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Pa. hunters venture out today for venison

December 01, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

The start of Pennsylvania's two-week rifle deer season was less than 24 hours away, and Donald Burkholder and his son Tyler were thinking beyond the bucks they hope to bag today.

"He's got a lot of questions about the Weatherby 300 magnum," Donald Burkholder said as he and his son looked over firearms at Blue Mountain Sporting Goods in Chambersburg.

"We're Christmas shopping here," Burkholder said.

"This is his second year," Donald Burkholder said. "He already took a doe in the youth season, so we're strictly buck hunting."

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Burkholder and his son are joining hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians heading to state game lands and private property in search of venison for the freezer and a trophy for the den, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Because of antlered deer restrictions that went into effect last year, the commission is predicting more and bigger bucks.

"We've been hearing since archery season there's a lot more bucks this year," said Christian D. Fow, who owns Blue Mountain with James R. Heckman and Gary L. Carter Jr.

Carter said a buck has to have at least three points on one side to be taken legally. The antlerless deer season has been extended to run through all of buck season, which ends Dec. 13, he said.

Spike bucks no longer can be taken by most hunters, although the commission allows exceptions for junior and disabled hunters, as well as Pennsylvania residents who are active-duty members of the armed forces.

"There are a lot of antlered deer that lived another year," Fulton County Wildlife Conservation Officer Jeff Mock said in a game commission press release. "The difference one year makes is hard to miss. We are seeing a lot of high-quality rack bucks this year."

Last year, 130,661 bucks were harvested during the firearms season, according to the commission. Hunters in Franklin County accounted for 2,187 bucks and almost 4,500 does, according to commission statistics.

The major change this year is the creation of 22 wildlife management units in an effort to better manage the state's deer population. Previously, doe licenses were issued by county.

That change means those who traditionally hunt in Franklin County had a choice of three wildlife management units from which to choose. Much of the county is in 5A, which runs east of Pa. 75 north to U.S. 30, east to U.S. 11 and then north along Pa. 997.

The 5A unit also includes all of Adams County and portions of York County. The northwestern townships of Franklin County are included in the 4B unit and the southwest of the county is in unit 4A.

The system has had some first-year teething problems, according to Franklin County Treasurer Chris Bender. Franklin County was allocated more than 17,000 antlerless deer licenses to issue in the three units, but hundreds of applications that came to his office were voided for various reasons, compared to four last year, Bender said in September.

One reason was hunters putting the sticker for the wrong wildlife management unit on the application envelope, Bender said. Another problem was checks being made out to specific county treasurers, when an application for a unit could end up being processed in any one of several counties, depending on the unit's borders.

Those hunters whose applications were voided had an opportunity to apply later for unsold licenses, Bender said.

There were 973,000 doe licenses allocated to the 22 units, according to the game commission. Fewer than 6,000, all for the unit encompassing the Philadelphia area, were unsold as of last week.

The Burkholders are going to Dry Run, Pa., where a friend owns a small farm. They are hoping for better conditions than the low temperatures and high winds that accompanied the opening of the 2002 season.

"That second day was horrible," Donald Burkholder said. "We were in a tree stand, and it creaked and cracked," he said.

Today's forecast called for partly cloudy and breezy conditions with a high of 47 degrees and a low of 27 degrees.

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