At its just-completed January meeting, the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners gave preliminary approval to a rule change that would reduce the number of antler points required for a legal buck from four points to three in Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B and 2D.
What the change does is it eliminates brow tines from consideration as a point, meaning hunters now only have to identify “three up” on the main bean, and brow tines no longer come into the equation.
What this move doesn’t do is bring Western Pennsylvania in line with the rest of the state, which also has a three-to-a-side antler restriction. In all other WMUs a hunter can take a buck with three points on one side, brow tines included. But in WMUs 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B and 2D, hunters can now kill a buck with three points on the main antler beam without having to worry about identifying brow tines.
Currently, a hunter must positively identify four antler points on one side of the rack for a buck to be legal in these five WMUs, and brow tines count towards the four-point requirement.
The board will vote on this change at its next meeting April 12.
The Game Commission says the amendment will make it easier for hunters to determine the legal status of an antlered deer. Personally, as a Pennsylvania native and lifelong unit 2A hunter, I support this change and think it is a fair compromise for all hunters—and have said as much on this website before.
For some background, when the Game Commission instituted antler restrictions in 2002, agency officials said they wanted to enhance the state’s breeding stock by improving the buck-to-doe ratio, which means they wanted to increase the number and size of bucks in the herd. In a nutshell, they wanted to kill fewer antlered deer and allow more bucks to live beyond their first year. Antler restrictions were the key to that plan. (Though they likely won’t admit it, agency officials also saw antler restrictions as a means to reduce the overall deer population. By making it more difficult—and less likely—for a hunter to fill his or her buck tag, the commission hoped hunters would turn to antlerless deer to fill their freezers, and they have.)
When they went into effect, antler restrictions were designed to protect one-half of Pennsylvania’s yearling bucks. Commission biologists decided that a three-point-to-one-side restriction would accomplish that goal in the majority of the state. However, according to the commission, a three-point restriction would protect less than one-third of yearling bucks in the suburban woodlots and farmland of Western Pennsylvania, while a four-point restriction would protect half.
Love them or hate them, whitetail hunters have lived by these rules for the past nine seasons.
Much of the disdain for the rules has centered on the difficulty hunters have faced when attempting to count points on fast-moving whitetails—especially brow tines. To its credit, the Game Commission listened and studied the issue. Now, the four-point requirement and the need to determine if a buck has brow tines are about to become history.
“The idea of changing antler restrictions in the four-point area began a year ago when Game Commissioner Robert Schlemmer and I were hearing from many sportsmen about the difficulty of seeing brow tines,” said Game Commissioner Ralph Martone. “Recently, when Cal DuBrock, bureau director for Wildlife Management, reported on research showing that such a change would affect only a small percentage of antlered deer, Commissioner Schlemmer and I asked the Executive Director to prepare language eliminating the need to identify brow tines in the four-point areas for inclusion in the agenda for January’s board meeting.”
If the research cited by DuBrock is correct, and the change will only impact a small percentage of antlered deer, then it seems as if the new rule is a good compromise between those hunters who want to do away with antler restrictions entirely, and those who support them. The commission can still realize the goals it wanted to achieve through antler restrictions, but this change will allow them to do so without unnecessarily burdening hunters in the western WMUs.
What do you think? Are you happy with the Game Commission’s plan to do away with the four-point restriction in Western Pennsylvania in favor of a “three up” rule?