Antler restrictions: what’s the point?
Both Pennsylvania and, in a limited area (see antler restrictions info box), the State of New York, have imposed stricter restrictions on deer hunters with regard to antlered deer in recent years, imposing a higher limit on the number of points that must be on the antlers of bucks harvested during the hunting season. Not surprisingly, the restrictions have faced some controversy—nobody likes being told what to do, least of all by government.
Ironically, however, the aim of the restrictions is ultimately to increase the percentage of the herd comprising older bucks with substantial racks, which ought to please those hunters who are particularly interested in collecting a large set of antlers. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), bucks with four points or fewer are generally no more than 1.5 years old, but bucks that have six points or more are older. The fewer yearling bucks are killed, obviously, the more will have a chance to grow older and develop those antlers.
Many hunters are not convinced that the restrictions make sense, however, and in New York State, the DEC has therefore declined to impose antler restrictions statewide. Instead, it has imposed them only on a handful of WMUs in the Catskills region (which happen to include all of our readership area). In the words of the DEC website, “Though most NY hunters want to see more older bucks, hunters place more value on their freedom to take any buck.”
Are they effective?
As shown in the Antler Restrictions sidebar, Pennsylvania’s antler point restrictions (APRs) became more stringent in 2002, and since then the PA Game Commission has been carefully monitoring the results. On its website it writes, “Prior to APRs about 80% of bucks (a majority of which were yearlings) were harvested by hunters each year.... Based on survival rates of hundreds of radio-collared bucks, yearling buck survival increased from less than 20% to 64% after APRs. Adult buck survival increased as well, to 36%.”
The 2015-16 harvest contained its highest percentage of adult bucks in decades: 59% of whitetail bucks taken by Pennsylvania hunters during the 2015-16 deer seasons were 2½ years old or older. The commission also notes, however, that “The increased harvest of adult bucks does not necessarily mean more ‘record book’ bucks. Although age structure and number of adult bucks in the harvest has increased, about 75% of them are only 2.5 years of age. In other words, most of Pennsylvania’s bucks are still being harvested prior to growing their largest antlers.”
The commission also maintains that, though one might fear that antler restrictions would reduce hunter success rates, that is not the case: “Today, licensed Pennsylvania hunters are as successful harvesting a buck under APRs as their predecessors were 20 years ago under the old antler restriction.” Judging from some of the discussions of this issue we found online, however, not all Pennsylvania hunters would necessarily agree. If you have some thoughts on the issue, we encourage you to send a letter to the editor (limit 300 words) to email@example.com.
In New York State, as noted, antler restrictions apply in only a relatively small area. DEC studies show that in areas without antler restrictions, only 2% of bucks live to be as old as four years old. In areas with restrictions, 10% do—which may not sound like a lot, but is five times the percent without restrictions. However, interestingly, even in parts of the state where the DEC is asking hunters to refrain from shooting bucks only on a voluntary basis, progress appears to have been made: in the 2015 hunting season, over half of the bucks harvested were aged 2.5 years and older, compared to only 28% in the early 1990s.
In Catskills (WMUs 3A, 3C, 3H, 3J, 3K, 4G, 4O, 4P, 4R, 4S and 4W): There must be at least one antler with 3 points that are at least one inch long. Restriction replies to archery, regular and muzzleloading seasons. Hunters age 12-16 exempt.
Statewide: 3 points to an antler, not including the brow tine.
Prior to 2002, the antler restriction was 2 points to an antler or a spike at least 3 inches in length.
2002-2010: The antler point restrictions (APR) were 3 or 4 points to an antler, depending on area of the state.
2011: 3 point to an antler restriction became statewide.
Bear season and bag limits
Bear regular, statewide: Nov. 19-23. Only one bear may be taken during the license year.
Bear regular, WMUs 3C and 3D: Nov. 28-Dec. 3. Only one bear may be taken during the license year.
Bear, archery statewide: Nov. 14-18. Only one bear may be taken during the license year.
Bear, early: Sept. 10 - Sept. 25 in 3A, 3C, 3H and 3K and 3M. None in 4W or 4O.
Bear, bowhunting: Oct. 1 - Nov. 18; Dec. 12 - Dec. 20 in all the readership area zones.**
Bear, crossbow: Nov. 5 - Nov. 18 in all the readership area zones.**
Bear, regular: Nov. 19 - Dec. 11 in all the readership area zones.**.
Bear, muzzleloader: Dec. 12 - Dec. 20 in in all the readership area zones.**
*Wayne and Pike counties in PA are included entirely in the 3C and 3D Pennsylvania Wildlife Management Units (WMUs).
**Sullivan County, which includes mainly parts of New York State WMUs 3H and 3K, and smaller pieces of 3A, 3C, 3M and 4W; Delaware County, which includes parts of WMUs 4W and 4O; and northeastern Orange County, in WMU 3M.
Bear hunting tips from the PA Game Commission
1. Locate areas with good fall food supplies—acorns, beechnuts, apples, corn—before the hunting season. A good time to scout is early November, so you can assess local mast conditions.”
2. Look for droppings; bedding areas (scratched-out depressions, usually at the base of a tree or log; and active trails with tracks).
3. Look for bears in the thickest cover you can find, such as swamps and bogs, mountain laurel/rhododendron thickets, north-facing slopes, regenerating timber-harvest areas, wind-blown areas with lots of downed trees, and remote sections of river bottoms. Bigger bears are notorious for holding in thick cover, even when hunters pass nearby.
4. Hunting on-stand early and late in the day gives hunters a great chance to catch bears traveling to and from feeding and bedding areas. Hunt areas that provide cover to traveling bears and ensure there is either a good supply of mast or cornfields or cover near where you plan to hunt.
5. Use the wind to your advantage. If a bear gets a whiff of you, you’re busted as a hunter. Bears have an outstanding sense of smell. They often let their noses guide the way as they travel. Always place yourself downwind of expected travel lanes when hunting on-stand or driving. Bears are cagey enough without giving them more advantages.
6. Stay focused and assume nothing. Black bears blend in well in forest settings at dawn and as dusk approaches. Spend too much time looking one way and you can miss a bear. Even though bears are quite heavy, they often are surprisingly quiet moving through the forest. You may see a bear before you hear it coming. Staying alert and remaining vigilant are critical.
Source: PA Game Commission press releases at www.prnewswire.com/news/pennsylvania+game+commission
Deer season and bag limits
Deer, archery (antlered and antlerless), statewide: Oct. 1-Nov. 12 and Dec. 26-Jan. 14. One antlered deer per hunting license year. One antlerless deer with each required antlerless license.
Deer (antlered only), WMUs 3C and 3D: Nov. 28-Dec. 2. One antlered deer per hunting license year. (Holders of valid DMAP antlerless deer permits may harvest antlerless deer on DMAP properties during this period.)
Deer (antlered and antlerless) WMUs 3C and 3D: Dec. 3-10. One antlered deer per hunting license year. An antlerless deer with each required antlerless license.
Deer (antlerless), statewide: for junior and senior license holders, mentored youth permit holders, disabled person permit (to use a vehicle) holders, and Pennsylvania residents serving on active duty in U.S. Armed Services or in the U.S. Coast Guard only, Oct. 20-22 with required antlerless license. Also included are persons who have reached or will reach their 65th birthday in the year of the application for a license and hold a valid adult license, or qualify for license and fee exemptions under section 2706. One antlerless deer with each required antlerless license.
Deer (antlerless), muzzleloader, statewide: Oct. 15-22. An antlerless deer with each required antlerless license.
Deer (antlered or antlerless) flintlock, statewide: Dec. 26-Jan. 14. One antlered deer per hunting license year, or one antlerless deer and an additional antlerless deer with each required antlerless license.
Deer, bowhunting: Oct. 1 - Nov 18; Dec. 12 - Dec. 20
Deer, crossbow: Nov. 5 - Nov. 18
Deer, regular: Nov. 19 - Dec. 11
Deer, muzzleloading: Dec. 12
Deer, youth firearms: Oct. 8 - 10, for hunters 14-15 years old, one deer of either sex.
*For Wayne and Pike counties in PA, which are included in the 3C and 3D Pennsylvania Wildlife Management Units (WMUs).
**For Sullivan County, which includes mainly parts of New York State WMUs 3H and 3K, and smaller pieces of 3A, 3C, 3M and 4W; WMU 4W in Delaware County; and WMU 3M in northeastern Orange County.