by Richard Tate
The Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) likes to take credit for the harvest of trophy bucks in the state, telling us its deer management program is responsible for increasing the number of big bucks. However, the PGC’s program is only indirectly responsible for large bucks harvested in Pennsylvania — and certainly not in the way the PGC would have us believe.
The February issue of the PGC’s magazine, “Pennsylvania Game News,” points out what has occurred. The articles in the magazine discuss the harvest of large white-tailed bucks and the management of such animals. These bucks are mainly tagged on private, posted properties.
One of the articles in the February “Game News” discusses one family’s consistent harvest of bucks that make the record book for having large antlers. This family owns more than 900 acres that it manages for big deer. In addition, adjacent property owners do the same thing. The article points out that the properties are not hunted intensely, and the bucks have the opportunity to grow large antlers because they live a long time under the limited harvest by limited numbers of hunters on the properties.
Another article discusses what is probably going to become the number one trophy buck in the Pennsylvania record book. This buck was taken on a private farm sometime in the 1960s, a property that was basically fenced off on several sides.
Over the past several years, many articles in the “Game News” describe the harvests of bucks from private, posted properties. Few have described kills from unposted properties. All of this demonstrates what the PGC’s deer management program has done. It has developed a two-tier deer-hunting experience in Pennsylvania.
When I was young, there were few posted properties: Hunters were welcome to hunt almost everywhere. After the establishment of the PGC’s deer management program in 2002, most private properties were posted in an effort to prevent the overharvest of deer. Since access there was limited to only a few hunters, the deer herd remained healthy, and bucks did have the opportunity to live long enough to grow trophy antlers.
This is not true on public lands, such as state game lands. Deer there are shot as soon as they lose their fawn spots. Many button bucks are among these. The deer population has been compressed to unhealthy numbers where the deer have trouble maintaining their numbers, due to overharvesting and the increased numbers of predators.