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Deer are few, far between on opening day

| Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011

Forget about those people who flee Pittsburgh for the south every winter. Jeff Lippert would have liked a little snow Monday.

The Penn Hills man was hunting on state game land 203 near Wexford on what was opening day of Pennsylvania's statewide firearms deer season. It's the busiest day of the hunting year, with about 750,000 sportsmen taking to the woods. In this case, Lippert's wife, Stacy, and 12-year-old son, Jason, were hunting with him.

They saw plenty of deer sign, he said. But deer, which are much more visible against a snowy background and more likely to move about in colder weather, were proving harder to spot. By lunchtime, the three had yet to see a whitetail.

"We need a couple of people out bird dogging it through the brush, moving deer around for people on stand," Lippert said.

"We heard some shooting, but we didn't see anything on our side," Stacy added.

At least in the early going, they weren't alone in getting shut out. According to reports from around the region, Monday's opener was a relatively slow one.

Rain in parts of the region had something to do with that. Gary Toward, a wildlife conservation officer for the Pennsylvania Game Commission in western Armstrong County, said an early morning visit to state game land 247, near Cadogan, had eight vehicles in one parking lot at 8:30. But three of those were still packed with hunters, 90 minutes after first shooting light.

"They said they weren't getting out until it quit drizzling," Toward said.

In other areas, where rain wasn't a factor, hunting pressure was hit or miss. In Beaver County, for example, there were good numbers of hunters out in the southern half of the county, but far fewer in the northern half, said Matt Kramer, the commission's wildlife conservation officer there.

Even in the busy spots, though, the unseasonably warm weather was holding down hunter success, he said.

That's not to say hunters weren't taking some deer.

Jason Farabaugh, the commission's officer in northern Fayette and southern Westmoreland counties, said that while hunters were in short supply in the areas he'd checked, he had seen one 10-point taken by a hunter near Champion. Dan Sitler, the commission's conservation officer in northern Washington County, said he'd seen a few more bucks than usual taken by mid-day Monday, most of them decent looking seven and eight points.

Dan Puhala, the commission's officer in northern Allegheny County, said he saw four deer taken, including a six-point harvested by a young girl and a doe taken by a young boy.

"It was neat. I really like talking to those kids when they get their first deer like that," he said.

Terrell Eberhardt was hoping to add another young hunter to the list of those getting their first deer. He was at game land 203 with his son, Andrew, who was hunting his first opening day.

Eberhardt said he hadn't hunted in about five years prior to yesterday. But with his son now able to go along, the Plum Borough pair were headed into the woods at lunchtime, planning to look for deer the rest of the day.

"You can hunt until about 5:30 or so, and deer are often nocturnal, so we're going to find ourselves a nice little spot and camp out for a while and see what happens," Terrell Eberhardt said.

Minor injuries reported

A number of hunters were injured Monday on the first day of the state's two-week general deer season.

None of the injuries were believed to be life-threatening, prompting Game Commission spokesman Joseph Kosack to remark: "This may be the quietest opening day" in a good many years.

The most serious incident reported to the Game Commission occurred when a 14-year old boy was shot in the leg about 6:20 a.m. in Elizabeth Township

Township police Chief Robert McNeilly said the teen and his father were hoisting shotguns into a tree stand when one discharged and struck the boy in the thigh. As

police responded to Mill Hill Road and Scenery Drive at about 6:20 a.m., they found the father carrying the boy out of the woods, McNeilly said. The teen, who was conscious but couldn't walk, was taken to Children's Hospital in Lawrenceville, McNeilly said.

The other injuries occurred as a result of falls from trees, county emergency dispatchers said.

One hunter, reported to be 45 years old, was taken to a hospital in Morgantown after falling from a tree stand about 11:30 a.m. in North Union, Fayette County, and a woman, believed to be 21, was injured at dusk in a fall from a tree in Venango Township, Butler County. At least two hunters were injured in falls from trees in Clarion County.

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