Archery Deer Season to Open Statewide on September 30
Take Penn State University’s Beaver Stadium–the second-largest stadium in the western hemisphere and the fourth-largest in the world with more than 105,000 seats–and fill it to capacity with fans three times over. Throw in another 40,000 or so concessionaires, parking attendants, custodians, tailgaters and the like.
What’s all that get you?
About as many camo-clad hunters as will hit the woods in the days and weeks ahead for Pennsylvania’s archery deer season. Roughly 350,000 people–about one of every two deer hunters here overall–will head afield in pursuit of whitetails with either a vertical bow or crossbow.
To put that into perspective, the Archery Trade Association earlier this year put out its first-ever estimate of bowhunter numbers nationwide. It credits Pennsylvania with more bowhunters than any other state, and 10% or so of all the bowhunters in the country.
That’s a big change from 1951, when Pennsylvania held its first-ever archery deer season. Then, a little more than 5,500 Keystone State hunters bought the $2 license needed to participate and took 33 bucks.
The 2022-23 archery harvest, by comparison, was 145,640: 75,770 antlered deer and 69,870 antlerless.
“It’s no wonder Pennsylvania’s archery deer season is so popular,” said Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “Hunters can pursue whitetails across multiple weeks, before, during and after the peak of the rut, against a backdrop of vibrant autumn colors and increasingly cooler temperatures.
“It’s where opportunity meets demand. Hunters appreciate what’s available and take advantage of it.”
The 2023-24 statewide archery season runs from Sept. 30 through Nov. 11, continues on Sunday, Nov. 12, then goes from Nov. 13 to 17. It comes back in from Dec. 26 to Jan. 15, 2024.
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 2024. Archery season in those WMUs runs from Sept. 16 to Nov. 11, continues on Sunday, Nov. 12, goes Nov. 13 to 18, continues on a second Sunday, Nov. 19, and goes from Nov. 20 to 24. It comes back in on Dec. 26 and goes through Jan. 27, 2024.
That’s a lot of time to be in the woods. Hunters who want to fill a tag and bring home some healthy venison for the table should use as much of it as possible, said David Stainbrook, the Game Commission’s Deer and Elk Section Supervisor.
“Harvest is tied to effort,” Stainbrook said. “One extra day in the woods can mean the difference between harvesting a deer and not getting one. So put yourself where the deer want to be, around food and cover, and then be patient and persistent.”
The Game Commission has a number of videos offering additional information on how to successfully hunt deer on its YouTube page at https://www.youtube.com/@PAGameCommissionHDQTRS. Search “deer hunting.”
Of course, bowhunters should also practice with their equipment before the season starts, shooting from the ground and/or an elevated stand. In all cases, hunters should only take responsible shots at deer to ensure a quick, clean kill. That means limiting themselves to broadside or quartering-away shots at deer within their personal maximum effective shooting range.
As for equipment, 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.
Illuminated nocks that aid in tracking or locating the arrow or bolt after being launched are legal, but transmitter-tracking arrows are not.
Tree stands and climbing devices that cause damage to trees are unlawful to use or occupy unless the user has 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.
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.
Archers can learn more about how to stay safe in the woods by taking the Game Commission’s free, hour-long online archery safety course. It’s on the Game Commission’s Hunter-Trapper Education page (www.pgc.pa.gov/HuntTrap/Hunter-TrapperEducation) under “Pennsylvania Archery Safety Course.”
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, www.pgc.pa.gov.
Hunters should be aware of some rule changes new for this fall designed to slow the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), which is a threat to deer and elk in Pennsylvania.
For starters, the Game Commission recently created a new Disease Management Area (DMA), expanded another and reduced a third.
DMA 8 was created as a response to two recent CWD detections in road-killed deer in Dauphin County. The newly established DMA includes portions of Dauphin, Lebanon, Northumberland, and Schuylkill counties, and is about 660 square miles in size. This was the first time CWD was detected in free-ranging deer east of the Susquehanna River.
Within DMA 8, the Game Commission is using the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) to increase the antlerless deer harvest around the sites where CWD-positive deer were detected. Hunters are able to get additional permits to hunt and harvest antlerless deer there.
The new DMAP unit associated with DMA 8 is DMAP Unit 6396. The unit is more than 140,000 acres, located within Dauphin, Northumberland and Schuylkill counties and includes portions of State Game Lands 210 and 211, and all of State Game Lands 264. A map of DMAP Unit 6396 is available at the DMAP participating properties page at www.pgc.pa.gov.
More than 5,600 DMAP permits for DMAP Unit 6396 were allocated. They can be purchased anywhere hunting licenses are sold, including online at huntfish.pa.gov. Each hunter can buy up to two DMAP Unit 6396 permits. Each permit costs $10.97.
DMA 3, meanwhile, is expanding following the detection of CWD in a road-killed adult female deer in Indiana County. The boundary will generally expand south to Route 259 near Brush Valley, south along Route 119 to Black Lick, west to Clarksburg and Shady Plain, and follow Route 210 north to meet the current boundary. DMA 3 is located in western Pennsylvania and includes portions of Armstrong, Cambria, Clarion, Clearfield, Elk, Indiana, and Jefferson counties.
The size of DMA 4 in Lancaster County is being reduced this year after the area around the original CWD-positive captive facility went five consecutive years without any additional CWD detections. The northern boundary will retract to Interstate 76 while the remainder of the DMA stays the same. CWD has not been detected among free-ranging deer in DMA 4.
A map delineating all of the state’s DMAs can be found at the “CWD Interactive Map” tab on the Game Commission’s CWD webpage at www.pgc.pa.gov/cwd.
Hunters should also note that, in the past, they were prohibited from moving “high-risk” carcass parts from any of the state’s Disease Management Areas (DMAs) or the Established Area (EA) to anywhere else in Pennsylvania.
High-risk parts include the head (including brain, tonsils, eyes, and any lymph nodes); spinal cord/backbone; spleen; skull plate with attached antlers, if visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; cape, if visible brain or spinal cord tissue is present; upper canine teeth, if root structure or other soft tissue is present; any object or article containing visible brain or spinal cord tissue; unfinished taxidermy mounts; and brain-tanned hides.
Now, given the continued expansion of DMAs and the increasing number of hunters impacted by them, the Game Commission is allowing hunters who harvest a deer within the boundaries of a DMA or the Established Area (EA) to take them directly to any Game Commission-approved processor or taxidermist anywhere in the state.
The list of cooperators is available at www.pgc.pa.gov/cwd.
Hunters who take a deer within a DMA or the EA may leave the high-risk parts at the location of harvest, although this is not preferred. They can also take it home to process themselves so long as they also live within that DMA or the EA and dispose of the high-risk parts through a trash service. Hunters who live outside a DMA or the EA can quarter the animal to take it home, free of high-risk parts.
Some hunters will get out early and often across the archery season. Others will be more limited by work, family or other commitments.
The good news is that there’s never a bad time to grab your bow and go. Every week of the 2022-23 archery season, for example, contributed at least 10% to the overall harvest, with some weeks accounting for as much as 25%. So there’s cause for optimism whenever you can get out there.
“Pennsylvania’s archery deer season is an amazing time to be afield,” Burhans said. “You don’t want to miss it.”
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