Outdoors

Afield: Are there ever too many deer for hunters? Signs are pointing to bountiful harvests this year

If you have done any driving recently, you’ve likely noticed the large number of deer killed on the highway this fall. Last Tuesday, I drove across the state from the Philadelphia area back to Centre County — the highways were littered with dead deer. Ditto on my short drive into Blair and Huntingdon counties on Wednesday.

Although these deer have now been removed from the population, the number of highway mortalities is a good indication of the total deer population. There seems to be a lot of deer this fall, particularly in my area of the county.

In addition to those unlucky deer (and unlucky motorists), I have had a half-dozen deer dart across the highway in front of me over the past two weeks. My “unlucky number” could be up at anytime. According to State Farm Insurance Company, drivers in Pennsylvania have a 1-in-52 chance of hitting a large animal — usually a deer.

Some hunters will continue to claim that there are not any deer or not enough for them. However, State Farm usually ranks Pennsylvania in the top three states for drivers most likely to hit a deer. This year, the Keystone State is ranked third.

I have been seeing deer everywhere that I go — morning, evening and even in the middle of the afternoon. Although I have not been successful hunting yet, it is not the deer’s fault. Three hunters that I know have harvested 8-point bucks within a mile of my house. And — the best two weeks of archery season are yet to come.

Trees are regenerating nicely on State Game Land 278 at the Centre/Blair County line. This tells me that deer numbers are good, but not too high in that area. When I counted 36 deer in one Centre County farm field last week, it raised concerns about the habitat health near there. Hunters might like it, but having too many deer is not good for the habitat, as it damages farm crops and helps to spread chronic wasting disease.

Deer are particularly active at his time of year for several reasons. Many yearling bucks disperse in the fall — seeking new territories in which to live. This is also the mating season and deer move more because of increased feeding activity in preparation for winter.

“While the peak of the rut still is a few weeks off, deer already have increased their activity and are crossing roads,” Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans said. “While motorists — at any time of year — are well advised to stay alert and be on the lookout for whitetails while driving, it’s especially important now and in the coming weeks.”

Deer often travel in single file. If you see one deer crossing in front of you, slow down because it is likely that more deer will follow. Stay alert while driving, particularly in the morning and evening, night and morning, when deer are more active. I am sure that none of you want to be that one out of 52.

I doubt it, but if there truly are no deer where you hunt, now is the time to scout for a new spot. Deer go where the food is, and that could be on state or private land. Find the food and you will find the deer for the remainder of archery season or come Nov. 30.

New to hunting?

You should check out the new free YouTube video series, “Deer Hunting 101,” produced by the Quality Deer Management Association. The lessons are broken up into short videos covering topics such as finding a place to hunt, deer senses and glands, deer biology, aging and judging deer antlers, hunter ethics, making good shot choices and hunting techniques, as well as caring for your deer after the kill. The videos average about six minutes each.

Seasons

Hunting seasons are in full swing with hunters afield for rabbit, pheasant, squirrels, grouse and turkey (in Centre County). Fall turkey seasons vary in length and starting dates. Both of Wildlife Management Units in Centre County, 4D and 2G, have the same seasons this year — Nov. 2-16 and Nov. 28-29.

Water safety

As of Friday, all boaters, canoeists, and kayakers must wear a life jacket while out on the water, rather than just carry one. This rule applies to duck hunters, anglers and those just paddling around. Cold water can put anyone into shock relatively quickly. This Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission requirement is for your safety. Visit the cold water survival safety tips at www.fishandboat.com.

Elk season

Pennsylvania’s elk season begins Monday, and I will be afield with one of the 27 bull elk permit holders. I hope to have a good story to share later this month.

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.

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