Hunters eagerly await opening day for deer hunting

Pennsylvania hunters will be dreaming of a buck in their sights when rifle deer-hunting season begins Monday.
Pennsylvania hunters will be dreaming of a buck in their sights when rifle deer-hunting season begins Monday. For the CDT

I saw the buck — his curved main beams and his long, white antler tines glistened in the late afternoon sunlight.

The sighting was over in a couple seconds, but a few seconds is all this deer hunter needs to raise my heart rate. The buck’s neck was swollen, and his head was down as he moved through the rhododendron, probably chasing a doe.

I did not have time to count, but based on his size, I would guess a large six-point or maybe an eight. This was not a Boone and Crockett trophy, but a legal buck, and certainly would be a personal trophy to many a hunter come Monday morning.

Almost all who purchase Pennsylvania hunting licenses will hunt deer. That makes Monday — the opening day of deer season — a special and long-anticipated day. More hunters are afield and the deer are moving, so it is likely to be one of the more exciting days to hunt. I always look forward to it.

When I was 14, there were three big nights so filled with anticipation they were nearly sleepless: Christmas eve, the night before the opening day of trout season and most exciting of all — the night before the deer opener.

According to Pennsylvania Game Commission statistics, about 25 percent of the buck harvest occurs annually on opening day. That makes for a lot of happy hunters.

Last year, hunters shot a total of 149,460 bucks. Older, larger-racked bucks are much more common today than when I started to hunt deer in the 1960s. A full 52 percent of last year’s harvest was made of bucks 2.5 years old or older. In 1965, it might have been 15 to 20 percent.

Deer numbers appear to be up. At least, almost everywhere that I go, I see deer, signs of deer and dead deer along the highway. I have talked with a lot of hunters during the past two weeks, and the general consensus is that the rut was late this year and will likely still be going on this week. Based on my own observations, it seems to be true. I have observed bucks still hanging together as recently as a few days ago, and I saw very few scrapes in early November. In addition, the season starts early this year. Sometimes it doesn’t start until December.

Here are a few things for deer hunters to be aware:

Newly approved devices: Early this year, the Board of Game Commissioners approved four new electronic devices for hunting. They became legal when the changes were published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin on Nov. 18. Two pertain to deer hunting. Hunters are now permitted to use electric-heated scent or lure dispensers and electronic devices that produce and distribute ozone gas for human scent control purposes. In reviewing the devices, the Game Commission identified no negative impacts that would result from their use, relating to safety or the resource.

CWD: Centre County is not in a chronic wasting disease management area or DMA. However, just to our south, lies DMA 2 in Blair, Huntingdon and Cambria counties, and parts of six others farther south. DMA 3 is to our northwest in parts of Clearfield, Indiana and Jefferson counties. Centre County hunters pursuing deer in those areas are restricted from bringing the entire deer back into Centre County to be processed. The tagged and bagged head can be dropped off at one of 26 collection boxes within the two DMAs. Your deer will be tested for CWD for free and the results will help the Game Commission control the spread of the disease. Consult the CWD page at www.pgc.pa.gov for more information and drop-box locations.

Semi-automatic rifles: Semi-automatic rifles were recently made legal for small game, but not for deer. Hunters may only use manually-operated rifles for deer hunting.

Protect raptors: Lead poisoning has been shown to be a leading cause of death in bald eagles and several other species of raptors. The lead most likely comes from the birds ingesting lead bullet fragments from gut piles or non-recovered game. Hunters can help prevent the poisoning by burying the gut piles or covering it with branches. Or, you can choose to hunt with non-lead ammo.

Hunters Sharing the Harvest: Hunters should consider donating all or part of their harvest to Hunters Sharing the Harvest. All deer donated to the program must be processed at a participating meat processor. Financial donations from individuals, and a $20,000 contribution from the Pennsylvania Game Commission, have allowed hunters to donate meat without paying a processing fee. Check the Hunters Sharing the Harvest website (www.sharedeer.org) for a list of participating processors.

“There is no greater gift than feeding someone who is hungry,” Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans said. “Our state’s hunters have stepped up to do that, time and time again, by working through the program.”

I wish all hunters a lucky and safe deer season.

Mark Nale, who lives in the Bald Eagle Valley, is a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association and can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com