Generations cling to the tradition of deer season's opening day in Pa.
By Bob Frye
Published: Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, 11:32 p.m.
By the time you read this, Ken and Alex Wees will be gone.
The father and son left their Hempfield home on Friday for Camp Coffee's On, a Forest County retreat, in preparation for Monday's opening day of deer season.
Ken's grandfather started it more than a half-century ago, when trips meant staying in a wall tent heated by a wood-burning stove. The family began going to the camp in 1985, and the trip is not something to be messed with.
“My wife's cousin was thinking once of getting married on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and I wished them well. I said I'd tell them good luck in advance because they wouldn't see me there,” said Ken Wees, 45, who hasn't missed an opening day at camp since age 12.
“We don't hold too many weekends sacred, so to speak, but that's one.”
What Black Friday is to shoppers, the Monday after Thanksgiving is to hunters. It's opening day of Pennsylvania's statewide firearms deer season, when 750,000 or so sportsmen take to the woods. It is, by far, the single busiest day of the hunting year.
It resonates beyond the woods.
Churches, community centers and volunteer fire companies, such as those in Adamsburg in Westmoreland County and Coral Graceton in Indiana County, cater to orange-clad sportsmen early in the day, hosting hunters' breakfasts of pancakes, sausage and bacon, potatoes, toast and coffee.
Crowds as large as the one tied to opening day of deer season are hard to come by, said Tony Dellafiora, chief at Coral Graceton. The fire company tries to take advantage of it and raise some money by feeding hunters between 4 and 7 a.m.
“We did it for years and then, after a break, started back up four or five years ago. It keeps getting bigger and bigger every year now,” he said.
By evening, the hunters will flock to butcher shops, large and small.
Espey's Meat Market near Scottdale typically keeps four or five people on staff. That number will climb to 10 between Monday night and Tuesday morning, when about 20 percent of all the deer handled in a year's time arrive.
“Monday, we just try to get all of the deer skinned and hung in the cooler. Tuesday is our first chance to really start cutting them up,” said Chuck Keefer.
Things get equally busy at taxidermy shops.
“I get to hunt Monday, but then I come home first thing Tuesday morning, and that's pretty much my hunting season. By then, I have to be ready to go. Deer heads are the bread and butter of our business,” said Kevin Lane of Lane's Wildlife Images in New Brighton.
The season is all about fun and memories for hunters, though.
Alex Wees, 13, a seventh-grader at West Hempfield Middle School, shot his first deer, an 8-point buck, out of Camp Coffee's On two years ago. Like other hunters, he hopes for another buck this year.
Yet just being part of another generation at camp is fun, he said.
“We sit around and watch some TV, but mostly I'm outside all weekend shooting my .22 rifle. And sometimes we have a fire and sit around and gab,” he said.
Those memories are what make deer season so important, his dad said.
“We're all so darn busy these days that, other than the holidays, it's our time to get together. We just go up, sit around and tell the same stories we've been telling for 30 years,” Ken Wees said. “It's pretty neat.”
Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-838-5148.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.