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Editorial: Hunting puts food on tables in Pennsylvania

| Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, 5:33 p.m.
A deer runs across a road.
Associated Press
A deer runs across a road.

If you want a real, practical reason for legal gun ownership in Pennsylvania, the last Monday in November is it.

It’s not self-defense. It’s not a well-armed militia.

It’s the free-roaming hoofed mammals roaming the woods, the fields and, sadly for drivers, the highways.

Hunting season in a state with few natural predators is what keeps a statewide white-tailed deer herd — estimated by Penn State at 1.5 million — under control.

It’s also an industry that pumps a lot of money into the state economy. A 2007 report estimated the impact at $3.5 billion. That year, the number of licenses sold was 924,448.

State records show the annual number fluctuating year to year but still hovering just shy of a million.

That is a lot of people sitting in the cold darkness on a Monday morning as two weeks of hunting season kicks off.

For many, it’s sport. (The deer may see it differently.)

For some, it’s tradition or a family activity. It might be something they do every year with friends they only see at hunting camp.

But for others, hunting is a necessity.

A buck weighs about 200 pounds. A doe is about 125 pounds. A family with two or three hunters could reasonably hope to put as much as 180 pounds of venison in the freezer after a good hunting season.

Let’s convert that to its closest analog: beef. Grass-fed cattle can go for about $8.60 a pound, and those two or three deer might equal a whole cow. That could cost over $1,700 and provide three meals a week for a year.

In 2017, there were 367,159 deer harvested in Pennsylvania. According to the state, relatively few of the hunters who bagged a buck or doe took advantage of the Hunters Sharing the Harvest program that allows for meat to be donated to food banks. Nonetheless, about 100,000 pounds is collected annually and finds its way into hungry mouths.

For those hunters, the early mornings aren’t a day off. They are another kind of job, one that literally puts food on the table.

For those families, a rifle may be a dangerous weapon, but it’s also a vital tool for daily life, like a stove or a car.

Hunting is a sport, whether the deer know it or not. It’s a tradition, and it’s a money-making industry. But it’s also a way of life for a large number of Pennsylvanians who depend upon it.

And as long as people don’t acknowledge the importance of that amid discussions of gun violence, no one will get anywhere. You can’t talk about stopping people dying from bullet wounds with language that makes a large chunk of the opposition hear a blithe dismissal of something that keeps their families alive.

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