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Saturday hunts change Thanksgiving

Pennsylvania’s firearm deer season is underway, though with a significant change from recent decades.

Hunters took to the woods the Saturday after Thanksgiving rather than Monday, for the first time since 1963.

The change was implemented to increase the number of hunters enjoying the season, according to Pennsylvania Game Commission officials after the decision was made this past spring. Saturday offers fewer work and school conflicts, so logically, an extra Saturday means more hunters, and more successful hunts.

It also means re-arranging the holiday weekend. For many, Saturday and even Sunday after Thanksgiving is spent sighting in guns, preparing tree stands and getting hunting clothing out of storage. It may even mean moving into camp in preparation for opening day.

This year, those important tasks were crunched into hours between turkey dinners and first light on Saturday morning. It may have meant altering family meals and other traditions like choosing a tree, decking the halls, or starting holiday shopping.

And for football fans, it meant choosing between a day looking for deer or an afternoon of watching Nittany Lions or Panthers.

Businesses dealt with the change as well. Some retailers had to rethink the timing of lonely deer sales. (Not necessarily a bad thing with the season opener falling on Shop Small Saturday). Tree farms were considering safety factors for those who cut-their-own on hillsides adjacent to hunting grounds, but lodging and camping properties, restaurants, and others who cater to hunters must appreciate the extra Saturday of patronage.

Doing some unscientific research around dinner tables and on the streets, hunters had mixed reaction to the change. Some simply didn’t like disrupting the tradition. Many hunters don’t remember a time when Monday wasn’t the start of the season. Only those over 69 years old were legal to hunt in 1962, the year before the season was set to start on Thanksgiving Monday.

But others appreciated the “bonus” day, when they didn’t have to burn a vacation day to enjoy one of their favorite pastimes. A third Saturday of deer season was a gift to them.

For those who preferred Monday’s opener, some said they “had” to go out on Saturday because the more hunters that are in the woods to move the deer around, the better their chances.

Others liked the break between Saturday and Monday hunts to enjoy Thanksgiving leftovers, and recharge for their second day in the woods.

This year was a test-run.

The Game Commission will consider hunters’ input as they consider whether to keep the Saturday opener for 2020 and beyond. And time will tell if the harvest was significantly impacted by the early start.

Making Saturday’s opener permanent would mean making new traditions. But if it also makes new hunters in a time when the average hunter’s age is getting larger and the number of hunters smaller, it may be worth adapting to change.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at kellie@bedfordcountychamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.

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