Deer — on state forest land, at least — are tougher to find and kill than some might think.
It’s the tale told in many a hunting camp: hunters – at the urging of the Pennsylvania Game Commission – are killing all the deer.
Not so fast.
Unregulated, unlimited shooting can crush a deer herd, as the market hunting of the late 18th century proved. Whitetails all but disappeared from this state then.
But, give deer a chance, and they prove wily and resourceful.
That’s what an ongoing study is showing, anyway.
The Game Commission and Penn State University have spent the last several winters putting GPS collars on bucks and does and following their movements. Part of that work has been figuring out just how many survive hunting seasons.
It turns out, that’s a lot.
According to a report from Duane Diefenbach, head of the Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Penn State, seven of nine collared bucks alive at the start of this fall’s hunting seasons were still alive going into the flintlock season. Of the other two, one was taken by a hunter legally, and one was shot illegally.
Twenty of 25 does were alive. Of the others, two were killed by hunters; one, researchers believe, was shot by a hunter but not recovered; one was poached; and one was killed by a vehicle.
Thirteen of 16 fawns were also still alive. Of the three that weren’t, one fell to a hunter, one to a predator and one to pneumonia.
Add it up and about 84 percent of adult bucks and does survived the hunting seasons, and 94 percent of fawns.
Diefenbach added one qualifier, saying “these sample sizes are limited and results preliminary.”
But he also noted that previous studies showed similar results.
In 2014, 10 of 10 collared bucks survived, while in 2013 it was seven of eight.
There is one noteworthy thing about all of the deer that survived, and that is where they live. The study is showing it’s hard to find, let alone kill, deer on big, unbroken tracts of woods.
According to Diefenbach’s report, a multi-year study of buck harvests on a variety of landscapes in four wildlife management units after antler restrictions were first implemented found that hunters took between 36 and 69 percent of all bucks 2.5-years-old and older, and between 26 and 42 of bucks 1.5 and older.
Doe harvest rates have been seen – in cases, though not everywhere — to be higher on private land that public land, too.
But you’ve got to give the deer some credit. As a species, they’ve survived a long time in the face of pressure from a variety of predators, human and otherwise.
Sometimes, clearly, if we don’t find one to kill, it’s not that they’re absent from the landscape. They’re just very good at hiding in it.