Deer hunters like starting rifle season on Saturday
Michael “MadDog” Maddy said Saturday’s early start to the 2019 deer hunting season was, well, unusual.
“There was nobody out there until about 9 a.m.,” Maddy said.
For hunters such as Maddy, Saturday marked the first time since 1963 that rifle season for hunters in Pennsylvania started on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, two days earlier than the traditional Monday kickoff that has for more than five decades been the norm.
Maddy was out just after sunrise in Plum hunting with his son.
He said the Saturday start could result in more problems than usual.
“I didn’t want to see it start on Saturday,” said Maddy of North Versailles. “There’s more chance for accidents and more kids out there. I really don’t think people want to hunt on Saturday. That’s when everyone is out in the mountains, partying.”
State game officials said the earlier start to rifle season will increase the deer harvest, specifically bucks, which saw a decrease in the numbers that were killed last year. Deer hunting season continues through Dec. 14.
For some, the early start to the season means more opportunity to hunt.
Tom Murray of Irwin said he didn’t see as many hunters in the woods Saturday as he has on the first day of previous rifle seasons.
“I love it. I don’t have to take a day off of work,” Murray said as he delivered his deer for processing Saturday afternoon.
Brian Mahl of Manor hunted Saturday morning at a sportsman’s club near Irwin.
“It was very busy,” Mahl said. “There was a lot of people out there today. It was either feast or famine, and a lot of people were doing really well.”
Billy’s Country Smokehouse in Hempfield has been processing deer for hunters for about 80 years. Owner Shirley Stana said she’s not sure how Saturday’s start for the season will be accepted or what impact it will have on her business.
Stana said her shop has been busy since archery season started in October, and she expects to remain busy through rifle season. Her shop was certainly busier on Saturday that it would have been had rifle season had its traditional Monday opening. Just how busy remains to be seen, she said.
“You really don’t know,” Stana said.
In past years, Stana said that by lunchtime lines of hunters usually formed outside her tiny shop to drop off their kills for processing. But this year, customers have been slow to arrive. Only 13 hunters had come with their deer shortly after noon Saturday.
Mark Zimmerman, owner of Hoffer’s Ligonier Valley Packing, said his business typically processes about 100 animals the first day of rifle season and expects similar or even greater numbers this year.
“I think the Saturday start is going to help people,” Zimmerman said. “A lot of guys can’t get Mondays off anymore so, all in all, I think it’s going to help.”
Zimmerman’s store typically will remain open on weekends, including a few hours Sunday. He said he’ll have to lengthen his hours next year, when Sunday hunting will be allowed for the first time in Pennsylvania.
Justin Lewis of Elizabeth said he’s looking forward to that change.
“I think people are going to like it more because it’s another day to hunt,” Lewis said. “It’s going to be convenient because we’re going to have three extra days, one for archery, one for rifle and whatever the game commission decides for the other day.”
Maddy, though, said Sunday hunting will be one day too many.
“The animals need a day of rest,” Maddy said.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .