goose hunting

Goose hunters take aim at a flock of Canadas.

Pennsylvania’s 2019-20 hunting season unofficially opens Monday, when doves and Canada geese become legal game.

The new hunting year actually began July 1, but the dove-goose opener traditionally is viewed as the start to the new hunting season.

Usually, there aren’t many major changes in Pennsylvania hunting from one season to the next. But this year is different.

This is one of those landmark years, like when the buck and doe seasons were combined, or when the archery deer season was extended beyond Oct. 31, or when the first modern elk season was held.

Some big changes are in store for Pennsylvania hunters this fall. Here’s a rundown of the biggest.

Saturday deer opener

For the first time in more than 50 years, Pennsylvania’s firearms deer season will NOT open on the Monday after Thanksgiving.

It’s scheduled to open on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, which is Nov. 30.

This was a controversial change made by the Pennsylvania Game Commission, since there were hunters firmly planted on both sides of the issue.

There are those who held the Monday opener as a time-honored tradition that was worth keeping.

And there are those who wanted a Saturday opener to avoid conflicts with work, school and other obligations that prevented them from heading out on Monday.

That debate is moot now.

Pennsylvania’s “Orange Army” will head out for the first day of deer season on a Saturday this fall.

Sunday hunting

Will Pennsylvania hunters be chasing deer on a Sunday this fall?

The answer to that question still hangs in the balance, but it looks like there’s a small window of opportunity for it to happen.

Sunday hunting in Pennsylvania is currently banned by state law, except for the hunting of foxes, crows and coyotes.

The state Senate in June approved a bill that would expand Pennsylvania’s Sunday hunting opportunities to include three special Sundays – one in rifle deer season, one in archery deer season, and one to be determined by the state Game Commission.

That bill is now in the hands of the state House of Representatives, and could come up for a vote when the House returns to session Sept. 17.

If the current bill is approved without any amendments, fairly quickly after the House session resumes, it is possible for Gov. Tom Wolf to sign it in time for the three Sundays to be added to this fall’s list of hunting dates.

But the window of time for all that to happen within is very small, so I don’t know if I’d hold my breath counting on expanded Sunday hunting here this year.

Bear season

Pennsylvania’s 2018 bear kill was the lowest it’s been in the last 11 seasons. Weather likely played a role in the taking of only 3,153 bruins last year, but the Game Commission seems intent on not letting that be a factor again.

This fall features a new opportunity for fall muzzleloader and firearms deer hunters. During the entire muzzleloading, antlerless deer season from Oct. 19-26, bears also will be legal game to those muzzleloading hunters statewide.

Then, bears also will be legal game statewide to juniors and seniors, when the fall antlerless firearms deer season runs Oct. 24-26.

Additionally, where archery deer hunters last year were given one week to also hunt bears, that time has been expanded this year to two weeks.

Both bears and deer will be legal game for archery hunters statewide from Oct. 28-Nov. 9.

In yet another expansion, the extended bear seasons in those Wildlife Management Units where bears are legal game during part of the firearms deer season have been lengthened from four days to seven.

This fall will bring the most opportunity for bear hunting that Pennsylvania has ever offered.

No orange for fall archers, turkey hunters

Hunters are allowed and are encouraged to wear fluorescent orange clothing whenever it’s not required by law.

And for the first time this fall, turkey hunters and archery deer hunters will not be required to wear orange clothing.

As an avid bowhunter, I’m a big fan of this rule change. I hate wearing orange.

I hunt a lot of suburban country where I’m sitting in tree stands among a lot of nonhunters. I don’t like alarming them with my blaze orange vest.

If I were hunting an area where there were others out hunting with firearms, I would wear orange even if the law doesn’t require it.

But since there are no gun hunters where I’m bowhunting, I like having the option to hunt invisibly in peace and quiet.

Waterfowl limits

Two negative changes were made this year that affect local waterfowl hunters.

The daily bag limit for mallards was cut from four birds to two. Only one of the two birds can be a hen, or both can be drakes.

And the daily bag limit for Canada geese in the Atlantic Population Zone was reduced from three birds to two.

The Atlantic zone covers all of Lancaster County, except for the area north of Route 30 and west of Route 441.

These limit changes were made by biologists in response to decreases in population numbers for both the Canada geese that migrate down the Atlantic Flyway and for mallards in the northeast U.S.

Leashed tracking dogs

It’s now in the rule book that hunters can use leashed tracking dogs to recover deer, bears and elk that have been shot.

It was actually legal to use these leashed dogs last season, since the bill allowing them was signed into law early last fall.

But that rule change was approved after the Game Commission’s hunting rules digest was printed, and so it didn’t appear in the book.

This year, the rule is officially in the book.