Antler Restriction Success

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When it comes to antlered deer in Pennsylvania, we may have peaked.

And if that means more years of trophy bucks entering the state record book at an unprecedented pace, that?s not necessarily a bad benchmark.

?What we?re getting is what we?re going to see for the foreseeable future,? said Bob D?Angelo, an official Boone & Crockett Club scorer and coordinator for the Pennsylvania Game Commission?s Big Game Scoring Program. ?But we?re doing it the right way.?

Since antler restrictions were enacted by the PGC prior to the 2002-03 hunting season, a hunter?s perception of a big buck has changed. Prior to antler restrictions, any buck with multiple points was often enough to get a hunter excited, D?Angelo said. Today, as more bucks grow a year older thanks to antler restrictions, hunters are seeing bucks that once were considered once-in-a-lifetime trophies more frequently.

It?s a trend that?s reflected in the PA Big Game Records Book, where more entries fill the pages each year than ever before.

The book includes entries for deer, elk and bear and averages 300 each year from all three species combined, D?Angelo said. But the majority are deer, mainly bucks harvested in the archery season that need a minimum score of 115 to qualify.

Of the 300 total entries each year, D?Angelo said a little more than 100 are for bucks qualifying for the typical archery category. Before antler restrictions went into effect, he said, 50 bucks entering the book would?ve been considered a good year.

The increase, D?Angelo said, is a result of age.

?We?re seeing a lot of 2.5-year-old bucks reach that minimum size,? he said. ?Before, those bucks would?ve been killed as 1.5-year-olds.?

Before antler restrictions, 1.5-year-old bucks accounted for approximately 80 percent and the antlered deer harvest. Last year, bucks 2.5-years-old and older comprised 57 percent of the antlered deer harvest.

Age is one of three factors behind a trophy buck, along with nutrition and genetics. Because antler restrictions are forcing hunters to pass up more younger bucks that don?t meet the required 3-points or better in most of the state, that extra year or two they are allowed to grow is resulting in racks with more width and mass.

Tim Conway, an official Boone & Crockett scorer in the northeastern part of the state, said he began seeing an increase in the number of large bucks about five years after antler restrictions were implemented. And it?s not just a rise in the 2.5-year-old bucks, either.

?If these bucks survive several years to reach ages of 4.5 to 6.5-years-old, that?s their peak,? Conway said. ?Bucks reaching that age range is getting to be more common than it was in the past.?

Most of the deer that Conway scores are taken by hunters in northeastern Pennsylvania. A lot of them, he said, score in the 125 to 135 range, which is a respectable deer.

That wasn?t always the case. Conway said the scoring sessions he worked prior to antler restrictions, which included bucks from several decades, consisted mainly of those scoring between 100 to 110.

?If you don?t shoot the smaller antlered deer, in another year or two they turn into tremendous animals. It doesn?t take long,? he said. ?I never thought in my life we?d see bucks like this coming out of northeastern Pennsylvania.?

Conway and D?Angelo have each scored several northeastern Pennsylvania bucks in recent years which have continually raised the bar.

In 2012, Conway scored a buck taken during the firearms season the year before in Lackawanna County that scored an astounding 179-5/8. It still stands as the sixth largest typical buck ever taken in the state with a firearm.

In February, D?Angelo measured a non-typical buck taken during the 2014 archery season in Carbon County that scored 201-3/8 ? the third largest ever in that category.

?(Carbon County) is a county you wouldn?t think there would be a lot of trophy bucks,? D?Angelo said. ?These bucks are all over.

?Before antler restrictions if you got a 130-class buck that was a tremendous deer. Now, when I see a 150-class buck I?m not surprised.?

So where does the influx of trophy bucks rank Pennsylvania on a national scale?

Conway and D?Angelo both agreed that Pennsylvania?s image as a trophy buck state has improved, but it can?t match traditional powerhouses such as Kansas, Iowa and other midwest states. If a hunter wants a buck that will push to the top of the national Boone & Crockett book, where the minimum scores are higher, Conway said they will still head to the midwest where an abundance of managed private property and farmland produces monstrous deer.

But a chance at those enormous bucks will cost a hunter thousands of dollars, if they?re even lucky enough to draw a license.

?In Pennsylvania, we offer the opportunity for a trophy buck and it doesn?t cost nearly as much to hunt here,? Conway said.

Still, D?Angelo said Pennsylvania?s bucks are being noticed on the national level.

?We used to be known as a state with a lot of deer but not good deer,? he said. ?But we?ve gained. We?re one of the better states now.?

And with the approach of every season, the possibility to re-write the record book always exists.

D?Angelo said he?s already getting calls from archery hunters claiming to have shot monster bucks, and from January through March, after this season?s bucks have gone through the mandatory 60-day drying time, he?ll be inundated with more calls to measure racks.

A good portion of those calls are sure to be from the northeast.

?This year I?m hearing a lot of big bucks being taken in Columbia County,? Conway said. ?One hunter claims to have shot a buck that will score 180-plus. I can?t wait to see that one.?

Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TLTomVenesky
 


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