Where Are All The Whitetails Going?

The numbers are out: Pennsylvania’s 2014-15 deer harvest was down by 14 percent. What does this mean for the rest of the country?

As is the case in other historically deer-rich states in the nation’s heartland, Pennsylvania game officials have announced that the most recent season saw a significant decline in whitetail harvest numbers.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission recently reported that in the state’s 2014-15 seasons, hunters harvested an estimated 303,973 deer—a decrease of about 14 percent compared to the 2013-14 harvest of 352,920.

Hunters took 119,260 antlered deer in the 2014-15 seasons—a decrease of about 11 percent compared to the previous license year, when an estimated 134,280 bucks were taken. Also, hunters harvested an estimated 184,713 antlerless deer in 2014-15, which represents an about 16 percent decrease compared to the 218,640 antlerless deer taken in 2013-14.

On a decidedly positive note, the commission report noted that the 2014-15 Pennsylvania harvest contained its highest percentage of adult bucks in decades. Of the antlered deer taken, 43 percent were 1.5-year-old bucks, with the remaining 57 percent being 2.5 years old or older.

“We put these numbers out each year and, whether there’s an increase or decrease in the harvest, people want to know why,” said Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough. “While it’s impossible to provide explanations with certainty, there were a couple of factors over the 2014-15 deer seasons that seem to have contributed to a decreased harvest.”

Some of the decrease is by design, Hough said.

The Game Commission last year reduced the number of antlerless licenses available for sale. Fewer licenses were allocated in nearly every Wildlife Management Unit, and statewide, 59,500 fewer antlerless licenses were issued.

Additionally, the weather during the 2-week firearms deer season was less than ideal in much of the state, with some parts of the state experiencing unusually high temperatures on opening day.

Pennsylvania’s reduced harvest corresponds also with harvest decreases within neighboring states this past season. Research shows that when mast crops like acorns are especially abundant, as was the case in many parts of Pennsylvania this past season, deer harvests tend to drop because deer don't have to move far to get food.

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