Start of Pennsylvania deer hunting season an unofficial holiday
The Monday after Thanksgiving means dreams of bagging a trophy buck, fresh venison and the camaraderie among friends or family on a mountainside, in a farming valley or at hunting camp.
Some 750,000 hunters from age 12 to senior citizens this year will take to fields and woods in search of a whitetail on the opening day of deer season, as Western Pennsylvanians call it.
Day 1 of the state's firearms deer season — a time-honored "holiday" born of sportsmanship and tradition — marks the start of the busiest two weeks of the hunting year, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
Hunters will bag about 25 percent of the season's harvest — roughly 83,000 deer — on opening day.
Workplaces, schools aware
Most schools — and even some businesses — are closed Monday as part of an extended Thanksgiving break. High absenteeism in offices, factories and classrooms on the first day of hunting season spurred the unofficial holiday. In 2016, the state sold 76,505 junior hunting licenses to kids ages 12-16. That's a lot of empty desks.
Pennsylvania deer harvested last year
In fall 2016, hunters harvested 333,254 deer — 149,460 bucks and 183,794 antlerless deer. Hunting this season should be equally good , Outdoor Life reported. The population trend is stable in most wildlife management units and increasing in five, the game commission notes. Deer biologists believe there's a chance the buck harvest will increase for the third consecutive year. "It's an exciting possibility that banks on last year's massive acorn crop and a mild winter paving the way for big bucks to get bigger and for more young bucks to grow into legal racks," Executive Director Bryan Burhans said.
Eyes on the weather
The morning will start out just above freezing and reach 44 degrees by afternoon under a partly cloudy sky with a light breeze and only a 10 percent chance of rain. Hunters hope for cool enough conditions that deer head out to feed and find water. Deer are less active if it's too warm, and a phenomenon one expert calls "The Fur Factor " kicks in. "With their heavy fur coats and inability to ventilate as humans do, white-tailed deer simply cannot function in warm weather," Deer & Deer Hunting editor Charles Alsheimer said.
Up and at 'em
Legal hunting hours for all game are from one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset. The game commission's set times Monday are 6:35 a.m. to 5:05 p.m. Too early for breakfast? Nah, not in hunting country. Eateries like Brady's Restaurant near Acme open at 4 a.m. to serve hearty country breakfasts to hunters.
The case for hunting
Hunters help to keep deer populations in check , according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. It has been the state's main tool for managing deer for more than a century. Many hunters share their venison with friends, family or the Hunters Sharing the Harvest Program, which every year delivers 200,000 meals to food banks, churches and social services feeding programs. A brisk hunting season means good business from gas stations, restaurants and grocery stores, as well as deer processors and taxidermists.