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Whitetail deer

Over the course of the entire deer season hunters will have fun and become frustrated and puzzled as to where deer go.

Those who hunt whitetails have come to appreciate these masters of illusion. Like Penn and Teller, known as the Masters of Illusion, they have learned the “magic

tricks” by studying the past masters of their craft. The same holds true of whitetails. Today’s deer have and continue to learn as well, so much so that many hunters have yet to gain a full appreciation of their skills.

So how do they do avoid hunters? One truthful answer is they learn and adapt. That is why researchers from Penn State, U.S. Geological Survey, Pennsylvania Game Commission, and Pennsylvania DCNR Bureau of Forestry developed a cooperative program to monitor the whitetail resource.

The goal has been to study populations and forest changes in Rothrock, Bald Eagle, and Susquehannock State Forests here in Pennsylvania.

The study began in January 2013 with the capture and radio-collaring of deer. During May-August 2013, eight field technicians began collecting vegetation data on 200 permanent plots (50 per study area). These permanent plots have been revisited every other year.

Additional monitoring of areas where timber harvests have been conducted have been studied as well. This and more has already yielded a great deal of valuable information.

Current funding will support the project for the period 2013-2017. The study is diverse and can be a great learning tool for hunters.

A reoccurring question from some is, “How will all of this help hunters?”

A good example of what can be gleaned from the study by those pursuing deer is where do deer go when the hunting seasons begin?

A number of deer in each study area have been equipped with GPS tracking devices. The specially equipped animals have provided researchers with some answers.

A buck in the Bald Eagle study area was equipped with a GPS collar. For two hunting seasons he was followed. This particular buck traveled 92 miles over 24 days during the rut. That begins to change quickly.

The study reveals that bucks and does reduce their home range to about 100 acres during daytime hours of rifle season. That compares to a 3 square mile range during the rut.

Rifle season has a definite impact on deer movement. This time GPS monitoring revealed that this doe in particular reacted to shooting hours. Well before dawn she found her hiding spot on the steep side of a ridge. She remained there most of the day.

The neat thing is that deer that are radio equipped are monitored 24 hours a day all year long. With this type of capability, a lot can and continues to be learned. The neat thing is anyone who has a computer has free access to this type of information at http://ecosystems.psu.edu/research/projects/deer/news

A hunter’s movement has a direct effect on how deer react. But what about conditions that are in constant flux, such as weather? You can be certain that ever changing weather conditions will and do affect deer movement.

Again the Deer-Forest Study provided interesting data on the effects of wind and whitetails.

The study revealed that bucks and does move more during a windy day and less during a windy night.

The effects of the wind begin as soon as light winds occur. Interesting.

A partner in the study, Chris Rosenberry, PGC Deer & Elk Section Supervisor, offered an interesting perspective on public lands hunting. By monitoring deer populations statewide, about 40 percent of bucks and less than 20 percent of does are harvested annually.

However does the harvest rate differ on State Forest Lands? You bet it does.

The study that included two years of field work indicate that the deer harvests on SFL’s is the lowest it has been in 15 years. To validate the findings, in the 2014-15 season 32 deer with GPS tracking equipment were followed. To the surprise of many, on the last day of the season 31 of these deer were still alive by season’s end.

It is interesting to learn how deer have changed. But unknown to many hunters, they themselves are changing.

While not glaring to most, the manner in which hunters apply their trade has made a dramatic switch.

Today’s deer hunters have reacted to the opportunities that have been presented to them, especially when it comes to archery.

Today the compound bow and crossbow, coupled with longer seasons and the chance to hunt during the rut, have contributed to the popularity of hunting with archery gear. And it shows. The deer take estimates for the 2015-16 season indicated that 315,813 buck and doe were harvested by hunters. That figure does not include whitetails taken in the Deer Management Area Program.

Of that number, archers took 98,972 deer. Add in 21,859 deer harvested in the muzzleloader seasons and that figure swells to 120,831. The combined numbers make up over a third of the annual harvest. Is there any wonder why fewer hunters are in the woods hunting during the regular firearms season?

Then there is the way we hunt. Before the early seasons were established, deer numbers were higher when the regular firearms season opened. Today management practices have changed that, however in many cases many hunters have yet to understand why.

The simple fact is as humans we tend to resist change. The same goes for a segment of today’s sportsmen.

Those who chose to hunt will find game. Those who rely on hunting tactics of decades ago will find it more difficult to locate deer.

A good example is Don. This guy will complain about almost anything even when provided the facts. His standard answer is in quick succession is, “I know, I know,

I know. Stubborn to change.

He’s also the guy who annually sets his trail camera in the same spot year after year for months at a time and only captures an image or two. Yet he still does not want to change the location of his portable tree stand.

In the recent past, the last week of the regular firearms’ season has become a great time for hunting. The woods is less crowded and the deer have begun to settle down.

It’s a great time to alter your style of hunting if you haven’t already. Last day bucks are not out of the question. For those willing to invest some time, the chances of taking a last day buck are well within the realm of reality.

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Charlie Burchfield is an active member and past president of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association, an active member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association, Outdoor Writers Assoc. of America and the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers. Gateway Outdoors e-mail is GWOutdoors@comcast.net

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