Oh, deer: season upon us

The disclosure last March that the first cases of chronic wasting disease had been confirmed in this region’s deer population has made some hunters apprehensive about the rifle hunting season that begins Monday.

However, for the most part, excitement tantamount to what has greeted the start of the season in years past will again be at the forefront this year.

For Pennsylvania deer hunters, the Monday after Thanksgiving is a day awaited throughout the rest of the year. This season won’t be an exception, despite special restrictions and regulations that the Pennsylvania Game Commission has put in place for much of a CWD four-county Disease Management Area that includes Blair.

The rules govern the transportation and disposal of certain parts of deer carcasses. The other counties in the DMA are Cambria, Bedford and Huntingdon.

Chronic wasting disease is a degenerative brain disease that causes infected deer to waste away and die. The CWD virus is believed spread at least in part through exchange of bodily fluids and saliva between animals.

It’s unfortunate that CWD’s infiltration into the region’s deer population – though on a small scale – will cause anxiety for some hunters and their families about possibly eating meat from an infected deer.

But those concerns can be minimized for hunters who have familiarized themselves with the outward signs of deer that are infected, including stumbling or being thinner than what they should be at this time of the year.

Some have likened infected deers’ appearance to that of being drunk.

Entering the fields and woods with knowledge of what to look for, however, this year’s hunting season can be as enjoyable as those of the past. The hunt of coming days can provide food for the weeks and months to come, be a source of camaraderie among sportsmen, be a bonding experience between fathers – and mothers – and their sons and daughters, and serve as a teaching tool for respect and appreciation of wildlife and the outdoors.

It also will help manage the size of the deer herd, casting hunters into the role of Game Commission partner.

Amid the hunting experience, promoting safety must be the prime objective. For the first time since the game agency in 1915 began compiling data about the number of shooting incidents each year involving hunters, 2012 recorded no firearms fatalities.

According to the commission, 33 nonfatal shooting incidents marred that accomplishment, although that number was a decline from 2011.

The goal must be to keep the issue of safety in the forefront, not only for hunters but for people whose homes and properties border hunting areas. Likewise, hunters must obey posted areas and not display animosity toward those who ban access to their land.

Hunter education programs have helped increase the use of “blaze orange” to make hunters more visible to other hunters.

However, even with the expanded use of that color, a big part of the hunting experience must revolve around common sense, patience and otherwise avoiding risks that could prove injurious or deadly.

Whether or not a blanket of snow is available for tracking, and despite the unwanted CWD, deer season 2013 has the resources for hunting memories capable of lasting a lifetime.