Dave Muscia | Mossy Oak ProStaff
Ask anyone who goes out of state to hunt, “Which is the toughest state in the United States to take a buck?” and unequivocally, they’ll answer, “Pennsylvania.”
Pennsylvania always ranks within the top five states in the United States for number of deer hunters. I have hunted Pennsylvania for 40 years, where you'll usually see more hunters than deer. Pennsylvania’s deer herd statewide has been in a process of change for the last several years. In the past, we’ve had really high numbers of deer but very low numbers of older-age-class bucks.
When I was younger, on opening day of deer season, I remember we could go out and see large numbers of deer hunters in the woods, but we’d also see 20 or 30 deer on opening day. Pennsylvania has always been well-known for harvesting small bucks, but our Game Commission started using antler restrictions to let some of our younger bucks grow. The Game Commission also increased the number of antlerless deer licenses to try and reduce the herd statewide and in hopes of getting the buck-to-doe ratio more balanced. Although the antler restrictions and the increase in antlerless deer licenses has resulted in Pennsylvania hunters seeing fewer deer each season, our section of the state where I hunt is seeing much better bucks now.
The Secret to Taking Pennsylvania Bucks
During opening day of Pennsylvania’s gun season, the woods will be really crowded. Here in Pennsylvania, we have a very long and strong deer-hunting tradition. So, during gun season, our deer get a lot of hunting pressure. But in bow season, the number of deer hunters drops off drastically. So, your best bet for taking an older-age-class buck will be during Pennsylvania’s bow season.
Another interesting fact about hunting Pennsylvania is that the deer-hunting pressure in certain areas of the state has changed. When I was a youngster, everyone we knew always went to the Allegheny Mountains in northern Pennsylvania to hunt deer during rifle season. Very few hunters hunted in central and southern Pennsylvania. As years went by, because of all the hunting pressure in the northern part of the state, deer numbers there were reduced drastically. More Pennsylvania hunters began hunting around central and southern Pennsylvania, especially around their homes in southwestern Pennsylvania. The deer herd had begun to increase south of the Allegheny Mountains. However, over the last two years, this trend tends to be reversing, and the northern counties of Pennsylvania are beginning to produce some really nice bucks because hunting pressure was down in the north. The antler restrictions were implemented, and the tremendous number of does that we once had in northern Pennsylvania was reduced.
Our 2017 deer season opened on November 27. I hunted locally, and I only saw five other hunters. In the past, on public hunting areas in Pennsylvania game lands, all the parking lots would be full, and it would very difficult to find a place to hunt where you didn’t see three or four other hunters. On this 2017 opening day, I was hunting public land in a county park that’s about 3,000 acres. I was shocked at only seeing five hunters all weekend. I spotted a few does and a few bucks, which also is unusual. Generally I put trail cameras out on that property and will get pictures of one or two mature bucks, as well as pictures of a lot of young bucks and does. This year we had really warm weather. We had low hunting pressure, and I heard that we had an epidemic of bluetongue hit our deer herd. So, we think we had a lot of natural die-off, and the farmers in our county have seen a good number of dead deer before the season.