Monday still popular with hunters, even with early start to deer rifle season |
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Stephen Huba

Even with the new Saturday start to deer rifle season, Monday still felt like opening day to a lot of area hunters.

Old traditions die hard.

Glen Stott of Latrobe went out Saturday, but he also went out Monday because he had previously asked for the day off. By 9 a.m., he had a five-point buck — taken from his favorite hunting spot in Unity.

“We’re really happy they changed (opening day) to Saturday,” said his father-in-law, Jerry Amalong, 72, of Latrobe. “It’s an extra day.”

Statewide firearms season opened on Saturday and continues through Dec. 14, with the exception of Sundays.

Amalong said he has a grandson who attends Saint Vincent College who was able to hunt this year because of the Saturday season opening. He has classes on Monday.

Don Shilobod, 84, of Ligonier Township said he opposed changing the start of the season to the Saturday after Thanksgiving but took advantage of it anyway.

“I went out — but reluctantly,” he said. “It’s always a tradition to go out on the first day.”

Shilobod, like other opponents of the Saturday opener, said it interferes with hunting camp traditions and complicates travel during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. He hunts at a camp he has owned since the 1960s at Rothrock State Forest in Huntingdon County.

Pennsylvania’s deer hunters are used to rifle season starting on the Monday after Thanksgiving — so much so that many school districts give students the day off so they can go hunting. But this year, for the first time since 1962, it started on Saturday, shortening the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and the time spent in camp for some hunters.

“It didn’t give me enough time (to visit with family) between Thanksgiving and Saturday. I don’t want to walk out on them,” he said.

In previous years, he had up to 20 hunters at the camp. This year, there were four. “The number of hunters is dwindling,” he said.

On Monday, Shilobod brought a buck he shot on Saturday to Hoffer’s Ligonier Valley Packing for processing. He asked for a European rack, meaning he wanted to keep the whole head.

Hoffer’s owner Mark Zimmerman said the business handled 56 deer on Saturday.

“We ended a little bit ahead of last year’s first day,” he said. “I really thought (the Saturday opener) would have made a difference. The verdict’s not in yet.”

Zimmerman said he can remember some opening days when his business handled up to 200 bucks. “Your best chance of harvesting a buck is the first day of the season,” he said.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission will not have official numbers from the 2019-20 deer seasons until March, spokesman Travis Lau said.

Anecdotally, however, he heard that Saturday was a slow day — at least in central Pennsylvania.

“Things were unexpectedly slow where I was. To me, it just seemed like one of those days where the deer didn’t cooperate,” Lau said.

The Saturday opener is not set in stone and could change, depending on hunter surveys, success rates and license sales.

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners will look closely at the numbers from the 2019-20 seasons, especially the Saturday opener, when deciding on the 2020-21 seasons and bag limits, he said.

Pennsylvania hunters took 163,750 bucks in the 2017-18 seasons — the second-largest buck harvest since antler restrictions were started in 2002 — and 147,750 bucks in the 2018-19 seasons.

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