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Outdoors: Finding greener pastures

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Why take on the work and frustration to settle into a second deer hunting area?

There is some play to be found in the long walks and discovery on a new property. But why volunteer for the mental and physical gymnastics of developing another whitetail strategy when I’m already comfortable in a theater where I’ve had success?

Exploration.

Opportunity.

Challenge.

It is not that I’m giving up on a special piece of Penn’s Woods that I’ve stalked with my grandfather, father and uncles.

Family ground has produced a herd of treasured memories and consecutive years of good bucks. But not so in recent years.

I think I feel good about deviating from the comfortable that comes from being able to enter a patch of woods in pitch dark and get to my favorite oak in one piece.

I don’t know that I can expect bigger bucks in the new tract. I have no complaints about some of the bruisers that have been circling me in past seasons where I’ve been for so long.

So, why?

I anticipate and even welcome the element of uncertainty that comes with being in a new area. In there, there is no false confidence, or bravado, thinking that I have a clear understanding and expectation of what the deer in that sector are going to do.

I know it’s fool’s folly to think you can figure out a Pennsylvania whitetail much beyond picking up its pattern and knowing its biology. There are lessons to learn in the deer woods, and for a hunter at the whims of an old goat in a pretty coat, class is always in session.

At the new area, exploration has moved from close study of satellite images to scouting on-foot, noting sign or lack of it, and strategic trail camera postings. All of it is standard preparation.

Deer are there. I’ve gotten mostly rough-coated antlerless deer on camera in the few short weeks of monitoring. The bucks are beginning to swell round knobs where points will be in the fall.

Settling into a new hunting theater is a crapshoot that can sort itself out with time in the woods, if the hunter is willing to be flexible and see discovery as homework, or brutal reality and take it to heart.

The small clearing on family ground where I shot my first archery buck is within sight of where I usually set up when I’m there. But the stand tree has long fallen over and rotted to nothing. The reality of changing deer movement and patterns moved me too.

I know I’ll be back on the old ground. Monitoring there continues.

For now, I find the uncertainties and prospects of getting skunked and hunting success in new territory to be exciting. I’m willing to accept the results.

It’s the sense of adventure that pulls us outside and has rejuvenated this old hunter.

Downed deer numbers up

It’s trout season in Pennsylvania, so it’s also time to find out how much success deer hunters had in the 2020-21 seasons.

According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the 2020-21 slate produced the 10th 400,000-whitetail harvest since 1993. It was 435,180, topping the 389,000 kill-number of 2019-20 by 12%.

Overall, buck hunters had lots of luck.

The antlered deer kill of 174,780 set a record for the antler restrictions era, up 7% over the previous year.

The antlerless harvest of 260,400 beat the previous year by 15%. The year 2004-05 was the last time the number was higher, at almost 285,000. Button-bucks made up 17% of the antlerless take, and doe fawns were 15%.

The percentage of older bucks taken remained high, with about 64% being at least 2½ years old.

Bowhunters accounted for about a third of the overall deer harvest, taking 80,130 bucks and 80,350 antlerless deer.

Hunters in Cumberland County’s Wildlife Management Unit 5A had better luck this time. Hunters took 3,500 bucks, compared to 3,400 the seasons before. Antlerless numbers were up as well at 6,100 over the take of 5,000 of the previous seasons. Hunters in WMU 4B, northern Cumberland County, had an improved harvest of 10,800 antlerless deer, over the 8,285 taken in 2019-20. The buck take in 2020-21 was 5,000, down from the 5,700 of the 2019-20 seasons.

In WMU 5A, archers took 1,680 bucks and 1,920 antlerless deer, both numbers up from the previous seasons. Muzzleloaders took the same number of bucks, 20; and fewer antlerless, 480, down from 620.

In WMU 4B, bowhunters took, 2,260 bucks, down from 2,350 of 2019-20; and 2,870 antlerless deer, above the 2,551 of the seasons before. Muzzleloaders took fewer bucks in 2020-21, 40; and fewer antlerless deer, 1,030. The 2019-20 harvests were 50 and 1,070, respectively.

Snapshot

The new state record yellow perch was pulled from Lake Erie on April 9 by Kirk Rudzinski, 63, of Erie. The scale weight of the yellow perch was 2.98 pounds and in accordance with Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission state record fish application rules, the weight is rounded up to the nearest ounce, making the weight 3 pounds. Length of the fish was 16⅞ inches, with a girth of 14 inches. The previous state record yellow perch caught in Presque Isle Bay in 2016 weighed 2 pounds, 14 ounces.

Send your wild thoughts and photos to bjsmall@comcast.net.

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