In 60 years hunting on the slopes of the Buckhorn, Bob Cramer had never seen a deer as impressive as the one that lay beneath him in the snow Monday afternoon.
His son, Brad, had killed the hefty 10-point buck hours into Pennsylvania's most popular unofficial holiday: the start of rifle season. The pair celebrated at the edge of state game lands Monday as hundreds of thousands scoured the woods for what Cramer called a "perfect, beautiful" opening day.
Hunters around the Cambria-Blair county line seemed unconcerned Monday with new Game Commission regulations and the contagious animal disease that spurred them. Most were happy for a cool, but not frigid, day and a light layer of snow that made deer stand out in the morning light.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Mark Lingafelt (left) of Altoona chats with Brad Cramer of Duncansville in the Wopsononock area early Monday morning. Cramer’s 140-pound, 10-point buck was the nicest deer he’s taken in 20 years of hunting, he said.
"That's the best one I've ever got. I've been hunting 20 years," Mark Denny of Altoona said, pointing to the buck contorted to fit in his car trunk. "That's the big daddy right there."
Denny and his hunting partners - brothers Randy, Jeff and Kevin McClure of Altoona - arrived over the Cambria County line around 5 a.m., drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes before they separated in the woods.
"There's no cell signal up here, no way to even talk to each other," Kevin said. The four sat alone among the trees, tuning in on walkie-talkies only at a predetermined time.
It marked Randy's 20th year hunting, and Jeff's 40th with his .30-06-caliber rifle.
"We're going back out soon," Randy McClure said. "The deer we've seen - we've seen a lot - they're all beautiful, just like that one."
This year's opening day was the best in a long time, despite a gradual decline in participation as the years pass, hunters said Monday. There aren't as many children accompanying parents, they said, but roadside parking areas were still clogged with families' pickup trucks Monday afternoon.
Last year, the Game Commission tallied more than 940,000 general hunting license sales, with well over 100,000 marked as "junior" or "youth." Participation seems to ebb and flow, just as deer sightings vary with each season.
"Used to be we could come up here and count on seeing 20 deer," Bob Cramer said. "Last year I only saw one."
On Monday, however, he and his son reported several in just a few hours.
This rifle season marks the first under the cloud of chronic wasting disease, the contagious illness that struck Blair and Bedford counties last year, provoking a swift response from game officials. New rules require hunters to keep high-risk deer parts inside a wide quarantine area, with hunting grounds throughout Blair and surrounding counties under watch.
Over the long term, the disease can thin deer herds and harm the sport, officials have said. But on Monday, none of the hunters who'd killed bucks had chronic wasting disease on their minds.
Yvonne Mingle, whose husband, Sam, operates Mingle's Deer Processing near Williamsburg, said customers had begun trickling in by midafternoon Monday. While authorities have cautioned hunters not to eat meat from deer showing signs of the disease, many at Game Commission gatherings have rejected the advice, noting that the illness hasn't spread to humans in the five decades it's been studied.
Standing next to his son's buck as the sun melted snow Monday afternoon, Bob Cramer pointed to the tastiest cuts of meat they'd enjoy.
"I'll get some bologna, too," he said. "Because I feel very sure I'm going to get a deer."
Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.