Shawn Arters

Shawn Arters of Lancaster County, seen here with a bow-killed Pennsylvania buck, is starting Pennsylvania’s first statewide big-buck contest.

A Lancaster County hunter has launched Pennsylvania’s first statewide big-buck contest.

Shawn Arters, an avid deer and game bird hunter who grew up on a small farm in Martic Township, says he doesn’t want to make hunting a competition. Rather, he sees the contest as an opportunity to “celebrate the joy, excitement and camaraderie in the sport of hunting. Our goal is to encourage healthy competition and sportsmanship while providing the opportunity to gain bragging rights, share stories and win prizes. This is one more way to fuel your passion.”

Arters, 51, a medical device salesman, also wants to show off his state.

“I want to promote Pennsylvania as being this really cool place to hunt,” he says. “We do have big bucks here.”

There are many localized big-buck contests in sporting goods stores around the state each deer-hunting season. But Arters wants the Pennsylvania Whitetail Open to be the first annual statewide competition with big cash and door prizes that would give some lucky hunters bragging rights.

This year’s initial contest offers at least $25,000 in prize money for bucks taken during the regular gun season that runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 14. For a $30 entry fee, hunters have a chance at the top $10,000 prize for the buck whose antlers are measured with the highest score. The basic entry fee also includes a chance to win 10 door prizes — nine guns and an all-terrain vehicle.

Hunters also can enter, for $5 each, six other categories: second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-highest antler scores, longest combined beam measurement and most overall points measured. Cash prizes for these categories range from $2,000 to $4,000.

Arters says archery season will be added to the mix next year, and possibly muzzleloader season. For legal reasons, hunters must be at least 18 to enter, though Arters hopes to eventually add younger hunters to the contest.

For the contest to be a go, a minimum of 1,000 hunters will have to enter. If there are less than that, all money submitted by hunters will be refunded. The door prizes are based on a minimum of 2,000 entries.

Arters and his partner in the venture, son Alex, 23, already have invested money for an attractive website, logo, advertising and to check all the legal boxes in running such a contest.

The local hunter got the idea from well-organized tournaments popular in fishing circles, particularly the White Marlin Open, the annual billfish tournament in Ocean City, Maryland, that this year attracted 3,500 contestants and paid out $6.1 million in cash winnings.

Eventually, Arters would like to add neighboring Maryland and Ohio to make it a tri-state big-buck contest.

He began hunting at age 12, chasing small game and deer around the farm and with his uncles at a hunting cabin in Potter County. Like many hunters, over time he became fixated on deer, hunting them with both a gun and bow and arrow, mainly at a hunt camp with 90 acres in Somerset County.

Though he now lets smaller bucks go in hopes of larger bucks, Arters says his passion is much more than large antlers.

“It’s a beautiful time of year,” he says. “I just love the mornings with the woods waking up. I enjoy the process of scouting, hanging stands, the exercise. I love that excitement of that crunch, crunch, crunch coming through the woods. The next thing could be that monster.

“And it’s the time I spend with friends.”

Of the tournament, he says, “My vision is that it’s going to take some time. But if people are hunting anyway, why not spend 30 to 40 bucks on this tournament. It could be a life-changing experience for you. I’m hoping it’s more incentive for that guy sitting on the couch to get him out in the woods.”

Winners and their big bucks will be shown on the website. To enter or learn more about the Pennsylvania Whitetail Open, go online to pawhitetailopen.com or email whitetailopen@gmail.com or call 717-323-5550.

Ad Crable is an LNP outdoors writer. Email him at acrable@lnpnews.com.