I'm sure anyone browsing this page is well aware that tomorrow is the opening of the regular deer season here in Pennsylvania.
Even non-hunters probably can't help but notice all the preparation and planning that leads up to the big day for those family members and friends who will head to the woods to bag a whitetail. Casual hunters might have just gathered up their hunting gear this weekend, while more the avid deer hunters have likely been prepping for weeks now with preseason scouting, making trips to the rifle range and choosing the perfect location for their deer stand. Regardless of hunting experience or skill level, that anticipation of being in the woods at daybreak on the first day of the season is always a special and important part of deer hunting.
Because our deer season traditionally opens on the Monday after Thanksgiving and November began on a Thursday this year, the first day of this deer season happens on the earliest possible date. Personally, I prefer when the opener occurs closer to the first of December, which can sometimes increase the chances of having some snow on the ground. Other than during deer season I pretty much hate the stuff, but an inch or two of fresh snow makes deer hunting most interesting and special for me. Checking the long-term weather forecasts, however, seems to indicate the odds aren't great for having some white stuff during the next two weeks to spice up the hunting.
This year will be the first deer season during which hunters won't need to display their hunting licenses on their backs, as new regulations went into effect earlier this year that eliminated this long-standing requirement. We are now free to carry our licenses and tags in a coat pocket or wallet. That is one Pennsylvania hunting tradition that I am glad to see disappear. Wearing a hunting license was way more trouble than it was worth and really made no sense. Now if we could just get the folks at our Fish and Boat Commission to do away with the equally pointless requirement of wearing one's fishing license.
And when you are stashing away your licenses and tags to go hunting, be sure you have those of the current year. This might sound silly but now that these documents are all printed on the same yellow stock each year, it's not hard to have the wrong ones with you. I know almost carried the wrong license one day last year. Doing so could cause unnecessary problems if you are checked by a conservation officer, so be sure all your license and tags are marked with "12/13" as the license year.
Another reminder is senior hunters must abide by the statewide antler restrictions, which require a buck have a minimum of three or four points on an antler, depending on the Wildlife Management Unit, to be legal. Junior license holders, mentored youth hunters, disabled hunters with a permit to use a vehicle and resident active-duty U.S. Armed Services personnel are exempt from those antler restrictions and may take a buck with one antler with at least two points, or one antler three or more inches in length. Even though we've had these restrictions since 2002, I've talked to several folks in recent weeks who mistakenly believed that senior hunters were also exempt. This has never been the case, so I'm not sure how that confusion arose.
Finally, for those hunters who are successful, be it a buck or doe, remember to file your mandatory harvest report within 10 days of the kill. Even though this has been a requirement for generations, harvest reporting rates keep declining to dismal levels, with less than 40 percent in recent years. Higher reporting rates would provide our wildlife managers with the best possible data about our deer herd, something that would benefit deer hunters immensely. And filing a harvest report has never been easier. Reports can be filed online at the Game Commission's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us); by calling the toll-free Interactive Voice Response (IVR) telephone harvest reporting system, which is 1-855-PAHUNT1 (1-855-724-8681); or by the longtime method of mailing in the postage-paid postcards that come with your hunting digest.