Opinions split on proposal to start deer season on the Saturday after Thanksgiving
Black Friday would become Buck Eve under a proposed change to Pennsylvania’s firearms deer season given preliminary approval this week by the state Game Commission.
The start of the season would be the Saturday after Thanksgiving instead of the following Monday, which has been opening day for more than 50 years.
Deer season would be 13 days instead of 12, running through Dec. 14, excluding the two Sundays in between. Sunday hunting, for the most part, is prohibited by law.
The change is among those being floated by the game commission to spur interest in hunting.
Another is to permit semiautomatic rifles for big-game hunting.
Last year was the first hunting season in which semiautomatic shotguns were permitted for big-game hunting, and semiautomatic rifles were permitted for hunting small game and furbearers.
The move to allow semiautomatic rifles for big-game hunting would need preliminary approval by the commission in April with final approval in July, according to game commission spokesman Travis Lau.
That change is less polarizing than the move to change the season opener, however.
Both moves are being floated to spur interest in hunting, Lau said, and the move to a Saturday opener would give people who can’t take time off work the chance to hunt on opening day, which in many parts of Pennsylvania is an all-but official holiday.
Many schools are closed that day, which has been the Monday after Thanksgiving since 1963. Hunters often schedule time off then to take to the woods in search of a trophy buck.
Moving to a Saturday opener would remove obstacles that may prevent people from hunting, Lau said.
It also would change the time-honored traditions of hunting camps in the wilds of Penn’s woods — traditions that have been passed down for generations. For those who have hunting camps, hunting is only part of the experience of the annual deer season and changing the start of the season could change that routine.
“Personally, I don’t like it,” Dave Aubele, 69, of Plum said.
He hasn’t hunted deer in a decade, but still goes to a camp in Potter County each year.
Aubele is president of the Logans Ferry Sportsmen’s Club in Plum.
The club has about 2,000 members and Aubele noted that interest in hunting is on the decline, which could explain the game commission’s move.
Of those members, only about a dozen use the club’s grounds, about 143 acres, to hunt, he said.
“There’s a lot of people who have lost interest in it,” Aubele said.
The change could generate more interest, said Klint Macro, 44, also of Plum.
Macro recently was elected president of the Allegheny County Sportsmen’s League and, while the group lacks an official position on the change, Macro said he, personally, supports it.
“I think that’s probably a good idea. Any way we can make the shooting sports and hunting easier, I’m in favor of,” Macro said.
It might encourage more youth to hunt, he said.
A lifelong hunter and a native of Cameron County, Macro’s also familiar with the borderline religious fervor people have for traditions at hunting camps.
They’re people like Max Merell of Meyersdale, who attended the game commission’s meeting to speak in favor of keeping the season the way it is.
“The Monday opener has been a hunting tradition for eons. And to change that would change the very nature of traditional rifle hunting seasons,” Merell said.
He called hunting camps “the incubator” of Pennsylvania’s hunting heritage.
All have their own unique traditions, he said. And all would lose them if deer season opens the Saturday after Thanksgiving, he said. That’s because it would be “logistically impossible” for many hunters, residents and non-residents, who travel to visit family over the Thanksgiving holiday to get back to camp by then.
Others, including Kelli Ritter of Berks County, support the change. Ritter’s a college student and she only hunted on opening day last year because she skipped classes.
“If the Pennsylvania Game Commission wants to keep the hunting tradition alive and thriving for the next generation, you need to start listening to the youths’ needs instead of the camp owners, who don’t have to worry about finding time to get out and hunt,” Ritter said. “We are the future of our hunting.”
“Everybody likes the idea. It’s going to get a lot more people out to hunt. It will bring more people to the outdoors,” said Mike Bilik, 63, of Norvelt.
He’s on the boards of the Westmoreland County Sportsmen’s League and the Sportsmen’s Association of Greensburg. The groups took an informal poll of members in both organizations and found most hunters supported the change.
“It’s an extra day to hunt. We like it,” Bilik said. “It will be good for everybody and create more interest.”
The change wouldn’t be “that big of a deal,” according to Mark Zimmerman, whose family has owned Hoffer’s Ligonier Valley Packing — a deer processor — in Ligonier for generations.
They process about 600 deer each season and moving the opener to Saturday would make Monday less busy for them, Zimmerman said.
It also would allow more people to hunt, he said.
“The Monday (opener) used to be a holiday. A real holiday,” he said.
It isn’t anymore and moving the opener to Saturday “may get a few more guys out there,” Zimmerman said.
People have until April 9 to provide their opinions on the change to the game commission, Lau said, and this is a case where that input can make a difference, he said.
“Public comment does matter a lot,” Lau said.
“We’re not afraid to tackle traditions, as some people call it,” game commissioner Brian Hoover said. “Every day is a new tradition, someone told me.”
Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-487-7208, [email protected] or via Twitter @TribDavidson. Bob Frye is the everybodyadventures.com editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or [email protected] See other stories, blogs, videos and more at everybodyadventures.com.
Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, [email protected] or via Twitter .