Saturday deer opener now in the books

Well, the long-awaited and much-debated Saturday opener of the regular deer season for the first time in generations here in Pennsylvania has come and gone. Generally, the debate about changing the first day spilt into three factions.

The first was those who were more or less ambivalent about the change. Whether the first day comes on a Saturday, Monday or any other day of the week, they will be out there on their favorite stand. I would place myself in that group. Next were those who didn’t like the change.

For some, the Saturday opener conflicted with traditional family events on Thanksgiving weekend, or for those who migrated to a hunting camp for the first day, the earlier start cramped their preparations and traditions. Finally, many working folks or those with school-age kids who found it difficult to take weekdays off favored the opportunity of beginning the season on a weekend.

Regardless of whether you liked, disliked or didn’t care one way or the other about the Saturday opener, we all had to deal with it. I’m wondering what the final assessment about the change will be now that the dust from it has settled and what criteria will be used to judge its merits or lack thereof. When it passed the Saturday opening day back in April, the Game Commission cited increased license sales and better hunter success rates as the primary incentives for the groundbreaking change. Those statistics should be easy to track, and it will be interesting to see if there was any increase in hunter participation or success this year because of the change. And if so, was it enough to warrant the change. If I had to guess, I would surmise it wasn’t but wouldn’t mind being wrong about that.

Personally, the Saturday opener seemed a little strange in terms of my regular post-Thanksgiving routine. All afternoon Friday I had to keep reminding myself that I needed to get all my gear assembled and ready for the next morning. Even when I got up a little before 5 a.m., it still didn’t feel like the first day of deer season to me for some reason. But a short time later I was driving up the logging road to the corner of our property I planned to hunt that morning.

I navigated in the dark to a spot that allowed me to watch a bench that contained several deer trails often used at daybreak. That watch produced no sightings, so a little before 8 a.m. I began still hunting along a logging road that paralleled a frequent bedding area. That, too, drew a blank.

When I arrived at the top of a small hollow on another corner of the property, a deer flushed below me and dashed out the ridge. I decided to settle in at the base of an old oak tree there for a bit.

About 15 minutes later, I spotted a deer walking below me about 50 yards away. The length of its body and its gait suggested a buck. I caught a glimpse of antlers in my scope just as the deer walked behind a bunch of saplings. When it emerged, I had a better look and squeezed off a shot and watched the buck fall and roll.

As I opened the bolt to eject the spent round, I was astonished to see the deer get up and bound off. Sure that I had made a killing shot, however, I walked down and found the five-point lying stone-dead just 50 feet from where I initially dropped it. My first Saturday opener had come to quick and successful end to a quick end by 8:45.

Whether you have tagged a deer so far this season or are still looking for one, remember to file your harvest report. The law requires every hunter who harvests a deer to deer to report it to the Game Commission within 10 days of the kill.

For some reason, that window is just five days for deer taken by mentored hunters or persons required to make a homemade tag. Reporting a deer harvest is quick and simple and can be done three ways: by mail, by calling a tollfree number or online. Postage-paid report cards are included with the Hunting and Trapping Digest that comes with your hunting license. Simply fill out the card and drop in any mailbox. Hunters can also call 855-724-8681 to file a harvest report.

To making up numbers to suit their management goals. file a harvest report online, go to the Game Commission website, PGC.pa.gov and click on the link on the middle of the homepage.

Keep in mind that if you have a DMAP permit for antlerless deer, you are required to file a report whether you take a deer with that permit or not. Failure to do so could result in being denied a DMAP permit next season.

For many years, I’ve listened to hunters doubting or disputing the Game Commission’s annual deer harvest statistics because those numbers are “estimates.” Some contend the Game Commission “cooks the books” or simply making up numbers to suit their management goals.

The real reason the Game Commission must use harvest estimate members is because we hunters have such a dismal track record of submitting harvest reports as required, usually around 38 percent. So if you want to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, send in your harvest report.