After the Thanksgiving meal is cleaned up and the Black Friday sales exhausted, hunters across Pennsylvania will be getting ready for the first day of rifle deer season.
All Centre County students have off on Monday, while Bellefonte, Bald Eagle and Philipsburg-Osceola Area students also have off on Tuesday.
Gun and ammo shops across Centre County have been bustling for the past couple weeks as hunters prepare for the most popular hunting season.
Here’s what the Pennsylvania game Commission says hunters need to know before going afield Monday.
When to hunt for deer in Pennsylvania
Although hunters have been able to hunt deer with bows or muzzleloaders for the past couple month, regular firearm season for antlered and antlerless deer always brings added excitement to the Pennsylvania woods.
In most places in Pennsylvania, including Centre County (parts of Wildlife Management Units 4D and 2G), rifle deer season starts Monday, with hunters only allowed to take antlered deer through Friday. Both antlered and antlerless deer may be taken from Dec. 1-8.
The opening day of buck season is always special, game commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans said in a release, with about 45 percent of last season’s harvest taken on that day. However, the first Saturday of the season, he said, might be even better.
“Last fall, hunters took more deer on the first Saturday than the opening day — a first in Pennsylvania’s deer-management history,” Burhans said. “So, if you can find the time, get afield for both days. They really are two of the best times to be deer hunting.”
For the first week of rifle season, hunters in most parts of Centre County can hunt from 6:41 a.m.-5:14 p.m., and from 6:48 a.m.-5:14 p.m. From Dec. 2-8 in areas west of State College, hunters can be afield 6:45 a.m.-5:18 p.m. during buck season, and 6:52 a.m.-5:18 p.m. for the remainder of rifle season.
Where to hunt in Centre County
Most area hunters have been going afield for years and already have their favorite spots picked out and prepared for the season. But for those who have recently relocated, are new to hunting or just want to try someplace new, the game commission’s new mobile app can be a helpful resource
Introduced in October, the app is free to download at the Google Play and iTunes stores. Among other things, the app features a GPS-connected map that shows all nearby game lands, access points, parking and trails.
The “Near me” feature on the app also allows hunters to see everything around them, including check stations for bear and elk, public shooting ranges and license-issuing locations.
Downloading the app also has the added benefit of giving hunters the ability to document their exact location to share in case of emergency, or just to let friends and family know where they are.
What to expect this deer season
Unseasonably warm weather, high levels of precipitation and a later-than-normal leave drop have made it more difficult to track deer movements this fall, according to the game commission.
Due to the uncertainty, the game commission encourages hunters to scout for deer before setting up their spot.
“Scouting is important to every hunt,” Burhans said. “Deer like to hang out where food is the easiest to obtain. But hunter pressure and other disturbances can inspire their selection.”
Raked up leaves, droppings and partially eaten plant are good indications of deer nearby.
Larger-racked and older bucks are also making up more of the harvest each year, according to the game commission.
With 163,750 bucks taken, last year saw the second-largest buck harvest in Pennsylvania since antler restrictions were started in 2002. It was the 10th best all-time.
“Older, bigger-racked bucks are making up more of the buck harvest than they have for at least a couple decades,” Christopher Rosenberry, who supervises the game commission’s Deer and Elk Section, said in a release. “Hunters like the bucks in Pennsylvania today compared to what many of them saw 30 years ago.”
Hunters are required to make a report to the game commission within 10 day of a harvest - five days for youth hunters - and can do so by clicking on “Report a Harvest” on the game commission’s website, by calling 855-724-8681 or mailing in the postage-paid cards provided along with the licenses.
A valid tag must be affixed to the ear of each deer harvested before that deer is moved, and the tag must be filled out with a ball-point pen by the hunter.
Those who get a big or special buck — including their first — can snap a photo and email it to the game commission at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “BUCK HARVEST.”
What to wear during rifle deer season
During deer firearm season, a minimum of 250 combined square inches of fluorescent orange, visible in 360 degrees, is required to be worn on the head, chest and back.
As for the weather, AccuWeather is calling for periods of rain Monday, starting at 6 a.m. and lasting on and off throughout the day with highs on 41 degrees and lows of 29.
Temperatures are expected to be mild the rest of the week, hovering around the high 30s, dipping below freezing Wednesday, when snow flurries are possible. A good cloud cover is also forecast for the next two weeks.
Non-hunters utilizing game lands during deer or any season are also encouraged to wear orange for their safety.
Who can hunt in Pennsylvania
Anyone who has a valid general hunting license can harvest bucks during rifle season. To take an antlerless deer, a hunter must have successfully applied for and received their doe tags.
Official licensing locations in Centre County include: Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart, Belding and Mull, Travis Supply, H&B Hardware, Mountaintop True Value, Centre County Treasurer’s Office, Conklin’s Gun and Sport Shop, Valley Building Supply, Nittany Valley Feed Hardware, Port’s Body Shop, Noll’s Gunshop and Gunsmithing, Weaver’s Store, Hosterman and Stover Co.
Hunters between 12-16 must possess a junior license, and those younger than 12 must have a valid mentored youth hunting permit and be accompanied at all times by a properly licensed adult mentor.
How to stay safe while hunting
As previously mentioned, fluorescent orange in 360 degrees is required for all utilizing the game lands during deer season. Those walking dogs on game lands are also encouraged to dress their dogs in orange vests
In an op-ed penned for the Centre Daily Times last year, Northcentral Region Game Warden Supervisor Mike Steingraber encouraged hunters to remember the acronym taught in the new hunter/trapper education class: SAFE.
- S — Safe Direction: Keep your firearm pointed in a safe direction at all times.
- M — Make Sure: Positively identify your target, know what it is that you are shooting at.
- A — Always Check: Know what is beyond your target, don’t get “tunnel vision.”
- R — Respect Firearms: Treat all firearms as if they are loaded.
- T — Trigger Caution: Never touch the trigger until you are ready to shoot the firearm.
He also encouraged hunters to “be prepared,” carry a GPS, map or compass and a backpack with a small first aid kit, a bottle of water and some type of protein bar. Those who prefer to hunt alone are also encouraged to let someone know when they’re going out, where they’re going and when they expect to come back home.
With tree stands, the game commission reminds hunters that the full-body harness is only good if it’s attached to the tree.
“That means you must wear your harness, and be sure it’s connected to the tree, at all times you’re in the stand, as well as when you’re getting into and out of the stand, or climbing or descending trees,” Meagan Thorpe, Game Commission hunter-education chief, said in a release.
Those using a climbing stand should tie-in the safety rope or strap that pairs with the harness before beginning to climb.
“Make sure you have proper contact with the stand and tree every time you move,” Thorpe said.
Hunters using a ladder stand, climbing stick or tree steps are encouraged to maintain three points of contact with each step.
When using a tree stand, the game commission stresses that hunters take their time, put on their safety harnesses while still on the ground, and to keep it connected to the tree at all times until back on the ground.
How to share the harvest
During the 2017-18 deer seasons, Pennsylvania hunters donated a record 3,337 deer through the Hunters Sharing the Harvest program, resulting in 130,930 pounds of venison for 667,400 meals for families in need.
Hunters Sharing the Harvest is a nonprofit venison donation program that works through a network of meat processors across the state to channel venison donations to food banks, soup kitchens and families in need for a good dinner.
Since 1991, more than 1.3 million pounds of venison has been given to hungry families in Pennsylvania, according to the game commission.
Hunters interested in donating extra venison can drop their deer off at any HSH-certified processor. There is no fee.
In Centre County, deer for venison donations can be dropped off at Rising Spring Meat Company at 119 Cooper St. in Spring Mills or at Jason Monn’s Buck-Stop Deer Processing at 2689 Port Matilda Highway in Philipsburg. Deer can also be dropped off to Adam Clampet, a Centre County HSH coordinator, at 1050 W. Water St. in Bellefonte for processing at Rising Spring Meat Company.
“There’s no greater gift than feeding someone who is hungry, and our state’s hunters have stepped up to do that, time and again, by working through the program to generously donate meat from the deer they harvest to people in need,” Burhans said in a release.