Well, it's now been about a week and a half since the deer harvest estimates for the 2011-12 seasons were released by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
As usual, I've heard many grand conclusions drawn from those numbers from all sorts of folks, and also as usual, most of those conclusions tend to be off the mark from reality. Of course, like most statistics, anyone can twist the harvest data however he wishes to make his point, or maybe we just try to read too into them altogether.
First, let's remember that the harvest figures are indeed estimates, and that is because a large majority of hunters fail to report their deer kills as required. I was hoping that situation would change for the better now that filing a kill report can be online or via a toll-free telephone call, but it did not. Last season, the average reporting rate for antlered deer was a dismal 37 percent. For antlerless deer, the average reporting rate was even more dismal at 33 percent. Higher reporting rates would mean much more accurate harvest data, so for that, we hunters can only blame ourselves.
In spite of what many hunters choose to believe, the concurrent buck-doe season was one of the better things to be implemented for deer management over the last decade or so. In order to placate the very vocal "I like to see deer" crowd, our game commissioners caved and dreamed up the split season, first in just one WMU, then adding a few more each year for the past several years. The real joke is the split season does nothing to decrease the doe harvest overall, and here's why. Our doe harvest in Pennsylvania is managed totally by antlerless license allocations. Period. Want more does harvested in a given WMU? Issue more doe licenses there. Want fewer does harvested in a given WMU? Issue fewer doe licenses there. No rocket science about that.
Also consider that we have six weeks of archery doe season from October to mid-November. We have a week of muzzleloader doe season along with a special three-day firearms doe season for junior hunters and senior citizens in mid-October. Then after the regular deer season, we have about another three weeks each of archery and muzzleloader doe season.
With all that opportunity to shoot a doe over almost three and a half months (even more in some parts of the state), most folks have ample time to fill a doe tag if they want to, so letting a few does live five days longer during the first week of the regular season really makes no sense. And the harvest figures when compared to the number of licenses issued prove it.
All four WMUs in our region had an increased doe harvest this past season compared to the previous year. More to the point, however, all had comparable increases in the numbers of antlerless licenses from the previous year.
In WMU 4D, doe license allocations increased by 23-percent and the doe harvest increased by 20-percent. In WMU 2C, doe license allocations increased by 31-percent and the doe harvest increased by 33-percent. In WMU 2E, doe license allocations increased by 23-percentand the doe harvest increased by 18-percent.
In WMU 4A, doe license allocations increased by 2-percent and the doe harvest increased by 1.5-percent. Pretty amazing how all the increases in harvest practically mirror the increases in number of doe licenses.
One last stat I have been tracking for about 15 years or so is the number of doe licenses sold for each doe actually harvested. Most hunters I speak with are surprised when I tell them back in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, we killed one doe for about every three licenses. In the early 2000s, after we began huge increases in license allocations and the addition of the many extra doe seasons I mentioned earlier, the success rate actually went down to around one doe for every four licenses and it remains there currently as the statewide average.
Once again, doe harvest is controlled by license allocations, not season length, so it doesn't matter if we have three days, three weeks, or six months of doe season.
And the silly split season does nothing. If you want to see more deer where you are hunting, lobby for fewer doe licenses, not shorter seasons.