Hunters complain that Pennsylvania Game Commission policies leave too few deer, particularly since early-2000s changes to lengthen antlerless season and raise buck point restrictions. Although population decreased, I praise the commission’s switch from quantity toward quality. A longer antlerless season reduced population because deer are not monogamous. Increased buck hunting doesn’t shrink population as doe remain available to breed. To reduce population, doe must be removed, but why reduce population?
Deer eat ground-level plants in a forest layer crucial to flora and fauna. With high population, more understory is eaten, removing habitat for animals/birds and potentially altering forest composition. In a forest with sapling variety, deer, being preferential browsers, can kill every sapling of one species yet leave another species to grow, changing the next generation forest’s composition.
Higher point restrictions improved population health. Hunters take big, old, healthy animals, a practice inherently weakening the gene pool. When young bucks were huntable, they often didn’t live enough seasons to fully mature. By increasing point minimums, young bucks are able to grow. Mature buck populations are genetically healthier than young populations and therefore pass on healthier DNA, strengthening the herd as a whole.
Game Commission changes have been a positive tradeoff. A longer antlerless season and higher point minimums create a smaller, healthier herd of deer, limit forest habitat and composition damage, and consistently produce bigger, stronger bucks for hunters.
The writer is a student at Allegheny College majoring in environmental science.