We’re oh, so close to firearms deer season

21 November 2023- Opening day of Pennsylvania’s statewide firearms deer season is not, officially, a state holiday. Never has been.

But you could be excused for thinking otherwise.

The busiest single day on the hunting calendar by far, it annually causes about half a million people to do whatever they can to get into the woods.

What else would you expect in a state where deer hunting has such a long-standing and strong culture?

The National Deer Association (NDA) regularly ranks Pennsylvania tops in the country for hunter density. It says there were 14.4 hunters per square mile here in 2021, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Only three other states – New York (12), Wisconsin (11.4) and New Jersey (10.5) – hit double digits.

Expect similar crowds this year.  The season starts on Saturday, Nov. 25, continues on Sunday, Nov. 26, then runs through Saturday, Dec. 9, excluding only Sunday, Dec. 3. Hunters will be out in force throughout.

“Pennsylvania’s firearms deer season is truly a tradition unlike any other,” said Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “We’ve got lots of deer and lots of hunters pursuing them, some from camps far from home, others in woodlots and fields near where they live. But all share the same passion for wildlife, hunting and conservation. That’s something special.”

Pennsylvania’s hunters typically do well overall, too, compared to their counterparts around the country.

According to the NDA, Pennsylvania ranked in the top five states in 2021 for antlered buck harvest; antlered buck harvest per square mile; antlerless deer harvest; antlerless deer harvest per square mile; and antlerless deer per antlered buck harvest. That wasn’t the first time, either. Pennsylvania stands among the top states in those categories all the time, it noted.

“We are in a very productive part of the country for deer, and we have a lot of deer out there,” said David Stainbrook, Game Commission Deer and Elk Section Supervisor.

Last season, in 2022-23, hunters harvested an estimated 422,960 white-tailed deer: an estimated 164,190 bucks and 258,770 antlerless deer. The buck harvest in particular – considered a good indicator of the overall deer population trend – was 2% higher than the most-recent three-year average, so right in line with recent trends.

Some of those bucks were very nice in terms of antler structure. Thanks to antler point restrictions, the average Pennsylvania buck harvested is older and usually bigger than those of yesteryear.

Whereas once hunters harvested 80% of Pennsylvania bucks as 1.5-year-old yearlings, now more than 60% of the antlered harvest is made up of bucks 2.5 years old or older. That one extra year typically allows them to express twice as much of their antler potential, and even more if they reach older ages.

But every deer harvested, regardless of whether it’s got antlers or not, provides healthy venison for the table. They serve up memories, too, on opening day and later in the season. And the harvesting of antlerless deer is critical to achieve deer management goals.

“Success in harvesting deer starts with scouting and knowing the land,” said Game Commission deer biologist Bret Wallingford. “But patience and putting in time are important, too. So this season, hunters should hit the woods every chance they get.

“Persistence matters, as one additional day hunting can make the difference between a successful season and an unsuccessful one.”

All of the details on how to make a good hunting season better while still remaining completely legal can be found with the PA Game Commission, here.