BEAVERTOWN – When 1930s-era criminal William “Willie the Actor” Sutton was asked why he robbed banks by police following an arrest during his 40-year career, “Slick Willie” humorously replied, “Because that’s where the money is.”
Ask Danville native and lifelong deer hunter Jim Dietz why he pushes his nearly 70-year-old body that has many of the residual effects associated with playing years of semi-pro football in Chambersburg for coach Frank Wapinsky and a year on the taxi squad of the Washington Redskins why he is willing to hike some six miles on the trails in Bald Eagle State Forest during the archery and firearms deer seasons and he replies matter of factually, “That’s where the deer are.”
Evidently, a good many Pennsylvania hunters know where the deer are because 374,690 deer were taken during the 2018-19 hunting seasons. According to Pennsylvania Game Commission records, that is the most deer taken in 14 years and is approximately 10 percent more than taken the previous year.
After four consecutive years of increases in buck taken, hunters took 147,750 bucks, which places fourth overall since the start of antler restrictions in 2002 and is approximately a 10-percent decline from the 163,750 bucks taken during the 2017-18 seasons. In the first year of antler restrictions 165,416 bucks were taken, the all-time total for the era.
Steady rain in most of the state persisted through the opening morning and longer of the firearms season opener, making hunting for deer, as well as staying dry and warm while afield, more difficult. And when hunter participation drops on the best harvest day of any season, the harvest typically does too.
“This year’s opening day antlered harvest was down significantly from last year’s harvest,” PGC Deer and Elk Section supervisor Chris Rosenberry said. “Although the rest of the firearms season’s daily harvests were similar to or above last year’s, they did not make up for the low opening day harvest.”
Still, hunters took plenty of antlerless deer, which was anticipated with a 2018-19 allocation of antlerless deer licenses that exceeded the previous year. Overall, 226,940 antlerless deer were taken, which is approximately a 10-percent increase of the 203,409 taken in 2017-18.
As for the honey hole Dietz hunts, he could more accurately describe it as where the bucks are – as in a lot of really big bucks. For the third consecutive year he has taken a quality buck from the same tangled area of underbrush on a sloop in Bald Eagle State Forest – following up his trophy taken during the 2017 firearms season that placed third in last summer’s Big Buck Contest at the Schuylkill County Fair with an archery buck last October that scored 137 2/8 – which surpassed the minimum Pope & Young qualifying score by more than 12 inches.
“This buck and another one that has a rack just as big, or maybe bigger, came running out of the woods after I shot that big deer the year before in rifle season,” Dietz said. “I knew then where I was hunting last year in archery season.
“When I took the deer into Bixler’s Taxidermy in Turbotville, Jesse took one look at it and he just started to laugh. It has 13 score able points and inside spread of 20 1/8 inches, which means it has a wider outside spread than the 22 ¼ inches of last year’s buck.”
Now that the paperwork has been completed, Dietz plans to submit the deer to be listed in the Pennsylvania Game Commission Big Game Record Book. Bixler said it is the biggest deer he saw last year.
“I had some really nice bucks come into the shop, but this blew everything out of the water,” Bixler said. “I had a couple of 110s, but nothing that came close to this.”
Here are the deer totals by wildlife management units for the 2018-19 hunting seasons, with 2017-18 figures in parentheses:
WMU 1A: 5,800 (6,300) antlered, 12,400 (12,600) antlerless; WMU 1B: 8,000 (8,300) antlered, 15,800 (13,000) antlerless; WMU 2A: 6,000 (6,100) antlered, 10,900 (10,900) antlerless; WMU 2B: 5,000 (4,500) antlered, 12,000 (14,000) antlerless; WMU 2C: 9,600 (9,800) antlered, 11,787 (7,972) antlerless; WMU 2D: 11,800 (14,700) antlered, 20,958 (17,391) antlerless; WMU 2E: 6,300 (6,900) antlered, 9,701 (6,669) antlerless; WMU 2F: 7,700 (9,500) antlered, 7,973 (7,202) antlerless; WMU 2G: 6,300 (8,200) antlered, 7,402 (5,501) antlerless; WMU 2H: 2,500 (1,700) antlered, 1,800 (1,900) antlerless; WMU 3A: 4,800 (5,400) antlered, 7,400 (5,000) antlerless; WMU 3B: 7,000 (8,900) antlered, 8,400 (7,000) antlerless; WMU 3C: 7,700 (8,700) antlered, 12,200 (11,900) antlerless; WMU 3D: 5,200 (4,700) antlered, 5,700 (4,200) antlerless; WMU 4A: 5,100 (4,800) antlered, 8,230 (7,672) antlerless; WMU 4B: 5,300 (5,600) antlered, 6,916 (7,108) antlerless; WMU 4C: 5,800 (6,800) antlered, 7,200 (6,500) antlerless; WMU 4D: 8,300 (10,600) antlered, 9,081 (8,417) antlerless; WMU 4E: 7,000 (8,200) antlered, 9,300 (8,700) antlerless; WMU 5A: 3,100 (2,900) antlered, 4,600 (3,801) antlerless; WMU 5B: 9,200 (9,000) antlered, 14,608 (12,800) antlerless; WMU 5C: 7,600 (8,800) antlered, 16,415 (15,600) antlerless; WMU 5D: 2,600 (3,300) antlered, 6,000 (7,500) antlerless; Unknown WMU: 50 (50) antlered, 169 (76) antlerless.
(Dietz is a board member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association)