June 9, 2023

Deer Density And The Pennsylvania Hunter

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For our readers in Pennsylvania and any who have been following the debate going on there about deer density, an article this morning that I found addresses this issue from the perspective of the Ecosytem Management Project. The EMP, in care of the Community Foundation of the Alleghenies, is an education initiative created to increase public awareness regarding the values of managing white-tailed deer from an ecosystem/habitat-based perspective. That’s a mouthful but what I think that means is they want to teach hunters what it’s like to hunt deer they way that Maine and most northern New England hunters have for centuries.

I believe the article is well written and speaks many truths but I can assure you that if you come from an area where you are accustomed to seeing several deer each trip out and passing up countless numbers of them over the course of a season while looking for a “keeper”, you’ll get angry reading what these two writers, Ben Moyer and Bryon Shissler, have to say.

Pennsylvania hunters are angry at the game officials because they are not seeing the same number of deer in the woods when they go out to hunt as they did a few years ago. I also think the same game officials aren’t denying it. The differences are in which group believes what is the best way to manage the deer herd. Many of the angry hunters want officials to reduce the number of antlerless deer permits being issued as a way of bolstering the deer population. Officials say the numbers need to come down. The debate rages on.

At least take a few minutes and read what these two guys have to say about a perspective that, as I said, norhtern New England hunters are very much used to. Let me highlight some of what the story contains.

The article begins with a response to a letter writer complained about not seeing as many deer in the woods as he used to.

We acknowledge and understand his frustration and that of many hunters who are seeing few deer after years of seeing many. As a result of this shift, many view their hunting experience as no longer enjoyable. We also accept their reports of few deer as a truthful account of their personal experience and acknowledge that deer densities in many areas of the state may be lower than five years ago, although no science-based data from the responsible state agency has to date been provided.

Where we differ is on how to address the situation.

The writers talk about something they refer to as “Recreational Threshold”. In short this is the point at which hunters will stop hunting because there aren’t enough deer to make it worth their while. They further go on to explain that they believe there are three factors that determine this threshold – culture, hunter skill set and deer vulnerability.


In many states, including Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire, where deer densities have historically been low, hunters hunt enthusiastically and successfully for deer at densities well below those considered “unhuntable” in Pennsylvania. It’s a simple matter of expectations based on past experience.

Hunter skill set

Hunters who have mastered the skills of stalking deer focus on the process of applying their craft and never have a boring hunt as they practice stealth, read sign, learn landscapes and grow to understand how deer use a particular habitat. They know that hunting is a peak experience that often comes down to a few intense minutes or even seconds after days of pursuit.

Hunters who can enter the woods and find deer have a skill set that not only increases confidence and success but avoids the frustration of feeling out of control as one waits for someone else to move a deer your way.

Deer vulnerability

Deer vulnerability is defined as the effort required to harvest a deer, independent of the hunter’s skill level. Deer are more vulnerable, for example, in landscapes that are a mosaic of habitat types such as forest interspersed with agricultural fields. In such terrain, deer movement patterns are more easily predicted as they access crops or use defined lanes of travel. In landscapes dominated by large contiguous forest, deer are less vulnerable because it is difficult for a hunter of the same skill level to predict deer movements and consistently get within range of his quarry.

I would encourage all to go to the story and read the entire piece and approach it with an open mind. After reading it, I would encourage Pennsylvania hunters to begin a new approach toward their hunting and begin adapting new hunting techniques. You’ll become a better hunter and be glad you did.

Tom Remington