It has been eye opening to learn HOW deer avoid hunters during the rifle season. About 70% of all deer harvested each year are taken during the 2-week rifle season. But there are still many deer that survive.

There is delight and disappointment at both ends of the gun.

To their credit, deer possess an amazing ability to adapt to human activity. Given disappointment for deer means death, it is a key survival skill they must possess.

You remember the doe that before dawn returned to a steep hillside every day to evade hunters.

So what happened this year? Who remained delighted and who was dead…I mean disappointed?

Late archery and flintlock season have yet to conclude, but since few deer are harvested in these late seasons, the information to date gives us a pretty good idea what happened.

Antlered Deer

The most coveted of all deer really. Their life is definitely cut short because of those bony protuberances that grow from their head.

On the southern study areas, we had 3 radio-collared adult males alive at the beginning of the hunting season and all survived.

On the northern study areas, we had 6 adult males radio-collared of which one was legally harvested but not reported to us. Another buck was illegally killed.

Antlerless Deer on Southern Study Areas

On the Rothrock and Bald Eagle state forests, we had 12 adult females radio-collared and alive going into the October archery season. As of today, 2 were harvested, one was illegally killed, and one was found dead believed to be unretrieved by the hunter.

So if you include the illegal mortality, hunting-related mortality accounted for 33% of our collared adult females.

We had 8 fawns alive at the beginning of the hunting season. One was likely killed legally by a hunter but not reported to us – the collar was discovered next to a gut pile. There was a fawn that died of pneumonia and another that died from predation (the predator not yet determined but DNA evidence was collected).

Antlerless Deer on Northern Study Areas

The Susquehannock State Forest had 13 radio-collared adult does alive at the beginning of the hunting seasons and the only mortality was a road-killed adult doe.

Of 8 fawns we were monitoring at the beginning of October, none have died.

Study Areas No. Antlered

alive Oct 3rd

No. Antlered

killed by hunters

No. Antlerless

alive Oct 3rd

No. Antlerless

killed by hunters

Southern 3 0 (0%) 12 4 (33%)
Northern 9 2 (22%) 14 0 (0%)
All 12 2 (17%) 26 4 (15%)

Overall, the hunting mortality rate – the percentage of deer killed related to hunting – was about 16% for both adult males (2 of 12) and adult females (4 of 26). For fawns it was less, 1 of 16 fawns (6%).

Of course, these sample sizes are limited and results preliminary – there is still the potential for deer to be harvested during the muzzleloader season and final estimates will incorporate data from those deer fitted with reward tags that were harvested.

But what we observed for 2015 is basically what we observed during 2013 (1 of 8 collared bucks harvested) and 2014 (0 of 10 collared bucks harvested). Harvest rates are low for bucks on these state forest lands compared to other research we have conducted in Pennsylvania.

During 2002-2008 (after antler point restrictions were implemented), we documented harvest rates of

  • 36-69% for adult males (2.5 years or older) and
  • 26-42% for yearlings (1.5 years old).

These antlered deer harvest rates were for WMUs 2D, 2G, 4D, and 4B.

When we studied female harvest rates in WMU 2G (2005-2006) we found they were 4.4% on public land and 17% on private land. In WMU 4B, there was no difference between public and private land but harvest rates were higher for adults – 30% for adult females (2.5 years old and older) versus 16% for yearlings (1.5 years old).

So it is obvious that a majority of deer are “delighted” while many a hunter is disappointed. No worries. There is always next season.

-Duane Diefenbach

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