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Pennsylvania Whitetails

I’ll have to admit that when it comes to trying to figure out how or what the whitetail deer population is in the state of Pennsylvania, it can be really interesting depending on who you are talking to or what you are basing your estimates on.

For example, if you are counting road kills, you would think the state is overrun with deer at times. I make a trip out Interstate 80 once every month to visit my mother in the western part of the state, and I have the silly habit of counting dead deer along the way. On average, I will count anywhere from six to ten deer on the 130-mile trip west. On the way back, it’s often too dark to see off to the roadside, but I would guess the count would be about the same coming back east; that would come to between a dozen and twenty dead deer hit by vehicles that I’m spotting each month. Of course, there are probably even more deer hit by vehicles that we never see. I’m sure similar numbers are occurring on other highways throughout the state — that’s a lot of deer.

To further confuse the issue, you can get different feedback from different hunters. I know a good number of hunters this year who have taken some nice bucks, but I have also talked to some who say they don’t seem to be seeing many deer when they are in their stands.

I definitely don’t think there is any shortage of deer, but I have had a couple of outings where I spent the better part of the day in the stand, seeing nothing but then dodging deer along the highway after dark the whole way back home. Some hunters have suggested that the deer may be becoming warier and more nocturnal — an interesting thought.

Well, obviously, counting dead deer along highways or basing your count on a couple of days in the woods probably doesn’t give us much to go on when it comes to estimating what’s really out there, so I decided to do a little digging; here’s what I found.

It turns out that Pennsylvania ranks pretty high when it comes to the deer harvest. In 2020-21 Pennsylvania hunters took an estimated 435,180 deer, which was 12 percent higher than the previous year, and it was the highest take in 15 years. It was also the tenth time since 1993 that the overall harvest went over the 400,000 mark.

According to the National Deer Association’s “Deer Report 2021,” which was based on the previous year, Pennsylvania ranked second only to Michigan when it came to bucks harvested per square mile; Pennsylvania had 3.6 per square mile while Michigan barely passed us at 3.7 per square mile. The rest of the northeastern part of the country only averaged around 2.3 per square mile, and the national average was only 1.3.

Another interesting fact that I found was that we are taking bigger and more mature bucks here in Pennsylvania, which is no doubt due to the antler restrictions introduced a few years back. Before antler restrictions, about 82 percent of our buck kill was made up of yearlings, and just 18 percent were two and one-half years old. Now over the past three years, our buck harvest has averaged only 35 percent yearlings, and up to 65 percent of our buck kill is now two and one-half years or older. That we are taking older bucks with bigger racks doesn’t surprise most of us; just look at the photos our fellow hunters are flashing in our faces.

As I write this piece, there are still some deer hunting opportunities left, and my wife and I are still hoping to cash in on one of those bucks or maybe even a doe. Hopefully, I can nail one from my treestand rather than the buck I barely missed last week with my truck as I was driving into Muncy.