Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Pennsylvania
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Norton, A. S., D. R. Diefenbach, B. D. Wallingford, C. S. Rosenberry. 2012. Spatio-Temporal Variation in Male White-Tailed Deer Harvest Rates in Pennsylvania: Implications for Estimating Abundance. Journal of Wildlife Management 76:136-143.


The performance of two popular methods that use age-at-harvest data to estimate abundance of white-tailed deer is contingent on assumptions about variation in estimates of yearling (1.5 yr old) and adult (≥ 2.5 yr old) male harvest rates. Auxiliary data, e.g., estimates of survival or harvest rates from radiocollared animals, can be used to relax some assumptions, but unless these population parameters exhibit limited temporal or spatial variation these auxiliary data may not improve accuracy. Unfortunately maintaining sufficient sample sizes of radiocollared deer for parameter estimation in every wildlife management unit (WMU) is not feasible for most state agencies. We monitored the fates of 397 yearling and 225 adult male white-tailed deer across 4 WMUs from 2002-2008 using radio telemetry. We investigated spatial and temporal variation in harvest rates and investigated covariates related to the patterns observed. We found that most variation in harvest rates was explained spatially and that adult harvest rates (0.36–0.69) were more variable among study areas than yearling harvest rates (0.26–0.42). We found that hunter effort during the archery and firearms season best explained variation in harvest rates of adult males among WMUs, whereas hunter effort during the firearms season best explained harvest rates for yearling males. From a population estimation perspective, it is advantageous that most variation was spatial and explained by a readily obtained covariate (hunter effort). However, harvest rates may vary if hunting regulations or hunter behavior change, requiring additional field studies to obtain accurate estimates of harvest rates.