific boundaries of each DMA, check the Game Commission’s website or turn to the 2015-16 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest.

Hunters may not remove from any DMA any deer parts deemed to have a high-risk of transmitting CWD. The head, backbone and spinal cord are among those high-risk parts, and successful hunters who live outside a DMA can remove and deposit high-risk parts in dumpsters that have been set up on state game lands within each DMA. They then can transport the meat and other low-risk parts outside the DMA.

Hunters also can take their harvests to a processor or taxidermist within the DMA, and the processor or taxidermist can properly dispose of the high-risk parts. In some cases, processors and taxidermists just beyond the border of a DMA have been approved as drop-off sites and those facilities appear on the list of cooperating processors and taxidermists available on the Game Commission’s website.

The Game Commission will be sampling for chronic wasting disease statewide, but just because a hunter drops a deer off at a processor or taxidermist, or deposits high-risk parts in a dumpster on game lands, doesn’t mean the deer will be tested for CWD.

To ensure a harvested deer will be tested, hunters can make arrangements with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Veterinary Laboratory. There is a fee associated with testing. More information about this process can be found online at

Transporting a deer head outside a DMA so the deer can be disease-tested at a lab is a permitted exception to the rule prohibiting the removal of high-risk parts from a DMA. Deer heads should be double-bagged in plastic garbage bags before they are removed from the DMA.

Chronic wasting disease is transmitted from deer to deer by direct and indirect contact. It is always fatal to deer that become infected, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports there’s no strong evidence it can be transmitted to humans.

People are advised, however, not to consume meat from deer that test positive for CWD.

For more information on CWD and rules applying within DMAs, visit the Game Commission’s website.

Deer Hunter Focus Areas

Sections of more than 30 state game lands that recently have undergone timber harvests or other habitat modifications have been posted as Deer Hunter Focus Areas to help hunters locate areas deer might be concentrating due to an abundance of newly available food.

In large tracts of forestlands, deer are drawn to wherever any thinning of the forest canopy occurs. Such places quickly offer increased amounts of browse – forest plants and other succulent vegetation that are an important part of a deer’s diet. Thinned forest areas usually provide sufficient cover, too.

Drawing enough hunting pressure to these areas is key to maintaining that habitat.

Signs identifying Deer Hunter Focus Areas contain a yellow keystone, surrounded by a green background with images of deer silhouettes in all four corners.

Maps of state game lands with sections posted as Deer Hunter Focus Areas can be found on the Game Commission’s website, Go to the homepage and select Deer Hunter Focus Area link.