Rising deer population could bring trophy season

BY PAT FARNELLI

If estimates on deer population are accurate, this fall should be a trophy season, say experts from Pennsylvania’s Game Commission.

The rut season is just beginning, and while bucks have been chasing does since mid-October, the girls are just starting to take an interest in the males, said Michael Webb, Wildlife Officer of the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Bucks usually are fighting by Halloween, and the does are coming into their first estrous cycle, when they are “in heat,” right now. In a good year, most of the doe are bred during this cycle. If there are few mature buck, the does who have not been bred will come into a second estrous cycle 28 days later.

The breeding cycles can account for some reckless deer behavior.

To be sure to see deer, it is imperative for hunters to be aware of food resources. This year, particularly in forested areas, acorn crops are spotty, said Travis Lau, also of the Game Commission.

“We would expect the season, so long as weather is good, to be similar to recent years,” Lau said.

There is a formula used to determine how many antlerless licenses are allocated. Wildlife Management units use post hunt estimates of deer population from the previous year.

“Most of these show that the deer population is steady or increasing, except around the city of Pittsburgh,” Lau said.

Webb said that the apple crop in low-lying areas may make up for the somewhat lacking acorns. “Three frosts killed the acorns, but there seems to be tons of apples,” he said. The oak trees are in different cycles, Webb said. “Every three to five years, there will be a bumper crop of acorns, then nothing the next.”

Lau said, “In farmed areas, deer will be eating standing crops. In gamelands and forests, deer rely on mast crops like acorns in their home range.” He noted, “Deer concentrate where there is food available. It might be a little harder to find them this year. If there’s a lot of hunting pressure, deer move to evade that pressure.”

Regarding gas drilling activity in the state gamelands, Lau said that well pads “don’t really account for much acreage compared to the tract we manage, as a whole.”

“You won’t have deer where new gas pads are being constructed, but you won’t drive them into the next county, they are still in the area, “he noted.

Webb added that deer seem to follow finished gas pipelines, grazing the clover or wildlife mix planted as cover crops there. “Deer seem to migrate that way, grazing the length and width of pipelines, eating the clover and orchard grass. But given a choice, deer will still take acorns over a pipeline.”

“WMUC 3-C is the unit which contains all of Susquehanna County, which is recorded as increasing (deer population),” Lau said. “When we estimate it is truly an estimate, with a significant margin of error. We rely on successful hunters reporting their harvest to us, but some hunters just don’t do that.”

The game commission looks at the previous six years when it makes an estimate, to get an accurate trend.

In 2008, the post-hunt deer population was estimated at 45,500. In 2013, the count was up to 67,720.

The Wildlife Management Unit includes Susquehanna County, the top edge of Wyoming County, Norhern Lackawanna, Northern Wayne, and half of Bradford County.

Lau said, “The other thing I see in 3C is that the antlerless harvest has climbed, or it seems to be climbing, because actual reports only come from 40 percent of successful hunters.” Last year’s antlerless deer harvest was estimated at 7,854.

He said, “When it comes to the actual season, an opening day with heavy snow which keeps hunters from woods, will affect the harvest. Heavy snow might cause deer to bed down, and hunters can’t provide enough pressure to move the deer.”

Webb said that some hunters really don’t care if they see deer, because they are in hunting for the camaraderie, the time outdoors in the woods. “If they see a deer, it’s a huge bonus,” he said.

Antlered deer season opens Monday, Dec. 2 and runs through Dec. 6. The anterless season runs Dec. 7-14.

Hunting licenses may be obtained through the Susquehanna County Treasurer’s Office, (570)278-4600 ext. 130.

Locally, The Susquehanna Branch of the Quality Deer Management Association will present Deer Management and Habitat Improvement night at the Central Conservation Club, South Montrose at 6 p.m., doors open at 5:30 p.m. You do not need to be a member to attend.

Guest speakers from the Food and Cover Corps of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Game Commission Conservation Officers, habitat improvement DVD’s from several local QDM managed properties.

Refreshments will be served. QDM books and special membership offer available night of the meeting. For information, contact Bob Wagner at 570-278-9363.