Deer season is special in Pennsylvania

They start up the dirt road long before dawn, the pick-up trucks and ATV’s that slowly lurch past our house in the wee-morning hours.

Only their headlights are visible in the darkness, but at times the line of lights resembles a convoy, heading up the mountain to their coveted hunting ground.

Opening day of deer season is like Christmas morning for many, with the days leading up to it filled with anticipation, expectations and errands. It’s putting finishing touches on a tree stand, sighting in the rifle, digging out cold-weather clothes and stocking the refrigerator with hunting season staples: beef jerky, candy bars, coffee.

But it’s more than a rite or ritual, it’s a family and community tradition.

Deer season in Pa. is a generations-old institution, the secret spots and basic skills passed down from grandfathers to fathers, and fathers to sons (and daughters!)

What started as early settlers bringing home essential food for their families has become an annual holiday for hunters.

They watch the weather, hoping for a dusting of snow, perfect for tracking; they scour stores for the best gear, scout land for the best vantage point and hope for that trophy buck worthy of mounting, and perhaps more importantly, worthy of supreme story telling.

Some days are spent in solitude, patiently watching the woods, listening to the chirping birds and rustling leaves … and waiting.

Perhaps more important than the game hung on the wall or the meat in the freezer is the opportunity to connect with the outdoors – enjoying the crisp winter air while trying to outsmart the animals, the environment and even mother nature herself. And it’s connecting to friends and family during days of hunting, as well as years of talking about those memorable moments in the forests and fields of central Pennsylvania.

For those who haven’t grown up in our rural region, the idea of having the day off from school for hunting season is as foreign as the concept of closing school for the start of baseball might seem to us. But that reflects the importance of our region’s hunting legacy.

Some say the sport may be declining, that the younger generation is more interested in shooting virtual targets on video games than braving the elements to head into the woods. But for many, hunting is not just a sport, it’s a culture, with their hunting camp feeling like home, and hunting buddies like a team, or like family.

The culture of hunting has helped to shape the landscape of Pennsylvania. Beyond its significant economic impact, as well as the preservation of game lands and wildlife habitat, the sport promotes of the values of respect and responsibility, courtesy and conservation.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at