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Often hard to locate, and difficult to see, estimating deer harvested from one season to the next offers unique challenges.

For some, hunting for whitetails began in archery season in September, and for others the season will close out in mid-January at the end of the special flintlock rifle season. Any way you cut it, that’s a long time to hunt deer.

To make it work takes careful planning and a watchful eye on the overall deer harvest. And that’s not an easy task; that’s for sure.

Deer harvest estimates need to be completed by the end of the month, and here’s why.

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners traditionally conducts its first quarterly meeting of 2018 at the end of January. This year, that meeting will be held from Jan. 28th to 30th at the agency’s Harrisburg headquarters.

On Sunday, Jan. 28, beginning at 1 p.m., the commissioners will hear public recommendations for the 2018-19 hunting and furtaking seasons and bag limits. Individuals can offer public testimony.

On Monday, Jan. 29, the board will gather any additional public comments and hear Game Commission staff reports.

The final day, Tuesday, Jan. 30, the board will take up its prepared agenda to give preliminary approval to hunting and trapping seasons and bag limits for 2018-19.

Antlerless deer license allocations for the 2018-19 seasons will be presented for the board to consider at its meeting in April. Harvest results from the 2017-18 deer seasons will be announced in mid-March.

Simply put, the number of deer that have been removed from the overall herd needs to be estimated. It’s an important component of deer management. The question is asked, “How is this done and with a reasonable outcome?”

The entire process involves hunters and the deer they harvest, 30 data collection teams, along with wildlife managers.

Hunters play an important role in the process, providing information about the deer they take from the field by reporting their kill to the PGC.

Over the four month deer hunting season, data collection teams are retrieving data as well. On average the collection teams examine 25,000 deer and compare reports provided by hunters. The information provided by hunters and collection teams are compared. In part the data reveals the annual percentage of hunters that report their harvest.

The data collection teams also document the age, sex, and location of harvest (Wildlife Management Unit), county, township, and the hunting license number from ear tags.

The data collected is a science based method used to estimate the total deer harvest. Costly, you bet, however data collected is precise and plays an important part in estimating the annual deer harvest

Simply put, there is no practical method to count each and every deer on the Pennsylvania landscape. However the PGC’s model of estimating the deer harvest from one year to the next is continually reviewed.

For example, in 2003 the PGC completed an evaluation of its date collection hand harvest estimating procedures. The Deer and Elk Management Section submitted its deer estimating protocol to a scientific journal for an independent, scientific review by professional biologists and statisticians. Based on this review, the techniques used by the PGC were considered scientifically valid and published in the October, 2004 Journal of Wildlife Management.

Last year during the 2016-17 season, hunters harvested 333,254 deer in the Commonwealth. Those figures acted as a marker to be certain deer are not being overharvested in a given WMU.

Data collected this year will also be used to calculate the number of antlerless deer permits that will be issued per wildlife management unit in the coming year. Many sportsmen do not realize the importance of filling out the deer harvest report. Some have suggested the PGC set up mandatory deer check stations to collect harvest data.

On the surface mandatory check stations seems to be logical to improving the data collection process.

On the other hand, the data collection process set in place currently has been well honed, adjusted over time, and has been independently evaluated.

There will always be those who will criticize the PGC. And that’s OK, as long as the criticism is based on scientific fact.

The Gaos:

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Tickets can be purchased online for the 2018 Great American Outdoor Show, scheduled for Feb. 3-11 at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg at www.greatamericanoutdoorshow.org.

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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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