Western Pa. sportsmen: Camaraderie, traditions set tone for deer season
Nothing says opening day of Pennsylvania's deer season like ... spaghetti?
That's the case for Stick Lawson.
The resident of Coral in Indiana County has hunted for 45 years. He chases whitetails in multiple states each year with bows, rifles and muzzleloaders.
Opening day is special, though. For decades, it has started the night before with one thing: pasta and sauce.
“Every year, we always have a big spaghetti dinner the night before. My boys come up. My friends come up. And my wife makes the spaghetti,” Lawson said. “It sticks with you the whole day out.”
Pennsylvania's statewide deer season opens Monday, and familiar rituals are what makes it special — as much as the chance of bringing home some venison.
Or so says Jason Beck of Monessen. He has not missed an opening day in 19 years.
“If I had to sum it up in one word, I'd say, ‘tradition.' That's what it means to me,” he said.
He goes into every opening day the same way. He will have spent the weekend before meeting with his best friend, his best friend's dad and others in their group to talk strategy and plot where to hunt. Some of the gang are gray-haired and long in the tooth; others are younger. They carry old guns and new guns, wear old clothes and the latest hunting gear.
“We're all there for the same reasons,” Beck said. “It's the relationships. It gets me out with the same guys year after year.”
At times, the chance to be part of something like that trumps the chance to kill a deer, said Mike Papinchak, the Pennsylvania Game Commission's wildlife conservation officer in northern Westmoreland County.
His district has lots of deer, he said, more than can be found in some parts of Pennsylvania's traditional “deer country.” Yet sportsmen and women often leave his area — even if it's close to home — to hunt in those other places on opening day.
“If we get what I call ‘deer season weather' — 30 degrees and a half-inch of snow on the ground — I'll have a hard time finding hunters the first day. They'll all go to camp,” Papinchak said.
“People just want to have that experience, and I can't say I blame them.”
That's what opening day is to Pete Myers of Latrobe, even when he's not hunting.
He killed a 10-point buck this year in archery season. He has a tag for an antlerless deer, but he's saving it for the post-Christmas flintlock season.
Still, he was at deer camp last weekend to hang out with friends, many of whom are buddies from high school. Sometimes there are five others, sometimes 20. They all go to a turkey shoot Saturday afternoon, then a gun bash Saturday night. On Sunday, they say their goodbyes and split up. Some stay to hunt; others leave for home to go back to work or to hunt with children or family.
It's the getting together — something made possible because of the deer opener — that matters, Myers said.
“As we get older, I think it's about the camaraderie more than anything,” he said. “It's the only time some of us get to see each other. Don't get me wrong, we all still like to get deer. But this is a bonus.”
Lawson has had years in which he hunted from a camp and, more recently, ones in which he hunted near home. He enjoyed them all.
Opening day of deer season is wonderful, no matter where you are, he said.
“We have a good time. It's just fun.”