The Annual Deer Harvest

Posted: December 14, 2015

A comment in Jeannine’s last post caught my attention. I have to write about it.

“The cold, hard truth is that not all hunters report their harvest.”

That’s what Jeannine wrote in her biologists’ lament about deer aging. Is that a bad thing? Does it matter?

Ever since I have lived in Pennsylvania, I have read and heard many disparaging comments about the quality of deer harvest estimates published by the PGC.

You would think this is a no-brainer problem. Make every hunter report whether they harvest a deer or not. We basically do that every 10 years in this country when we conduct the national census.

But hold on – only 74% of households responded to the questionnaire mailed by the Bureau of Census.

It’s the same old problem, just a different situation: not everyone follows the rules. So how do we figure out how many deer were harvested every year in the most cost-effective, accurate manner possible when 50% or fewer hunters cooperate?

The solution is to use multiple sources of information:

• The self-reported harvest information provided by successful hunters
• The 25,000 or so harvested deer field-checked by PGC personnel
• The annual Game Take Survey of 2% of hunters who purchased a hunting license

It all works by first counting up the number of deer self-reported as harvested by hunters. Then you cross-check those self-reported harvests with the field-checked deer to correct for under-reporting by hunters.

For example, let’s say Jeannine checks 100 antlered deer from WMU 2B (basically Allegheny County). When she goes to the computer files she finds out that 50 of those bucks she checked (50%) were self-reported by the hunter.

In other words, for every deer that was reported 2 deer were shot.

That means if you multiply the number of report cards by 2 you would have an estimate of the actual harvest (for that WMU).

Is such a harvest estimate accurate? Most certainly, you can read about it here. And if you want more explanation on the calculations you can go here.

Still don’t believe me? Then check this out. Every year the PGC mails the Game Take Survey to 2% of all licensed hunters and asks them what they harvested (that's over 10,000 hunters - and we can predict the Presidential election by only asking 500 voters!). It turns out the deer harvest estimates from the Game Take Survey were always within 1-9% of the “official” deer harvest.


And I know what you’re thinking. Why go to all this trouble when you just need to require every hunter, every year, to tell us whether he or she harvested a deer and the sex and age. There are 3 reasons why that’s not the best option.

  1. It costs 60 cents or more for every harvested deer that is self-reported by hunters as harvested (reported online or by phone, or even more expensive by mail). Multiply that by nearly 1 million general hunting license buyers and you would have an annual expense of about $700,000, of which about $120,000 would be spent for license buyers who don't even hunt deer. All that money to find out they didn’t kill a deer? Field checking 25,000 deer is a lot cheaper and more accurate.
  2. You will never get 100% of hunters to report their hunting success. Just ask the Bureau of Census.
  3. It turns out that 1 out of 5 button bucks is reported by the hunter as being a doe fawn (Why? I don't know - perhaps there is a stigma associated with shooting a button-buck?). That means the PGC has to field-check deer anyway to get an accurate estimate of the harvest by sex and age!


But you know what I find most perplexing? The Bureau of Census could use a similar approach to accurately estimate the number of people in our country – and save a lot of taxpayer money. But Congress won’t let it.

At least you know the PGC has accurate deer harvest estimates.

-Duane Diefenbach

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