PGC mulls over first day of hunting season

Recognizing that hunter participation was beginning to decline especially among young people, the Pennsylvania Game Commission began to introduce one program after another over the years in the hope they would provoke more interest in hunting. Some did, some did not.

The latest move toward enticing more young hunters into the outdoor pool is to change the opening day of rifle season for deer from the Monday after Thanksgiving to the Saturday after the holiday. Whether or not that proposed rule change will be approved we will know after the Commissioners meeting in April. Until then, we continue with the controversy this issue has engendered.

Of course, the arguments have nothing to do with whether or not this change will impact the deer herd, it is all about the hunter’s opinions as to how this will affect them. And if this change is implemented, it will affect the traditions I too have observed since the Monday after Thanksgiving was ruled the opening day of deer season.

Like every one of my generation, I have observed certain rituals about opening day. In my family, when the last Amen was spoken after church Sunday, I hopped off the organ bench and got out of the church parking lot as quickly as possible to depart, in a car packed to the roof with guns, boots duffle bags full of clothes and got on the road. My husband, son and myself would stop on the way to the hunting camp in Clinton County for dinner and thoroughly enjoyed memories we rehearsed with other hunters who had also stopped for lunch.

Arrival at camp was another great time as everyone claimed their space (mine was a mattress laid out in the attic, balanced on the rafters.) There is much more but as the years went on and circumstances changed, I had to get used to other rituals and hunting buddies and I have, though never an opening day does not dawn but I am not reliving days gone by that will never again be the same as before.

It was back in 1963 that opening day was set as the Monday after Thanksgiving. That way, everyone could put in for time off that they wanted and make other plans. Today, the prospect of this change is hoped for by many and decried by others. The Game Commission sees it as a boon to those young people who would be able to go on Saturday and then go to school on Monday. I find this surprising thinking because every young hunter I ever knew would have gone on Saturday and then again on Monday if parents would stand for it.

Many old-timers in hunting are opposed just on general principles: they don’t like change in any area of their life. Others see this change as the first step in getting the Sunday hunting ban abolished and then the entire weekend after Thanksgiving would be deer season.

But the fact is, almost everybody likes his rituals and habits to remain the same. We look on changes as interruptions, and we don’t like it. As for me,

I really will adapt. I’ll have to and soon that will be my new tradition. The biggest change for me will be that it will wipe out the Saturday after Thanksgiving as my last day for fall turkey hunting and I will sorely miss that.

But the opinion that I think will probably win the day is the one they hear often: A Saturday opener is what most young people have said they favor. And since that is the group they are trying hardest to appeal to with this proposal, they will probably win the day.

I do know this: the tradition of having Saturday before the opening day was the day you packed the suitcases and the car for the trip to camp. Sunday you traveled to camp and hoped you got there so you could take a walk in the woods and make sure you deer stand was still there or to put your deer stand up leave strong memories that non hunters simply don’t understand. However, those really are the “old days” anymore. Fewer and fewer hunters are actually going to deer camps these days. The large deer drives that covered entire mountainsides and took most of the morning to get organized and get done are not so prevalent any more.

Most guys hunt alone or with a buddy or two. Many of the former big deer camps lie in ruins now, long abandoned to the demands of modern life.

Everything changes. Progress descends upon us and we have to change. And we will adapt to the adoption of this proposal, whatever the decision.