According to some area deer processors, 2007 was not a great year for the deer harvest.

Though weather was a small factor, numbers show a decrease in deer killed through the end of the state’s traditional two-week rifle deer season.

The deer kill in the Cambria-Somerset County area isn’t necessarily an indicator of the statewide harvest, though some of the facts are pretty telling.

“Less than last year,” said Ed Pudliner Sr., owner of Pudliner Deer Processing in Johnstown’s West End. “I did a lot less. I did right around 370 deer. Last year I did a lot more. The first day was bad – it rained and that really put it back the first day. After that, it was just down.”

After just one week of the 2006 rifle deer season, Pudliner processed more than 600 deer. This year’s running total is less than half of his season total from last year. He doesn’t anticipate a huge boost from the seasons starting Dec. 26, but offers opinions on why the harvest was down.

“I’ll tell you what they are killing ... they’re killing a lot of does,” Pudliner said. “For some reason, they’re killing does and button bucks. If they don’t stop the doe and the buck kill together – two weeks for doe is too much – if they don’t stop, that’s going to be the end of the deer. I don’t care what the game commission says, it’s going to be the end of the deer. And that’s what’s happening, they’re just disappearing, they’re dwindling away. Every time you kill a doe, you’re killing two young ones, you’re killing three deer every time you kill one doe.”

Pudliner is in a unique position as a processor, with the chance to see how many does are being killed compared with how many bucks. He sees big-body bucks with small racks and some average-sized deer with very big racks. All of these factors help him shape his opinions on the antler restrictions and the combined seasons.

“I had a 15-point, it weighed 186 pounds – yeah that was a good one,” he said. “A big, big buck shot up here on Dishong Mountain. ... But, it’s slower. It’s been slowing down ever since the double kill, since 2000. After 2000, it’s just been going downhill. In the late ’90s, it was nothing to do 750 deer.”

Pudliner takes pride in giving customers back the maximum amount of meat they can. Ed Sr., who was working an evening last week with his son, Ed Jr., and grandson, Justin, said that Pudliner Deer Processing has been in business since 1950.

He cited a chart prepared by the Pennsylvania Game Commission that has hung on the wall of his shop for more than 30 years.

The chart shows that a living deer weighing 105 pounds should field dress at 80 pounds and provide 47 pounds of edible meat.

“A 90-pound deer hog dressed, they call it field dressed, should be more than 50 pounds of meat. I cut at about 60-percent,” he said.

“Yep, 1950 we started doing deer here – 57 years.”

They must be doing something right.

Another area processor, Adam Thomas of Thomas Smoked Meats in Richland, hasn’t been around quite as long as Pudliner, but is also doing something right.

“We had our best year ever,” Thomas said. “We had a great archery season, then we had a pretty good set back with the first day fog and rain. But it was pretty steady throughout the season. I still think we’re gaining new customers.

“In talking to the game commission, I don’t think this was a banner year. The game commission said that some places, like in Pittsburgh, were down 30-percent from the previous year. That deer disease hurt a lot. From what I’ve heard, a lot of processors are down. The game commission comes and from what they’ve said they are seeing less deer.”

Thomas attributes his record year – about 1,100 processed deer – to a boost in customers, saying this was the first year he has advertised. He, like most other deer processors, has opinions on the reason for a smaller harvest.

“If you go out and talk to people, everyone says they’re seeing less deer but better bucks,” said Thomas, who processes deer next to his home in Benscreek. “You’re seeing bigger bucks because you’re seeing older bucks. If you have a really good genetic buck, his first set of antlers may have just three on one side, he gets shot. His genetics are gone. You aren’t managing the inferior genetic bucks by shooting the good genetic bucks. We certainly wouldn’t want to just shoot the good genetic bucks. We are killing the good genetic bucks and you are finding big, heavy deer with small racks. They never said they wanted bigger-antlered bucks, they wanted older bucks and they’ve succeeded in that. They want to produce older bucks. The overall genetic pool is taking a downward slide and (the game commission) comes and checks the heads and after five years, they’re finally saying that it’s definitely true.”

Thomas will argue that if you shoot all the good deer each year, and leave all the lesser deer, then the genetic pool is down.

He has some proof of that fact too. After the antler restrictions first went into effect for the 2002 season, hunters were claiming that they were seeing bucks with bigger racks.

Last season, about 40 deer that Thomas processed during opening week of rifle season were sent to be mounted. After the first week of this season, Thomas had just 14.

“The trophies are way down from last year,” he said. “If we keep polling the lesser bucks, then it will be hard to find any good bucks in 10 years. The year before they started antler restrictions, we probably had one of our best years for trophies.”

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