All any hunter can ask for is opportunity. The opportunity to get afield, the opportunity to look for game, the opportunity to perhaps fill a tag.
Pennsylvania’s upcoming archery deer season offers all of that over the span of nearly two months.
But then, that’s no secret. Lots of hunters — more than 330,000 annually — realize its potential and take to the woods, bow in hand.
The 2022-23 statewide archery season runs from Oct. 1 to Nov. 12, continues on Sunday, Nov. 13, then goes from Nov. 14 to 18. It comes back in from Dec. 26 to Jan. 16, 2023.
Archers pursuing whitetails in Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) 2B and 5C and 5D, around Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, respectively, can start hunting two weeks sooner, get an additional Sunday and can go later into 2023. Archery season in those WMUs runs from Sept. 17 to Nov. 12, continues on Sunday, Nov. 13, goes Nov. 14 to 19, continues on a second Sunday, Nov. 20, and goes from Nov. 21 to 25. It comes back in on Dec. 26 and goes through Jan. 28, 2023.
“Pennsylvania’s archery deer season is an amazing time to be afield,” said Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “With autumn’s vibrant colors and increasingly cooler temperatures serving as the backdrop, the season gives hunters the chance to chase whitetails before, during and after the peak of the rut. It’s clear hunters appreciate that opportunity and are taking advantage of it.”
Indeed, resident archery license sales hit an all-time high in 2020 and — while dropping slightly from that peak — still reached 341,885 in 2021. That’s the second-highest sales total of the last dozen years.
Non-resident archery license sales mirror that trend, with 2021’s total of 19,099 trailing only 2020’s record of 19,164.
Those aren’t the only archers in the woods either. Holders of junior and senior lifetime combination licenses can likewise participate in archery season and, with senior combo licenses at record levels, an untold number surely do.
Opportunity surely has something to do with that. The Game Commission added a seventh week to the statewide archery season in 2020, providing more flexibility and a chance to hunt deeper into the whitetail breeding season. Hunters will enjoy that extra time again this year.
Last season, hunters harvested an estimated 130,650 deer in the archery season (68,580 antlered, 62,070 antlerless). Week one was the most productive for antlerless deer, weeks five and six tops for antlered deer.
That archery harvest is important to deer management statewide, in all WMUS, without being too large, said David Stainbrook, Deer and Elk Section Chief for the Game Commission. He pointed out that many archers also are rifle hunters. If they take a deer in archery season, they’re just taking advantage of the seasons available and filling their tags earlier in fall.
“We continually monitor our deer harvest to ensure that our goals and objectives are still being met in each WMU,” Stainbrook said.
Opportunity doesn’t automatically equate to success, though, so to help hunters get the most from archery season, the Game Commission is offering some reminders and tips.
Archery hunters may use long, recurve or compound bows, or crossbows. Bows must have a draw weight of at least 35 pounds; crossbows must have a minimum draw weight of 125 pounds.
The Game Commission encourages hunters to spend as much time as possible afield this fall prior to and during the hunting seasons to scout and identify areas where deer are traveling and bedding and where fall foods are abundant. Food availability changes from year to year, and in areas where food is spotty, deer often move to find better feed. Hotspots change from one year to the next, even from the start to the close of the season, so tracking deer activity and keying in on food sources is important.
Bowhunters should practice with their equipment before the season starts, from the ground and/or an elevated stand, and take only responsible shots at deer to ensure a quick, clean kill. Archery hunters should take only broadside or quartering-away shots at deer within their maximum effective shooting range, which differs for each hunter depending on their skill level and type of equipment used.
Hunters may use illuminated nocks for arrows and bolts, as they aid in tracking or locating the arrow or bolt after being launched. However, transmitter-tracking arrows are illegal.
Tree stands and climbing devices that cause damage to trees are unlawful to use or occupy unless the user has written permission from the landowner. Tree stands — or tree steps — penetrating a tree’s cambium layer cause damage, and it is unlawful to build or occupy tree stands screwed or nailed to trees on state game lands, state forests or state parks.
Portable hunting tree stands and blinds are allowed on state game lands, but not until two weeks before the opening of the archery deer season. Hunters must remove them no later than two weeks after the close of the flintlock and late archery deer seasons in the WMU being hunted.
In all cases, tree stands on state game lands also must be conspicuously marked with a durable identification tag that identifies the stand owner. Those tags must include the hunter’s first and last name and legal home address, the nine-digit CID number that appears on their hunting license, or their unique Sportsman’s Equipment ID number. Hunters can find their number in their HuntFishPA online profile or on their printed license.
Hunters who plan to be afield on private property on the Sundays open to archers must carry with them written permission from the landowner to be there.
Safety tips for bowhunters
Make sure someone knows where you’re hunting and when you expect to return home. Leave a note or topographic map with your family or a friend. Pack a cellphone for emergencies.
Practice climbing with your tree stand before the opening day of the season, especially at dawn and dusk. Consider placing non-slip material on the deck of your tree stand if it’s not already there.
Always use a fall-restraint device — preferably a full-body harness — when hunting from a tree stand. Wear the device from the moment you leave the ground until you return. Don’t climb dead, wet or icy trees. Stay on the ground on blustery days.
Use a hoist rope to lift your bow and backpack to your tree stand. Trying to climb with either will place you at unnecessary risk.
Don’t sleep in a tree stand! If you can’t stay awake, return to the ground.
Keep yourself in good physical condition. Fatigue can impact judgment, coordination, and reaction time, as well as accuracy.
Always carry broadhead-tipped arrows in a protective quiver. Know how to uncock a crossbow safely, too.
If you use a mechanical release with a vertical bow, always keep your index finger away from the trigger when drawing.
Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for all equipment and check your equipment before each use.
Avoid walking with a nocked, broadhead-tipped arrow or bolt.
Cocked crossbows should always be pointed in a safe direction. Know how to uncock your crossbow at the end of legal hunting hours.
Always carry a whistle to signal passersby in the event you become immobile. A compass or GPS unit and map, matches or lighter and tinder also are essential survival gear items to have along. A flashlight with extra bulbs and/or a portable charger for the light and your phone also can be helpful.
Free online resources
To help hunters in being safe and successful, the Game Commission is offering two free resources.
The first is an archery safety course that provides instruction on tree stand safety, and safe and ethical shot placement. The course is available for free, takes about an hour to complete, and is found on the Game Commission’s Hunter-Trapper Education page (www.pgc.pa.gov/HuntTrap/Hunter-TrapperEducation), under “Pennsylvania Archery Safety Course.”
In addition, the Game Commission expanded its Learn to Hunt program this fall with two online seminars on archery hunting.
The first covers the basics of archery hunting. A recording of this presentation is available to view on the Game Commission’s Learn to Hunt webpage (https://www.pgc.pa.gov/InformationResources/GetInvolved/GetStartedHunting/Pages/Learn-to-Hunt-Curriculum.aspx).
The second seminar provides a more in-depth discussion on hunting tactics. Once completed, the recorded course will also be available to view.
While hunting in October often offers pleasant days afield, the warm weather also presents challenges for successful deer hunters.
One is making sure they wind up with high-quality venison for the table.
Deer harvested when the weather is warm should be field dressed quickly, then taken from the field and cooled down as soon as possible. Refrigerating is best. While hanging a deer carcass in a shady area might be fine in cooler temperatures, it’s not so good when air temperatures are above 40 degrees.
Additional information on warm-weather venison care, as well as instructions on deer processing and other tips, are available on the white-tailed deer page on the Game Commission’s website, http://www.pgc.pa.gov.