First day of rifle season

Hunters walk out of the woods at State Game Lands 156 in Lititz on the first day of rifle season, Saturday, November 30, 2019.

If we’re going to remember something about the 2020-21 hunting season in Pennsylvania – outside the pandemic – it has to be the addition of three Sundays to the hunting calendar.

On Sunday, Nov. 15, bowhunters were allowed to chase deer.

On Sunday, Nov. 22, hunters were allowed to chase bears.

And on Sunday, Nov. 29, firearms hunters were allowed to chase deer.

No one alive legally did any of those things on Sunday in Pennsylvania before this season.

It took approval from the state Legislature to open those Sundays to hunting of those species, since the only Sunday hunting allowed by state law in Pennsylvania is for foxes, crows and coyotes.

Most other states in the country treat Sunday like any other day of the week when it comes to hunting.

Pennsylvania is one of the last holdouts, and it certainly is the most high-profile state that restricts it.

After decades of lobbying efforts, the Legislature last year agreed to essentially crack the door to Sunday hunting.

The three Sundays of deer and bear hunting are seen by many as a test ahead of the expected push for full inclusion of Sunday hunting here.

The powerful Pennsylvania Farm Bureau historically has opposed it, and hiking, biking and equestrian groups in recent years have voiced their opposition as well.

Hunters themselves are not unified on the issue.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked readers to offer their views on Sunday hunting after the Nov. 29 Sunday hunt.

While the responses I received via email were mixed, the majority of them were from hunters who were – and remain – opposed to Sunday hunting.

That’s the sampling of responses I received. There’s no question there were plenty of internet chat forums and social media discussions where Sunday hunting was viewed more favorably.

“Well, you will not see me hunting on Sunday, as I respect it as a day to worship God,” Joe Carr wrote. “I hunt public lands, so I have seen a number of hikers in the woods during archery season and rifle season. Sundays seem to be a day where nonhunters are in the woods, though I also see them on Saturdays.”

Elaine Esch sent in her thoughts on Sunday hunting, while identifying herself as a nonhunter.

“I do not hunt, but I grew up in a hunting family,” she wrote. “For myself as a hiker and outdoor lover, I was very put off by having hunting allowed on Sundays…Sunday hunting is a major disappointment for me.”

Todd Dennis made the most of his Sunday hunt Nov. 29.

“I’ve wanted to hunt Sundays forever,” he wrote. “I finally did and got a decent, medium-size eight point…Wish we could hunt every Sunday.”

Mark Zakoski wrote that he’s essentially neutral on Sunday hunting, but he objects to adding days to any of the Pennsylvania deer seasons.

“Although I’m not a fan of Sunday hunting, I’m not upset about it either,” he wrote. “What concerns me is all the extra days to harvest deer, and how that will affect the overall herd.

“Personally, I think the (state Game Commission) wants the herd reduced due to (chronic wasting disease), so the bigger the harvest the better. Even if it decimates the herd, but that’s another story.”

Greg Sollenberger identified himself as a lifelong Pennsylvania hunter.

“So this Sunday hunting was definitely a first for me,” he said. “The spot my teenage boys and I chose to hunt this year is the same spot we’ve hunted for the past five years. It is public land close to the river. Typically we see maybe one other hunter….This year, there were hunters everywhere both Saturday and Sunday.

“Now as far as deer go, we did not see a single one, and we were in the woods most of both days…I was glad to be able to spend time in the woods with my teenage sons, but certainly a little disappointed with the way things turned out this year.”

Dick McKinn noted in his email that when the Game Commission asked hunters in 2019 to give the agency their thoughts about moving the firearms deer season opener from the Monday after Thanksgiving to the Saturday in between, the overwhelming response was, “Don’t do it.”

He criticized the agency for ignoring hunters in making that change, and said it did the same by adding Sunday hunting.

“I have hunted in Potter County for 56 years straight,” McKinn wrote, adding that his camp has 53 members. “There were only four (camp members) who hunted Sunday. The Game Commission doesn’t listen to their customers.

“Saturday or Sunday hunting is not good. I have always taken a week vacation to hunt. If you want to hunt, you will find a way….I have talked to (game) wardens and they tell me not many hunters they talk with are in favor of Saturday and Sunday hunting.

“There is more to hunting camp than the harvest.”

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