Pennsylvania’s deer herd experienced an extremely mild winter and came into the spring in very good shape.

Find the forecast for your states 2012 deer season.

“Our deer population is productive and healthy, with no known problems,” says Dr. Christopher Rosenberry, Deer and Elk Management Section supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. “Deer populations are stable in most of our Wildlife Management Units.”

Rain levels in the spring were good, producing lots of good deer forage. As the summer went on, though, less and less rain fell over the state. By August, Pennsylvania’s Northwest Plateau and Southeastern Piedmont regions were rated as being in “moderate” drought. The big forage question for deer here is the year’s hard mast production, so vital to fatten up deer before the winter. Rosenberry says he won’t know the size of this year’s acorn crop, or if the lower amounts of precipitation were a factor, until his agency’s fall mast survey.

Some Pennsylvania hunters, though, argue the deer population is way down, pointing out that the 2011 harvest of 336,000 deer was 180,000 deer below the 2002 deer take. While the herd is smaller than it was a decade ago, says Jerry Feaser, Game Commission spokesperson, it has actually been stable for the last five years.

So why the decreased harvests over time? Fewer hunters and somewhat fewer hunting opportunities. Feaser points out that antlerless tags have been reduced the last decade, along with antlerless hunting seasons. For bucks, antler restrictions went into place in 2002 in many hunting management areas. And, Pennsylvania’s lost approximately 100,000 deer hunters in recent years.

Last year, many of Pennsylvania gun hunters had a split hunting season, and the Game Commission has decided to continue that structure for the 2012 hunt. So, there will be a five-day antlered deer season (Nov. 26-30), followed by a seven-day concurrent antlered and antlerless season (Dec. 1-8) in 11 of the state’s 22 wildlife management units: 2A, 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 3B, 3C, 4B, 4D and 4E.

Also, the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners gave final approval to a regulatory change that permanently allows the use crossbows in archery deer and bear seasons. The use of crossbows began here in 2009, but the regulations were written with a “sunset date,” whereby the use of crossbows would end in 2012 unless the rules were amended. There were deer and bear harvest increases during the archery seasons that Game Commission staff felt were due to the use of crossbows. But Commission staff didn’t see these increases as unsustainable and felt the increased recreational opportunity crossbows offer were a plus.

Pennsylvania’s biggest bucks are being produced in those western Wildlife Management Units along the border with Ohio and in suburbanized WMU’s in the southeastern corner of the state. Prime rut occurs right about the middle of November.

The Northeastern Regional Report
_A very mild winter (which followed a generally mild winter in 2010-2011) and average-or-better amounts of spring and summer rain this year have the Northeast region looking good this fall. States like Vermont and Maine are expecting improved harvests, as the easy winters have allowed deer herds to rebound. Except for a small pocket of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Hampshire County, West Virginia, and a limited outbreak of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) in west-central New Jersey, deer here have no real health issues.

While there are still many good-size deer in the Northeast, trophy antler production has eased away from here and moved into the Midwest region. The Boone and Crockett Club’s “Trophy Whitetail Production, 2005 to 2010,” for example, doesn’t list a single Northeastern state in the top 10. Pennsylvania, at number 20 (with 26 entries), is the highest-ranked state from this region.

That said, Northern states still grow big-bodied deer. “During the 2011 season, we had 124 bucks registered that, on the hoof, would have tipped the scales at more than 250 pounds,” says Vermont deer biologist Adam Murkowski._

Top Trophy Zones
NY: Monroe, Wayne, and Suffolk counties. Comprising the eastern two-thirds of Long Island, Suffolk County produces approximately half the state’s Pope and Young records–including a 2006 buck that netted 196 2⁄8 non-typical.
NJ: Hunterdon, Monmouth, and Salem counties.
PA: Alleghany, Chester, Washington, and Beaver counties.
WV: McDowell and Wyoming counties.