The Wait is Over: Hunters Hit the Woods as Pennsylvania Deer Season Arrives

14231179_1199979200033970_3372372173465431530_o-2It’s here –  the first day of buck season, Pennsylvania’s unofficial holiday!

(Photo courtesy PA Game Commission)

As it has traditionally, the two-week firearms season for deer will open statewide the Monday after Thanksgiving when over 500,000 hunters will take to the woods in search of the buck of their lifetime.  Hundreds of school districts in the Commonwealth close school, so students can hunt with their families and friends.

Antler restrictions enacted by the Pa. Game Commission before the 2002-03 hunting season have produced the type and numbers of bucks that few hunters saw before then.  Thus, there has never been a better time to bag a big buck, either.

The statewide season this year runs from Nov. 28 to Dec. 10.

Hunters Can Sight In Rifles at Public Shooting Ranges

Knowing where the bullet is going when you pull the trigger is a critically important aspect of any hunting season.

A quick, clean killing shot makes all the difference in whether a hunt is successful or a major disappointment.

For hunters who will be pursuing deer in the upcoming two-week season, there is still time to sight your rifle in.

Some hunters may get it done at a local sportsman’s club range, at camp or at a friend’s private range.

Don’t forget, there are also public shooting ranges, managed by the Pa. Game Commission.

Semi-Automatic Rifles Not Permitted… Yet

As the statewide firearms deer season arrives, the Pennsylvania Game Commission reminds deer hunters that rifles used during the season must be manually operated.

Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed legislation that will enable the Pennsylvania Game Commission to regulate the use of semi-automatic rifles and air rifles for hunting, and the bill was signed into law.

But, the Game Commission has not yet made any changes to the lists of lawful arms and ammunition for any hunting season.

For deer hunters in the upcoming firearms deer season, that means all centerfire rifles, handguns, and shotguns must be manually operated.

The only exception is that semi-automatic shotguns may be used to hunt deer in five counties – Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery – that are defined as Special Regulations Areas.

Semi-automatic rifles generally are not permitted for any type of hunting in any part of the state at this time.
Things could change in the coming months.

At its upcoming meetings, the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners will be discussing the newly signed legislation and the possibility of adding semiautomatic rifles and air rifles to the lawful arms and ammunition list for various hunting seasons.

Any changes must follow the schedule dictated by required procedure.

Under the law, proposed regulatory changes must be adopted preliminarily, then advertised and brought back to a subsequent meeting for a final vote.

With the board’s next quarterly meeting scheduled for January, no allowances for hunting with semi-automatic rifles or air rifles could be approved before April 2017.

The Game Commission will issue a news release announcing any changes at the time they are made.

Venison Care

Warm weather presents challenges for successful deer hunters in assuring harvests result in high-quality venison.

Especially in warm weather, harvested deer should be field dressed quickly, then taken from the field and cooled down as soon as possible. While hanging a deer carcass in a shady area might be fine in cooler temperatures, if the air temperature is above 50 degrees, hunters should refrigerate the carcass as soon as possible.

Information on warm-weather venison care, as well as instructions on deer processing and other tips, are available on the white-tailed deer page on the Game Commission’s website.

Reporting Harvests

Hunters must report deer harvests, and they are encouraged to do so soon after their successful hunts, so they don’t forget.

There are three ways to report harvests. Harvests can be reported online at the Game Commission’s website by clicking on the “Report a Harvest” button on the homepage. Reports also can be phoned in to 1-855-PAHUNT1 (1-855-724-8681), or mailed in using the harvest report cards that are inserted in the Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest hunters receive when they purchase a license.

Hunters who call should have their hunting license numbers handy, as well as additional information that’s required to be reported.

Staying Safe While Hunting, More

  • Wildlife crime against big game and other violations can be reported to wildlife conservation officers through Operation Game Thief. Call 1-888-PGC-8001 or file a report online through the game commission website.
  • Donate your deer to Hunters Sharing the Harvest” and help your neighbors in need. Hunters can bring deer to participating butchers who will process the meat for free and distribute it to local charities and food pantries.
  • One very important regulation that applies statewide is the requirement for all hunters to wear at all times a minimum of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange material on their head, chest and back combined. An orange hat and vest will satisfy the requirement. And for safety’s sake, it’s a good idea for nonhunters who might be afield during the deer season and other hunting seasons to consider wearing orange as well.
  • Hunting with a firearm is not permitted within any safety zone, the 150 yards surrounding any occupied structure, school, farm building or playground, without prior permission.

Additional hunting resources can be found online through the game commission’s website at

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