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The buck starts here

Hunters gear up as state license changes of fer more opportunities to harvest deer

A four-point buck gives its best profile in a field along Davis Road in Juniata Gap on Monday afternoon. Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

The most popular hunting season of the year opens Saturday, and Blaine Smith has been watching as area hunters gear up for the big day.

Smith, co-owner and president of Juniata Trading Co. in Everett, sees a steady stream of customers on a daily basis, but when fall comes, so does an influx of hunters looking to upgrade equipment and stock up on supplies for days spent in the woods or at family hunting camps.

An avid hunter himself, Smith said he enjoys hunting throughout the year and has particularly taken to archery hunting, which closed last week.

But while archery is quite the challenge and offers hunters peace and quiet, Smith said that rifle season is by far the most popular harvesting season — not only for the thrill of the hunt but because family is often at the center of activities.

“There’s really no tradition like buck season,” Smith said. “Everyone has their own traditions, and I think that’s why everyone loves it so much.”

Hayden Malloy scouts hunting land on Tuesday. The state’s most popular hunting season begins Saturday with the start of regular firearms antlered and antlerless deer season. Mirror photo by Calem Illig

Although he himself is not a hunter, Don Roudabush has quickly learned what rifle season is all about in his time working at Allegheny Trade Co. in Duncansville.

“You can just see how important this is to everyone,” he said. “People have been hunting with their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers for years. It’s a tradition that they don’t want to break.”

Deer harvest up last year

According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, more deer were harvested last year than any of the past 15 hunting seasons, with wardens reporting a 12% increase in the number harvested.

Among those deer, 174,780 bucks were taken, the highest in the Northeast region.

Even with the high number of deer killed last year, the commission has doubled down on opportunities for hunters this fall.

While the number of antlerless deer tags available was reduced this year, hunters with the proper licenses can harvest either an antlered or antlerless deer at any time throughout the season, anywhere in the state.

Last year, only certain Wildlife Management Units were open to harvesting an antlerless deer at any point in the season, with some areas having a designated buck season and a separate buck and doe season.

“It truly is an exciting time to be a Pennsylvania deer hunter,” said Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans in a release. “Hunters have the opportunity to pursue large-racked bucks in numbers unlike anything we’ve seen in more than a century. Plus, they’ve got more flexibility when it comes to deciding when and where to take antlerless deer.”

According to new guidelines this year, hunters can also purchase additional antlerless deer licenses if they are not used up.

Previously, hunters were limited to a total of three tags — one antlered deer and up to two antlerless deer.

Although hunters may still only harvest one antlered deer, they can purchase any leftover antlerless tags and hold up to six total tags at one time.

The new system will give hunters hoping to harvest more deer the opportunity to do so, and wardens believe it may even let last-minute license buyers get in on the action.

“In Pennsylvania and across the nation, hunters busy with family, work and school commitments consistently list lack of time as the biggest obstacle to getting into the woods,” Burgans said. “These changes address that and set the stage for folks to make some wonderful memories.”

Ammo woes

While the number of tags to harvest a deer have become easier to find, the same cannot be said about ammunition as a shortage last year due to supply chain issues continues to affect the market.

“You’re lucky if you can find many places that have ammo,” said Smith, who added that hunters from as far away as South Carolina have traveled to his shop in Everett to make their purchases.

“It’s close to impossible to find ammo for some calibers,” he said.

Both Juniata Trading and Allegheny Trading spokesmen said they believe their stores are sufficiently stocked. While they are not limiting customers to how many boxes of ammunition they can purchase, with an increased demand and little supply, there are caveats.

The most popular types of ammo, such as .243, 330 or 30-06, are the most difficult to find, retailers said, and while those calibers are available, due to demand, “the price has gone up,” Roudabush said.

Hunters also can’t be too picky about the ammo brand they seek.

“You can’t be really picky about what brand you want,” Roudabush said. “We have most of the calibers available. If you need ammo, we have it, it just may not be exactly what you want.”

Safety first

As wooded areas throughout the state become flooded with hunters, game wardens are focusing on spreading the message of hunting safety.

While there are already safety measures in place, such as wearing blaze orange and completing a hunter safety course, the commission is ramping up its efforts in regard to tree stands.

Wearing a full-body harness is essential to staying safe when using a tree stand, wardens said, adding that the harness can only prevent falls if it is connected to the tree.

If a hunter is using a climbing stand, they must tie-in the safety rope or strap that pairs with the harness before beginning to climb.

“That means you must wear your harness, and be sure it’s connected to the tree, at all times you’re in the stand, as well as when you’re getting into and out of the stand, or climbing or descending trees,” A.J. Garcia, the Game Commission’s hunter-education administrator, said in a statement.

CWD management

Managing chronic waste and recognizing the warning signs is also at the top of the commission’s agenda.

First discovered in Pennsylvania in 2012, CWD is an always-fatal disease that affects deer, elk and other cervids.

There is no cure or vaccine for the disease that is spread by deer-to-deer contact and through the environment, according to a news release.

Although there is no known case of the disease being transmitted to humans, the Game Commission and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not recommend consumption of meat from deer that test positive for CWD.

Bedford, Blair and Cambria counties are considered a designated management area for disease and cases have been reported in all three counties.

The Game Commission offers free testing, and a list of centers that offer free testing for harvested deer can be found at http://www.pgc.pa.gov/CWD.

The head is needed for testing. Hunters can deposit a deer head minus any antlers, double-bagged and with a legible harvest tag attached, in one of the provided head-collection containers located near hunting grounds throughout the region.

Mirror Staff Writer Calem Illig is at 814-946-7535.

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