It’s the rifle deer season.

For many hunters, it’s the 2 weeks of the year they’ve been looking forward to since last Christmas. For me, it’s the 3 weeks of the year I’ve been dreading since last Christmas.

Our tagged and radio-collared deer provide information on harvest rates (proportion of deer harvested) but it’s the annual visits to deer processors that provide necessary data to calculate harvest estimates (number of deer harvested).

The first Wednesday of the gun season 32 deer aging teams hit the road. For 2 days they visit deer processors and look at barrels upon barrels of deer heads. My team aged 290 deer the first week.

Those deer were scattered among 10 different processors requiring over 400 miles of travel. Oh, did I mention my aging area is predominantly Allegheny County? Pittsburgh traffic and various tunnel monsters are a perk that really can’t be measured.

Deer-Forest StudyQuote of the week: “I’m stepping in brains. I can’t go home to the dog with brains on my shoe.”

Week 2 of deer season brings a new round of fun. More barrels, more heads and, as an added bonus, statewide chronic wasting disease (CWD) sampling. Heads are collected for CWD surveillance testing which means teams need to collect, bag, and transport heads to extraction stations.

Do you know how heavy a deer head is? Well, a bag of them weighs significantly more. At the end of Week 2, my teams sits at just over 600 deer aged.

Deer-Forest Study

By the time Week 3 (the Monday and Tuesday after the last Saturday) rolls around, it feels like I’m in the movie Groundhog Day. Same aging partner, same route, same traffic, same processors, same barrels, same glassy-eyed stare from all those deer heads!

A 50-gallon drum seems bottomless when it’s full of deer heads…especially when your arms aren’t long enough to reach the bottom of said barrel.

This is not my favorite time of year but I’m not alone. Misery loves company and there are 31 other teams sharing the joy.

While it is squarely in the top 10 (maybe top 5) things I don’t like to do (right up there with changing the litter box), it is probably the most important and critical.

Every year, PGC aging teams handle close to 25,000 deer heads. Without this piece of the puzzle, we would be unable to estimate deer harvests.

The cold, hard truth is that not all hunters report their harvest.

So back to the bloody barrels I go.

-Jeannine Fleegle, biologist
PGC Deer and Elk Section

 Deer-Forest Study

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