Hunters address season changes

Expert weights in on CWD misconceptions

Saturday marks the first time in more than 50 years that firearms deer season won’t begin on a Monday.

The change from the traditional Monday after Thanksgiving to Saturday wasn’t totally popular when it was proposed last year by Pennsylvania Game Commission.

But regardless of how hunters feel about the change, Saturday many will go into the woods.

As president of the Blair County Game, Fish and Forestry Association, Tim Merritts has a pulse on how the hundreds of hunters feel about the change.

“It was somewhat opposed. Tradition is tradition, and it’s been the same for 50 years,” he said. “In general, think most of our members are OK with the change. I can’t say everyone is happy with it. Old-timers are used to it on Monday when maybe there are less people in the woods. There might be more people in the woods since it’s a Saturday.”

That’s precisely what the Game Commission wants.

“The Saturday opener was put in place to allow for greater participation on the opening day,” Pennsylvania Game Commission spokesman Travis Lau said. “Year after year, we’d hear from people who were unable to hunt on opening day because they either had to work or attend school on the Monday after Thanksgiving.”

In Blair County, elementary and secondary schools annually are closed on the Monday after Thanksgiving for the first day of deer season. Now that Monday is no longer the big day, there’s a question whether schools will still take Monday off.

One school official speaking on behalf of her district said the school calendar won’t change though the first day of deer season has been moved to the weekend.

“We are not currently considering any change to this long-standing tradition,” Spring Cove Superintendent Betsy Baker said.

Merritts said that based on what he’s seen of the bucks during archery season in October, hunters can expect to see some nice looking antlers on Saturday.

The Saturday opener isn’t the only change in store for hunting.

Starting in 2020, a new law could permit hunting on the first Sunday as well as Saturday.

Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday signed a bill to allow hunting on three Sundays a year.

Rep. Jim Gregory, R-Blair, had voted against Sunday hunting when the measure was before the House.

He’s attended meetings concerning hunters at the East Freedom Fire Hall and asked 300 hunters to raise their hands if they supported Sunday hunting. Only about nine raised their hands.

Gregory’s constituents include many farmers who open their land to hunters but want some peace on Sundays.

“In my conversations with folks, farmers expressed to me they did not want it. They told me they we just want that day for their farms. Farmers don’t get a day off. They have to work seven days a week. But to have one day where they don’t have to worry about folks who want to come on their land and hunt is a day when they can relax even if they still have to work,” Gregory said.

Many hunters who are not farmers were also against it, Gregory said.

“The older generation of hunters is against it. The younger seems to be for it,” he said.

Despite growing opportunities to hunt, a neurological disease — chronic wasting disease or CWD — spreading through wild deer herds across the country has caused many hunters to re-evaluate their commitment to the sport, according to a Penn State food safety specialist.

The disease is especially growing in Blair and Bedford counties according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, which has designated the region as a Disease Management Area.

Martin Bucknavage, Penn State senior extension associate in food science, issued a statement encouraging hunters not to let the disease hold them back from keeping tradition.

Bucknavage said he understands their concerns about the disease, which is always fatal to deer and elk but has not infected humans. However, he suggests there is a lot of confusion about the food-safety threat the disease poses.

“To date, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, no chronic wasting disease infections have been reported in people,” Bucknavage said. “But if your animal tests positive for CWD, do not eat meat from that animal.”

The CDC recommends that people do not eat meat from animals that test positive for CWD.

“People can continue to enjoy deer hunting and be safe if they follow guidelines set by the Pennsylvania Game Commission,” a statement from Bucknavage read. “And, if they take a deer inside disease management areas in the state, they should have it tested for the disease before consuming venison.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.


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