Pennsylvania deer hunter Richard Williams didn’t mince words stating how he feels about moving the firearms deer season opener from the Monday after Thanksgiving to the Saturday in between, back in 2019.
“I hate the Saturday opener,” Williams wrote in an email. “It has ruined my tradition of deer camp….
“I hate the Saturday opener because it makes Thanksgiving less enjoyable…
“I hate the Saturday opener because now I have to hunt alone and have no one to share experiences with or nobody to ask for help if I get one.”
Williams was one of 170 hunters to reply to my call two weeks ago for opinions on moving the Pennsylvania deer season opener, now that we’ve all had three years to experience it.
This was a voluntary survey that anyone was free to answer.
I understand that human nature primarily prompts those with negative views of a situation to respond to such surveys.
But I also know it’s unfair to simply dismiss these people because they have a negative view and chose to reach out.
They are real hunters with real opinions.
They buy the same hunting licenses I buy.
Of the 170 hunters I heard from, 128 joined Williams in expressing opposition to moving opening day off the Monday after Thanksgiving.
Another 38 hunters said they like the new Saturday opener, while four respondents were neutral.
When the state Game Commission in 2019 floated the idea of moving the opener, they heard from a lot of hunters. Most opposed the move.
Other hunters said they thought opening the season on Saturday would give more opportunity for students, people with busy work schedules and the like to hunt.
The Board of Game Commissioners latched on to the latter opinions in hopes of boosting hunting license sales.
There’s no doubt we have seen an increase in such sales, where there was steady decline before 2019.
From 2013-2018, general hunting license sales dropped every year from 946,989 in 2013 to 855,486 in 2018.
In 2019 – the first year with the Saturday opener – sales ticked up to 860,743. They soared to 887,221 in 2020, but that was the pandemic year, when any outdoors-related activity saw participation explode.
Game Commission officials view 2020 more as an anomaly than part of the trend.
Sales so far this year are lagging behind 2020, but they are ahead of 2019.
Is the positive trend due to the Saturday deer opener?
Adam Driscoll loves the weekend opener, which has included Sunday hunting for the past two years.
“I hope it never goes back to Monday,” Driscoll wrote. “It gave me two additional days to hunt without taking extra time off.
“My boy, who doesn’t get vacation…got to hunt two days this year.”
Chad Germer said the new opener is perfect for people with busy jobs.
“I’ll take a Saturday opener and Sunday hunting for those of us who work five days a week,” he said.
Among the hunters who responded to my call for opinions, the overwhelming majority of those opposed to the Saturday opener were over 50 and hunted from mountain camps.
And those hunters are adamant that the Saturday start has tarnished the once-hallowed tradition of preseason deer camp.
“I am a camp owner in western Clinton County,” wrote Pete Kingsley. “I and most camp owners hate the Saturday opener.
“Drive 200 miles or so Thanksgiving p.m. or Friday a.m. to get the cold camp ready for a dozen or so hunters, do a little fellowship, etc.
“Time to go to bed to get to your hunting spot early the next morning. We all miss the camp fellowship on Saturday and Sunday we used to do for the past 50 years.”
Harrison Myer is an older, mountain-camp hunter who said he was “excited for the new opportunity” of a Saturday opener in 2019.
“Now after the third year, our hunting camp seems to have dissolved as some only hunt a day…and those same experiences of spending time together with good conversations is gone,” he wrote.
“Myself and the rest of the camp miss the old tradition.”
Zach Shaner sees the same loss.
“Everyone got there Friday or Saturday – you got a chance to catch up with guys you might not have seen since last deer camp,” he wrote.
“Got to cut some wood, do a little maintenance, shoot your gun in, maybe drink some beers. All that is gone now…
“The weekend opener is the final nail in the coffin of one of the greatest hunting traditions Pennsylvania ever had…”
While many hunters who replied they favor the Saturday opener said they see it providing more opportunity for kids, hunters like Steve Siegrist see the change as a loss for those same kids.
“Rush, rush rush,” he wrote.
“What used to be a relaxing time with family and friends is now a big blur…Not sure what our 10-year-old mentored hunter thought. We tried to make sure he didn’t get lost in the rush…
“If it was important to hunt the Monday opener, you saved a day or two of vacation. If you were a student, you did well in school so you were allowed to take a day or two off.
“But we live in a Burger King society. We want it our way. And with that, we lose a lot.”