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Pennsylvania Deer Hunting Restrictions Has Its Pros and Cons

Dave Muscia | Mossy Oak ProStaff

hunter in the snow


The biggest buck I've ever taken in Pennsylvania scored about 130 inches. Back when I took that buck, he was considered a trophy buck. Today however, because of Pennsylvania’s antler restrictions and liberal un-antlered season, we’re seeing much bigger bucks in Pennsylvania. 

Last season a friend of mine took a buck that scored 170 inches, and we often hear about and see bucks that will score in the 150s. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we’re not seeing as many deer as we saw before we had antler restrictions and such a liberal doe harvest. 

Another restriction that seems to have helped is that Pennsylvania hunters can now only harvest one buck per season. This causes our hunters to be a lot more selective than we once were about the bucks we take. We can apply for antlerless deer licenses, and these licenses are specific to the Wildlife Management Unit you hunt. If that unit has unsold antlerless deer tags, you can keep applying to that same unit to purchase unsold antlerless deer tags. In Unit 2B, you can buy an unlimited number of doe licenses to help the state solve overpopulation problems in certain areas of Pennsylvania. The areas with the most liberal doe harvests are around Pittsburgh – often unlimited antlerless licenses. But in many other parts of the state, you can only apply for up to three antlerless deer licenses. So, residents of Pennsylvania can usually get doe licenses to help fill their freezers with meat, but you have to be really selective when you hunt bucks, because you can only harvest one. 

I'm often asked, “Why does Pennsylvania have so many deer hunters?” 

I really don’t know the answer. Pennsylvania usually always has been in the top number of deer licenses sold for states throughout the country. We also have one of the longest and oldest traditions of hunting deer, and deer hunting is part of our culture. Deer hunting is as much a part of the social life of hunters as it is a part of how we take meat for the freezer. Generation after generation after generation have taught family members the value of hunting deer, harvesting deer and eating venison. In many households, going deer hunting during the winter months is as traditional as celebrating the holidays. We don’t seem to have had a big drop-off in new hunters coming into the sport as some of the other states have had. We also have a large amount of public land for people to hunt. I’m sure that the availability of land to hunt deer on is another factor that explains why so many people in Pennsylvania hunt deer. 

I'm often asked, “What size buck do you try to take each season?” 

In recent years, I've limited myself to only taking bucks that will score 125 or more on Boone and Crockett. For that reason, I don’t always take a buck every season. Every season I’ll see bucks that will score 125, but they may not be in range, or they may be smaller than the buck I'm hunting in that area. Last year, I had trail camera pictures of two different bucks that would score between 150 and 160 inches each. Since I was trying to take one of those bucks last season, I passed up several bucks I could have taken that would have scored 120 to 130 B&C. So, I don’t necessarily take a buck every season. Another reason that I may pass up a buck that would score 125 is that if that buck looks like he's only 2-1/2-years old. If he's on a property that I'm the only person who hunts there, I may let him go in hopes of taking him the next year. 

I had planned to hunt the two big bucks that I saw last year this season, because they really should be outstanding trophy bucks now. But I've had my trail cameras out, and I haven’t gotten a single picture of either one of those bucks or seen them, even as much as I hunt. I haven’t heard of anyone taking those two big bucks, or those deer being hit by automobiles. I checked with the landowner this season, and he hasn’t seen those bucks either. The only reason I can think of that I haven’t seen those deer is they may have been killed by bluetongue after the season last year. I’ve learned that bluetongue is not a statewide disease. It only seems to occur in isolated areas. 

Although those two bucks were really big deer for Pennsylvania, I have seen a buck that would score 180 inches or better. So apparently, the rules, regulations, antlerless deer restriction and liberal antlerless deer tags have had a positive effect on the size of bucks we’re seeing and harvesting in Pennsylvania now.

Pennsylvania Deer Hunting Seasons
Before Pennsylvania’s legalization of crossbow hunting during deer bow season, I could hunt public state game lands and only see one to three bowhunters during the entire bow season for deer. But since crossbows were legalized for hunting deer, I see many more hunters during bow season than I’ve ever seen before. However, even with the legalization of crossbows, I still see fewer deer hunters during archery season than I do during gun/deer season.

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