The first day of buck season, a cherished but unofficial holiday in Pennsylvania, might move to the Saturday after Thanksgiving from the traditional start — Monday following Thanksgiving.
Opening on Saturday fits better with the schedules of younger hunters who work or attend school on Mondays, according to a proposal for which all eight commissioners of Pennsylvania’s Game Commission voted Tuesday.
The proposal becomes official if commissioners give final approval April 9.
This year, the regular firearms season would run from Nov. 30, a Saturday, through Dec. 6 when hunters could only harvest deer with antlers.
Between Dec. 7 and Dec. 14 hunters could take deer with or without antlers.
The new schedule provides three Saturdays for deer hunting, compared with two traditionally.
Hunting remains banned on Sundays, although some hunters suggested that state lawmakers might now consider allowing hunting on the two Sundays of deer season.
For hunters of any age, anticipation about deer season builds after Thanksgiving. They have a long weekend to check gear, travel to gamelands or swap stories at camp while waiting for the first day, when many schools observe a holiday.
Older hunters regret saying goodbye to the time-honored starting date even if they recognize why the commissioners want to change the season.
“I have mixed feelings about it … I’ve been hunting since I was 12, over 60 years, so I’m used to starting the Monday after Thanksgiving. It was always a tradition,” said Joseph Cortese of Butler Twp. “I could understand why they are looking to do this, possibly to get more hunters and more children hunting. A lot of people cannot get off from work, so Saturday would be great for them to take their children out.”
Wayne Potts, who has bagged a trifecta of Pennsylvania’s big game — a deer, a bear and a turkey — in the same year, favors giving people who can’t take Monday off from work or school a chance to hunt on opening day.
“I’m all for that,” he said.
But Potts also foresees a loss when hunters no longer have time to set up camps on Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving, days when youngsters learn the craft and lore of pursuing deer.
“For the younger generation to hear the older talk about it, I don’t think the opportunity is going to be there,” he said.
Stanley Sypeck of Sugarloaf Twp. approves of the change, which lets other parents teach their children to hunt like he did.
“A lot of kids can’t hunt on the first Monday — one of my sons, especially, because he is in college. This year, he missed the first day,” Sypeck said.
He expects more hunters will turn out if the season opens on Saturday, which will lead to more deer harvests, a result that he thinks is favored by the commissioners and automobile insurance companies that want to limit claims from deer strikes.
Chip Sorber, who runs events for a chapter of Quality Deer Management Association from his family’s cabin in Noxen, thinks the commissioners can regulate the herd even if the opening-day harvest rises.
“Maybe shorten the archery season or some of the muzzleloader (season.) They have ways to do that,” Sorber said.
While the proposal doesn’t change early deer seasons for archery and muzzleloader hunters, commissioners trimmed two days from fall turkey hunting to avoid overlap with the new deer season.
Commissioners also want to move the archery bear season from November to Oct. 19 to 26, when farmers are more likely to complain of bear damage, launch a statewide muzzleloader season for bear during the same week and stretch the extra bear season to six days between Nov. 30 and Dec. 7, an increase from four days last year.
Opening deer season on Saturday, said Mark Ferdinand of Butler Twp., could draw people to hunting, a sport in which participation has declined.
“The interest should be from the youth and others who could mentor somebody to get them out there for the first time,” Ferdinand said.
The commissioners also want to open mentored hunting to people 12 to 17, an age bracket currently too old to participate in the mentored youth program and too young for the mentored adult program.
In 2007, more than 924,000 people purchased hunting licenses in Pennsylvania, but a decade later the tally dropped below 886,000.
As deer hunting declines, so does revenue from a tax on guns and ammunition that the federal government divides among states for conservation.
“That’s a real issue for environmentalists in general, not just hunters: anyone who enjoys the outdoors — mountain bikers, hikers, this time of year people out cross country skiing and snowshoeing,” said Francis Antonelli of Hazleton. “I’ve always said hunters were the first conservationists.”
As a long-time hunter, Antonelli supports starting deer season on Saturday.
A school administrator who retired as Hazleton Area’s superintendent, Antonelli thinks if the game commissioners change their calendar, schools can abolish a holiday for buck season, and end classes a day earlier.
Winter weather, Antonelli said Tuesday as a polar storm approached, already cancels classes and pushes the school year later into June when interest wanes.
“State tests are over, kids are thinking ahead to summer,” he said. “It poses a challenge to keep those kids focused in June.”