According to many local hunters in Somerset and Cambria counties, deer are becoming harder to find as the years go on. Pennsylvania Game Commission reports seem to back this claim, with figures that indicate a slightly declining population over the last six years based on estimates released in their annual reports.
“We’ve seen a pretty steady decline from 2008 in the population,” commission spokesman Travis Lau said, referring to region 2C which includes all of Somerset County and the southern part of Cambria County.
Westmont resident and lifelong hunter Joe Matey said he has seen a drastic decline in deer in the areas he normally chooses to hunt.
“I think any hunter you talk to would agree,” he said. “I’ve been hunting for 50 years, but last year was the first year I didn’t get anything, which is unusual.”
Cambria County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs President Dwight Weaver, of Johnstown, said he has seen a decrease in deer in certain parts of the state and an increase in others. Weaver has been hunting in Pennsylvania for 70 years.
“I don’t see the deer I did before, but that could be because of a variety of reasons,” he said, referring to some of the northern parts of the state he has visited recently.
Weaver said he doesn’t necessarily think a decline is bad as long as it remains under control because increases in populations can also cause problems.
As the deer population increase, the animals will inevitably gravitate towards more residential areas and can cause vehicle accidents. He said understands hunters’ frustration of seeing less and less in certain areas.
Matey hunts in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio frequently, but has been unable to harvest a buck in Pennsylvania in the past five years.
“Back in the ’70s up here on the mountain, you’d see 20 to 30 deer,” he said. “Now you’d be lucky to see one at all.”
According the commission’s official 2008 report, estimates of the deer population in region C2 are at 87,046, with a decline resulting in 61,386 by 2013. The estimates should not be taken as an exact number, according to Lau, because they are based on a complex formula from collected data.
“We base our formula on registered harvested deer, but that is a rather small percentage of what is actually harvested,” he said.
Lau said the decline could be a result of various factors, but probably does not include migration despite a steadily increasing population in more agricultural areas in the north near 2A and a decline in the more mountainous regions in 2C.
“In any case though, it is not likely that any decrease in population is due to deer migrating to another area,” he said. “Deer will move within their home ranges to find food, but there’s no evidence to suggest deer leave their home ranges to find food and establish new ranges where they find it. The only known significant migrations are by yearling bucks, which usually disperse from the range where they were born and find a new range, sometimes dozens of miles away.”
Forest health and food sources also do not seem to be a contributing factor in the population decline, which has more recently showed a steadier number.
“The forest health in 2C also appears adequate. So in explaining the decline, again, our deer team considers the population as more stable than in decline,” he said. “And if it is to be looked at as a decline, one explanation could be the weakness of the numbers themselves. There is a pretty significant margin of error with the estimates there (plus or minus 10 percent) and there is going to be some fluctuation as a consequence.”
Matey said that he feels doe hunting should be reduced from seven days back to three because he believes it’s a contributing factor in the noticeable decline.
“I don’t know if that’s accurate, but I know I’ve seen a lot less deer in the last five years,” he said.
The statistics and estimates are used each year by the game commission board in order to decide how many doe licenses should be allocated to a specific region.
“All of that said, our board of commissioners in allocating doe licenses did split the difference between keeping the population stable and increasing it,” Lau said. “So if there has been a dramatic decline, perhaps the allocation counters that.”