Pennsylvania hunters statewide will have two weeks of concurrent firearms deer hunting next fall.
At the annual spring meeting of the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners on Saturday, board members voted to set all the hunting seasons and bag limits for 2021-22, which will include a statewide firearms deer season spanning Nov. 27-Dec. 11. Sunday, Nov. 28, will be open for hunting, while Sunday, Dec. 5, will be closed.
The board also voted on a move to allow hunters to get an unlimited number of doe tags statewide, so long as licenses are available, and a move to ban the use of rifles for fall turkey hunting.
Commission members said much of the feedback they received from hunters regarding the two-week deer season since it was proposed in January was negative.
“In my district, I just didn’t hear from any hunters who wanted it,” said Stanley Knick, president of the Board of Game Commissioners. Knick was the only commissioner to vote against the two-week hunt.
But Bryan Burhans, the agency’s executive director, noted that “in the comment period, we mainly hear from people who are opposed to things.”
A more objective look at Pennsylvania hunters’ views on the season came from the Game Commission’s 2020 deer hunter survey, which involved a wider sampling of hunters.
Chris Rosenberry, head of the agency’s deer and elk section, said that survey showed 52% of hunters who participated favor the two-week season.
For managing wildlife across the state, the Game Commission divides Pennsylvania into 23 wildlife management units, or WMUs.
Last year, 10 WMUs had two weeks of concurrent buck and doe hunting, while the other 13 had one week of buck-only hunting, followed by a week of concurrent hunting.
WMU 5B, which covers nearly all of Lancaster County and parts of surrounding counties, was among those 13 units with a split season.
A common fear expressed by hunters opposed to the two-week hunt is that an excessive number of does will be shot.
Commissioner Mike Mittrick said those fears are unfounded.
“We are not trying to decrease the deer herd,” he said. “We are trying to increase hunting opportunity.”
The Game Commission can regulate the doe kill through the allocation of antlerless deer licenses.
For the 2021-22 hunting season, the agency plans to reduce the number of doe tags statewide by 7,000.
By WMU, the agency plans to increase allocations over last year in nine units, decrease allocations in nine units and hold the number the same in four units.
Among the 13 WMUs that will move from a split deer season last year to a two-week concurrent season this fall, the Game Commission decreased doe-tag allocations in nine units, increased them in two and held the same number in two.
The 2021-22 allocation for WMU 5B would hold flat at 60,000 licenses, which is the same number issued last year.
Starting this fall, hunters will be allowed to secure an unlimited number of doe tags anywhere in the state, as long as tags are available.
Last year, hunters in all units except WMUs 5C and 5D around Philadelphia, and 2B around Pittsburgh, were limited to a maximum of three doe tags anywhere in the state.
Tags within 5C, 5D and 2B were unlimited.
Under that tag-quota system, there were WMUs that didn’t sell all of their tags, which Game Commission biologists said is critical to achieving deer-management goals for each unit.
For this fall, hunters statewide will be allowed to buy up to six doe tags anywhere in the state, so long as they are available. They can then continue to buy tags as they fill the tags they currently hold.
So there would be no limit to the number of tags a hunter could get over the course of a hunting season, but that hunter could have no more than six at one time.
In January, the Game Commission proposed that hunters could have no more than four at one time. But commissioners said concerns raised by hunters since then in 5C, 5D and 2B — where tags had been unlimited and hunter access is limited — pushed them to increase that limit to six.
Under the new tag system, hunters statewide would be allowed to buy one tag at a time during each of the three mail-in rounds of doe tag sales during the summer.
Then, beginning in September, a hunter could buy three more tags wherever they’re available to reach the individual holding limit of six tags.
Additional tags could then be acquired once hunting season starts and that hunter starts filling tags.
In a vote that the Game Commissioners described as “difficult,” the board voted to outlaw the use of rifles for fall turkey hunting.
“I realize we are taking away almost a culture for rifle turkey hunters in the fall in this state,” said Commissioner Timothy Layton.
And while some hunters believed this change was being done in the name of safety, Layton said it’s not.
Pennsylvania’s turkey population statewide has been declining in recent years.
The fall season is the only time when Pennsylvania hunters are allowed to shoot hens. Since protecting hens is critical to helping turkey numbers rebound, agency biologists recommended rifles be banned because they are the most efficient weapons used to kill turkeys.
The alternative would have been to close fall turkey hunting altogether, Layton said.
“If the choice is to either eliminate the season, or keep it open, but only for shotguns (and archery equipment) then I have to go with keeping it open,” he said.
The commissioners vowed to revisit the use of rifles in the fall season after a couple of years, if data shows that turkey numbers are rebounding.
In setting the full slate of 2021-22 hunting season, the Game Commission board members voted to expand the species that can be hunted on the three Sundays when hunting will be allowed in accordance with state law.
This past fall marked the first time in modern history that Pennsylvania hunters were allowed to hunt traditional game on any Sunday. Three such Sundays were afforded by the state Legislature, but hunting was limited to deer and bears.
For 2021-22, the three Sundays open to hunting will be Nov. 14, Nov. 21 and Nov. 28. Small game and archery deer will be open to hunting Nov. 14; small game, archery deer and bear will be open to hunting Nov. 21; and firearms deer will be open for hunting Nov. 28.