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Friday, December 09, 2005

Good and Bad About Deer Season

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., December 10, 2005.)
If you still have an unfilled tag, today is the day.
Believe that. Believe it every day you hunt.
Good luck in bringing home some last-day venison.
Remember, next year's wallhangers are out there now.
Someone has said, "There's good and bad in everything." That's certainly true of the deer season that ends today. We definitely have mixed opinions and mixed results. Some people aren't seeing deer, and others are bringing home bigger bucks than ever.

What's good?
For the most part, pinball deer hunting is over in Pennsylvania. The old opening day pattern of deer bouncing from one hunter to another is already a memory.

Fewer shots heard, fewer deer sighted by nearly everyone, and a reduced harvest (official numbers are months away) mean that wild eyed deer are not racing along the hillsides with tongues hanging out trying to get past the next hunter.

That's good. It's one factor that should lead to safer deer hunting (not that it ever was more dangerous than other sports), and it means that deer are less panicked when our opportunities come to harvest them.

It's good because some hunters who left the sport because they didn't like pinball deer hunting might be encouraged to return now that deer hunting has entered a new age.

It's also good that deer densities are down, although I won't argue with anyone who says that in some places they are lower than necessary. But just because you didn't see deer doesn't mean deer aren't there. On opening day I had a fleeting glimpse at only 3 deer. On the first Saturday I saw about 20, including 2 sub-legal bucks, and could have shot half the deer I saw. Same area. Different conditions. Different hunting method.

Deer have to be there to be seen, but deer sightings also depend on hunting conditions. Conditions favored the deer on opening day in Warren County. It was windy, the winds were extremely variable, and visibility grew poorer as the day progressed.

In contrast, the first Saturday offered ideal conditions for still-hunting. It was possible to walk up on deer. I encountered deer 7 times that day. Most of the time I saw them before they knew I was there. I wish for cold, quiet conditions every day I hunt.

What's bad?

Fewer deer will result in fewer hunters. Hunter numbers are already headed downward at a startling rate. Hunting license sales have declined 10% nationwide in the last 20 years. In Pennsylvania they have dropped by over 22%, from 1.3 million in 1983 to just over 1 million in 2003. That trend will probably continue.

Fewer hunters along with antler restrictions mean more bucks will get through the season, becoming more mature and offering greater challenges in coming years. But in the long run, as hunters leave the sport we will have fewer hunters helping to recruit new hunters, political influence will diminish, and license revenues will continue to decline.

That's not good for gun rights or hunting rights. And it will cause the Game Commission to seek new sources of funding. Hunters are better off when license revenues – rather than contributions from non-hunting interests – form the foundation of the Game Commission's budget.

What else is bad? Many hunters who have hunted their favorite stands for many years are finding out that stand hunting is not as reliable as it once was. Over the years as tree stands, shanties and stationary posts have become more popular, deer have had less reason to move. More hunters need to get on the ground with the deer.

What to do:

If you've been disappointed in your old faithful stand for a couple of years, it's probably time to try something new. Learning a new territory or new hunting methods are not something to be feared, and are likely to be rewarding.

Learn to accept the challenge of lower deer densities. That means more scouting, and there is no better time to begin scouting than right after deer season. It means changing the way you hunt, being more creative in how to approach a hunt – not doing the same thing every time you go hunting. And it means making a plan for every hunt – even if your plan changes.

Hunting is changing and the old days – call them good or call them bad – will not return.

If you still have an unfilled tag, today is the day. Believe that. Believe it every day you hunt. Good luck in bringing home some last-day venison. Maybe it will be a big one. Remember, next year's wallhangers are out there now.


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