First day of rifle season

Kenneth Shee, 76, of Lititz, walks out of the woods at State Game Lands 156 on the first day of rifle season, Saturday, November 30, 2019.

Two weeks ago, I asked deer hunters to let me know how they feel about the current state of Pennsylvania deer hunting.

I had been wondering if there are any hunters who feel good about the sport here, given the plethora of negativity prevalent across social media.

Thankfully, there are. We’ll get to the reader comments in a minute.

Let us know: What's the state of Pennsylvania's deer hunting?

But first, the state Game Commission last week released its agenda for the agency’s board of directors’ meeting scheduled for Friday and Saturday.

In the deer-hunting realm, the agency is proposing to return to two full weeks of concurrent buck and doe hunting during firearms season; to keep the Saturday start to firearms season; and to add Sunday hunting for deer during archery season on Nov. 15, and during firearms season on Nov. 29, which is the day after the Saturday opener.

Other proposals would allow hunters to shoot multiple deer — provided they have the appropriate tags — before requiring them to tag any of them; to increase the number of Deer Management Assistance Program tags a single hunter can receive for an individual unit from two to four, except in special areas to be designated by the Game Commission; and to allow mentored youths age 7 and older and mentored adults to apply for and use their own deer tags.

So, there are quite a few proposed changes for hunters to digest before the meeting.

'Deer camp will not be the same:' Local hunters react to Saturday opener

Getting back to the reader comments, I especially asked to hear from hunters who are satisfied with Pennsylvania’s deer hunting.

In my scouring of social media during this most recent deer season, such viewpoints seemed to be in short supply.

“I’m in my mid-30s and relatively new to hunting,” wrote George Philippopoulos. “As a professional with a career, I have limited time in the field and really have to plan, so I like the changes the Game Commission is making — especially about opening Sundays, allowing doe the first week of rifle and moving the rifle opener to a Saturday.

“These changes make hunting more accessible to people with schedules and commitments.”

Jason Miller started hunting several years ago under the Game Commission’s mentored youth program, which is when he shot his first buck.

“It was awesome!” he wrote. “Hunting was great before that, and even better afterwards. But it didn’t take me long to realize that the thing I loved about hunting was friends, family and outdoors. Kills are a bonus, a privilege, a blessing.”

Kent Williams said he has been hunting in Pennsylvania for more than 50 years, so he recalls the days when camps were full and hunters could see 30 or 40 deer in a single day.

Attention deer hunters: Send us your opening-day impressions

“I feel most of the negative comments (about deer hunting) come from hunters in my age group, who want the good old days to return,” he wrote. “Sorry to say, that is not going to happen.”

Williams said he supports moving the firearms opener to Saturday, the switch back to two full weeks of buck and doe hunting and the addition of Sunday deer hunting.

“As an older hunter, we all know that to keep the tradition alive, we must make changes to entice the youth to continue interest in this sport.” he said. “Times are a changing, and we need changes to keep interest in hunting alive.”

Paul Anderson, of Elizabethtown, regularly hunts here in Pennsylvania and out west.

“PA offers great opportunities for hunters at a reasonable cost,” he wrote. “I can find deer almost in all areas that I hunt, but I do have to be willing to move around.

“I also appreciate that the (Game) Commission has been willing to try different strategies in an attempt to bring more people into hunting, however, I don’t believe it will have a lasting effect on the numbers.

“I will continue to hunt deer in PA for as long as I can, no matter what policies the commission puts in place.”

I could go on. Dozens of readers sent in comments, and there was a healthy dose of positivity.

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that negative comments outnumbered the positive.

History will be made Saturday in Pennsylvania when the firearms deer season opens

And a common theme of the negative comments is a belief by some hunters that the Game Commission ignores them.

When it comes to the science of game management, I understand the agency’s biologists are going to follow their training. Not many of us hunters have access to the research, statistics and data the biologists employ.

But when it comes to social issues — like when to start the firearms deer season — what’s the cost of going against the masses?

The agency’s commissioners last year said they wanted to experiment with moving the opening day of gun deer season from Monday to the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

They asked hunters for their thoughts, and by all reports, a solid majority said, “No thanks.”

The commissioners voted in favor of the change anyway and plan to continue with the Saturday opener for next season.

I understand the commissioners think the change ultimately will be beneficial for hunter retention and for attracting new hunters, but it also can change the mindset of hunters like David Sinopoli, of East Hempfield Township.

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“I was not, and still am not, a fan of the change of opening day of the firearms season to Saturday,” he wrote.

“I have always thought the PA Game Commission did an excellent job, but with this change, I feel they didn’t listen to the hunters.”

Former commissioner James Daley, of Butler County, quit his position on the board last year because he heard hunters opposing the Saturday opener and he couldn’t stand with a board that was planning to go against the wishes of that majority voice.

“When people won’t look at the data in front of them and come up with a logical decision, I don’t want to be a part of it,” Daley told the Erie Times last April.

For an agency that’s badly in need of a license fee increase, but can’t get hunter support for it in the Legislature, and which is proposing a radical chronic wasting disease attack plan that counts on hunter assistance to drastically reduce wild deer numbers in targeted areas, what’s the cost of asking your customers for their opinions and then acting counter to the majority voice?

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