Wildlife / Whitetails by the numbers

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Not too many years ago, seeing a deer in some parts of Pennsylvania was an event. Many older outdoorsmen remember the first time they saw a deer. Today I see a dozen deer, dead and alive, every time I drive to Pittsburgh.

Sometimes it seems that the deer population exploded overnight, but it's taken almost 100 years.

Let's start by guessing how many deer Pennsylvania hunters have killed since record keeping began in 1915. The answer, according the state Game Commission (www.pgc.state.pa.us), is more than 24,463,000. When I totaled the numbers and got that result, I was amazed. I had never thought to ask that question.

In the beginning only antlered deer were legal game. From 1915 through 1922, hunters killed 1,200 to 6,100 bucks each year. Does were protected. During the following 35 years, 1923 to 1958, doe season was closed 13 more times. As expected, the deer population, as measured by the total kill, grew during these years.

During those same 35 years, biologists seemed to be trying to determine the effects of killing more does. Twelve times hunters killed more does than bucks.

In 1931, for example, hunters killed 70,255 does and 24,796 bucks. In 1938, the buck season was closed and hunters killed 171,662 does. The following year the buck kill jumped to 49,106, while the doe harvest fell to 14,581. Biologists were trying to figure out how to adjust buck and doe harvests to meet management goals.

In 1986, the buck kill almost doubled from 76,097 in 1985 to 150,359; the doe harvest followed the same trend, growing from 85,331 in 1985 to 149,655 in 1986. That seems to have been a watershed year in Pennsylvania deer management. Never before had more than 100,000 of either sex been killed in a single year, and never since have fewer than 100,000 of either sex been killed. And since 1986, the buck harvest has exceeded the doe kill only once (1999).

It's taken a long time to learn the lesson, and some hunters still resist it, but stabilizing a deer population means killing more does than bucks.

Biologist, author, and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 8 to 10 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling) or online at www.wvly.net. Or visit his website www.drshalaway.com or contact him directly at sshalaway@aol.com or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.

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