East Lampeter Township deer hunter Stephen Shaw likes the way the Pennsylvania Game Commission regulates the hunting of whitetail bucks.
Under current rules, a legal buck in most of the state – including Lancaster County - must have at least three points on one antler.
In a sliver along the state’s western border, the minimum antler restriction specifies a legal buck must have at least three points on the antler’s main beam.
Bucks that don’t meet these requirements are mostly protected in Pennsylvania. The exception is that junior hunters, disabled hunters and active duty military service members can shoot smaller bucks.
“I think antler restrictions have two benefits,” Shaw said. “First is obvious – letting deer age resulting in more mature deer with larger antlers.
“Enhanced safety in the woods is another benefit. Hunters hold their fire until positive identification of the required antler points (is made), resulting in a closer shot, usually with a safer background.”
Back on April 1, we asked on this page if Pennsylvania hunters would be in favor of a return to the days when spike bucks were legal game. We also asked if hunters felt such a change would increase participation in hunting here.
Pennsylvania isn’t considering any change in its antler rules. We asked the question in response to a proposal under consideration by the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board.
After having antler restrictions similar to Pennsylvania’s since 2005, Vermont is considering a change in rules to allow the taking of any buck with spikes or more points.
The Fish and Wildlife Board said it is weighing the change in the name of turning around a steep decline in hunting license sales. Some hunters told the board they quit hunting when spikes became protected, because they didn’t want to have to pick and choose which deer to shoot.
A legal buck in Vermont since 2005 is one with at least one antler having no less than two points. That rule applies to all hunters, except youths participating in the state's annual youth season.
Before 2002, a legal buck for all hunters in Pennsylvania was any buck with at least one spike measuring at least 3 inches long.
In 2002, new antler restrictions were established to improve the breeding ecology in the state’s herd and to boost hunter satisfaction. Hunters like big-racked bucks.
Pennsylvania also has seen a steady decline in hunter numbers the past 20 years, and so LNP asked if hunters favored a return to hunting spikes.
By a vote of 288-115, the answer is “No.”
“I am against changing the current antler restrictions,” wrote Tim Doutrich of Paradise. “They are great the way they are.”
Todd Witmer suggested that if there are hunters who simply want venison, and don’t want to count points on antlers, “shoot a doe, rather than a yearling buck. Let the immature ones go so they can grow.”
Among the hunters who voted “No” to allowing spike bucks to become legal game, several further explained that they oppose the sweeping legalization of spikes, but they wouldn’t necessarily object to allowing senior hunters the same right to spikes as juniors.
“The current regs are OK for most hunters,” Steve Siegrist wrote. “But I’ve always been a firm believer that the spike or at least a ‘Y buck’ should be legal for seniors. Their eyes aren’t as great as they used to be, and picking up the third point is difficult.”
David Burger agrees.
“Spike bucks should be legal for disabled hunters, senior citizens 65 and over and for junior hunters under 18,” he wrote. “Clear and simple. No window dressing.”
The vote of 288-115 is a pretty significant 2-1 margin, basically. But it does show there is a somewhat sizable portion of the hunting population that is in favor of a shift in antler rules back to the old ways.
“In my 60 years of deer hunting in Pennsylvania, I have seen deer hunting change from the days when deer hunting was fun and enjoyable, to today when way too much emphasis is put on size and antler score,” Bob Brubaker wrote in support of making spikes legal game.
“It has become way too competitive to the point of being embarrassed to tell people that you shot a legal buck but it was not huge.
“I am ready to just hunt for fun again.”
As for whether a change back to allowing spike hunting would boost hunter numbers in Pennsylvania, our poll indicates a resounding, “No way.”
Readers voted 293-95, saying it wouldn’t help.
Retired Millersville University professor Cy Fritz wrote, “The Game Commission has tried many twists to the rules over the last couple of years to encourage more hunters, and it’s not really increasing the number.
“Times have changed. Society has changed, and youth have so many other things they are involved in today. We have lost about two generations of kids that have not hunted, or who lost interest in hunting. If the parents don’t hunt, in most cases, the children don’t hunt.”
Ryan Zimmerman suggested that Vermont hunters who quit when spikes became protected probably would have quit the sport eventually anyway.
“I realize that the declining number of hunters is a problem and deer numbers are on the rise,” he said. “But I wonder ho much removing (antler) restrictions would help?
“I would say if an individual quit hunting strictly because of that restriction, he wasn’t much of a hunter in the first place.”