Are there any deer in Pennsylvania during the gun season?

I’ve been hunting deer a lot longer than I have been doing research on them. And I ask the same question as every other hunter in the state come gun season – “Where did the deer go?” I see them on my game camera, especially at night. I see them in archery season, usually not close enough for a shot.

But during the regular firearms season, you’d think the woods were empty. Of course, by the end of that season there are some 300,000 fewer deer in the woods. But still.

Since October our collars have collected hourly locations of deer. Over 10,000 data points from 22 deer should be able to provide some insights into how many deer we see while in the woods during those 2 golden weeks of the year.

In order for hunters to see deer, deer have to be moving. So do deer move less during firearms season? Are they shifting their travel patterns? Moving more at night (after legal shooting hours)?

I looked to our data to provide insights. 

Our long-time readers know the rut is half over around November 13th. This year the firearms season opened on November 27th. I looked at our data from November 14, 2021 through December 6, 2021 (by the time you read this the season is over, but not all our data are uploaded).

Let’s start with males. There just appears to be a steady decline in distance traveled whether you look at the whole 24 hours (blue line) or just 7am-5pm (red line). The decline makes biological sense since by November 27th most females have been bred and males don’t need to travel as much. But what didn’t happen is an abrupt change in distance traveled a day or so before opening day or even on opening day.

What about females? Their movements seem to increase a little bit which again makes sense as they have been hanging around waiting for a buck to find them. Again, there is no abrupt change related to the opening of the firearms season.

From actual GPS data from actual deer during the actual firearms season, there is no evidence that deer move any less in response to hunting season. So the reason the woods are “empty” during firearms season is likely related to where they move. Deer don’t hang around and wait for hunters to kill them

There is still another week of data to come. We’ll have to wait until they get uploaded to see if there are any patterns to discover. 

Duane Diefenbach

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