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Elk season done; Saturday deer opener upcoming

Pennsylvania’s six-day general elk season concluded on Nov. 9. A total of 89 elk were taken by the 98 hunters who drew elk licenses for this year’s hunt.

The 27 hunters who drew bull tags enjoyed a 100-percent success rate, as all 27 of them filled those tags. Sixty-two of the 71 hunters licensed for a cow elk were successful. Elk were taken in 12 of the 13 elk hunt zones open to hunting in the general elk season.

“Although we’re satisfied with the overall general season elk harvest — it’s tough to top a bull harvest that goes 27 for 27, for the second consecutive year there was a slightly lower success rate for antlerless elk hunters in a few hunt zones,” Game Commission elk biologist Jeremy Banfield said.

As usual, some exceptional trophies were taken during the 2019 elk hunt.

Of the 27 bulls harvested, 14 had estimated live weights of 700 pounds or more. The heaviest of those was an 800-pounder with a 10-by-9 rack taken in Gibson Township, Cameron County, by Caleb Hostetter of Boiling Springs. A close second was a 788-pounder with an 8-by-7 rack taken in Covington Township, Clearfield County, by Willis Humes of Cheswick. Ten cows harvested also tipped the scales at more than 500 pounds.

Of course, the main event for the 2019 hunting seasons looms on the horizon with the opening of the regular deer season next Saturday.

The key word in that sentence is “Saturday.” Like most Pennsylvania hunters today, deer season has always started on the Monday after Thanksgiving for my entire hunting career. That change has incited much debate among the hunting community since it was passed back in April. Personally, I’m fine with whatever day they want to start the season. I also realize the Saturday opener will probably allow more folks to participate on the first day without having to take a day off from work, but I think it would have made more sense if we could hunt on Sunday.

The Saturday opening day is not necessarily a lock for next year, however. Shortly after it was approved for this season there was apparently enough outcry about the measure for the majority and minority chairmen of the state House of Representatives Game and Fisheries Committee to meet with members of the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners. After that meeting, Tim Layton, the president of the Board of Game Commissioners, said the board will study what impacts the Saturday opener has on hunting license sales and hunter success when setting the dates for the 2020 deer season.

Restrictions regarding chronic wasting disease will affect more hunters than ever this season because of the expansion of the three active Disease Management Areas. DMA 2 was greatly expanded and now comprises parts of Adams, Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Clearfield, Cumberland, Franklin, Fulton, Juniata, Perry, Huntingdon and Somerset counties.

DMA 3 includes about 350 square miles in Armstrong, Clarion, Clearfield, Indiana and Jefferson counties. DMA 4 encompasses 346 square miles in Berks, Lancaster and Lebanon counties.

The so-called high-risk parts of any deer harvested within a DMA may not be transported out of that DMA.

The brain, eyes, tonsils and lymph nodes, spinal cord and spleen are considered high-risk parts. This is not a great problem for hunters who live or have their deer processed within a DMA, but the situation becomes more complicated for hunters who harvest a deer within a DMA but live outside the DMA.

Once high-risk parts are removed, hunters can transport out of the DMA the remaining meat on or off the bone, cleaned capes, cleaned skull plates with antlers, and finished taxidermy mounts. Hunters who process their own deer should dispose of high-risk parts through their curbside trash service or in special dumpsters provided for that purpose by the Game Commission.

Some hunters believe if they have their deer processed within a DMA it will automatically be tested for CWD.

That is not the case.

While the Game Commission does collect heads from deer processors to test for the prevalence of CWD, that represents a relatively small sample size compared to the total harvest. Hunters who harvest a deer within a DMA can have their animal tested free by dropping the head in special metal collection bins at various locations in the DMAs.

All deer heads brought to the drop-off bins must be lawfully tagged, with the harvest tag legibly completed and attached to the deer’s ear and placed in a tied-shut plastic bag. The head can be bagged before being brought to the bin, or hunters can use the bags provided at bins. Once submitted for testing, deer heads will not be returned to hunters.

Hunters wishing to keep antlers should remove them prior to submitting. Hunters will be notified of disease testing results within six weeks.

All the regulations and other details regarding hunter-harvested deer within a DMA along with the boundaries of the various DMAs and the locations of dumpsters for carcass disposal or head collection bins can be found on the Game Commission website: www.pgc.pa.gov. The website also has a wealth of additional information about CWD, including the draft of the Game Commission’s new CWD Management plan.

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