Reporting on Whitetails in Pennsylvania
by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, August 7, 2010.)
What’s the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s plan for managing whitetail deer for the next ten years? It has just released a 123-page report on the subject, and there’s plenty in it. My aim here isn’t to provide a synopsis. That would be impossible in 750 words.
Considering that it’s a scientific treatise,
“Management and Biology of White-Tailed Deer
in Pennsylvania, 2009-2018” is not hard to read.
My intention is to point out some of the statements I found interesting and that might encourage more people to take a look at the plan.
In several places, the report inserts quotations from long ago. Here’s one from an October 1947 editorial in Pennsylvania Game News magazine that shows biologists have been trying to balance deer populations, wildlife habitat, and public needs for a long time:
“The White-tailed deer is today Pennsylvania’s most striking game animal. At the same time, it is also the Commonwealth’s most complicated game problem.”
We’ve had combined antlered and antlerless deer seasons only since 2001. I thought that was a new idea. I was wrong. Here’s a quote from the state president of the Izaak Walton League addressing the board of game commissioners on May 16, 1930:
“The deer problem in my mind will never be settled until you open the season on both doe and bucks, and have only one season for both and allow no deer to be shot under a certain size. This has been the remedy in other states and has been found to work to the satisfaction of every one.”
Once in a while we hear about an antlered doe. How rare is that? According to the report, about one of every three to four thousand antlered deer is a female.
Did you know that the first chamber of the whitetail’s four-chambered stomach helps it to avoid predators? It enables deer to eat quickly without much chewing, then regurgitate and chew at a later time while safely bedded in cover.
What’s the impact of poor habitat on whitetail reproduction? As little as a 10 percent reduction in food consumption inhibits skeletal growth and fat accumulation, stunting the growth of female fawns and preventing them from breeding. That’s why, after a reduction in the deer herd and the improvement of habitat, biologists are seeing higher body weights, earlier maturation of females, and more fawns per doe.
In two study areas, predators (mostly black bears and coyotes) were the leading cause of fawn mortality. Most predation occurs during the fawn’s first three months.
Most hunters know that yearling bucks disperse from their birth area. Did you know that dispersal happens in spring and fall? And did you know that they travel about 5 miles on average, and distances of more than 20 miles are possible?
Among the people who report watching wildlife in Pennsylvania, 59% are between the ages of 35 and 64, and 22% are 65 or older. That means only 19% are younger than 35. Isn’t wildlife interesting to people in the first half of their lives? Fifty-one percent are male, so the split between men and women is about equal.
How big is the impact of hunters on the economy? In 2001, big game hunters in Pennsylvania spent more than $488 million on food, lodging, transportation, and equipment. That doesn’t include licenses.
I’ve known for a long time that house cats are the biggest predator on songbirds. But did you know that deer can also reduce songbird populations? An Allegheny National Forest study showed that indigo buntings and eastern wood pewees disappeared when deer densities were too high. Why? Because deer browse the vegetation at the level where those birds feed.
Many people who don’t like hunting think a good alternative is trapping and transferring deer to new locations. But a trap and transfer program neither protects individual deer from stress and mortality, nor is it a needed method for restoring deer populations anywhere in the state. It can also introduce diseases to new areas. The good news is that regulated hunting has proven to be the most effective management tool, and the most efficient and least expensive technique for managing deer numbers.
Considering that it’s a scientific treatise, “Management and Biology of White-Tailed Deer in Pennsylvania, 2009-2018” is not hard to read. It covers information on diseases, the rationale for the current wildlife management units, and much more. Whether you agree with the PGC policies or not, you’ll benefit from reading it. You’ll find a link at the Game Commission website and at www.EverydayHunter.com.