deer hunter

A deer hunter sits on stand as the sun rises over a Pennsylvania woodlot.

Pennsylvania’s first deer hunting season for the majority of the state opens Saturday, kicking off a year of new opportunities in the Keystone State.

The general archery deer season opens Oct. 3 in most of Pennsylvania. It opened Sept. 19 in Wildlife Management Units 2B, 5C and 5D.

I always look at the first hunt of the year as a time to knock the rust off. To get my deer hunting legs back under me, so to speak.

That certainly was the case Sept. 19, when I ventured out for my first hunt of the 2020-21 season in the WMU 5C portion of Chester County.

My first trip in the dark to a new tree stand location included the typical moment of panic when I couldn’t find the next night tack.

One of the straps I carried in to put on my bottom climbing stick was too short to fit around the tree.

I dropped a glove out of the tree stand.

Let’s just say the rust from eight months of off-season was evident.

If Pennsylvania big-game hunting is your passion, you’re going to have plenty of opportunity to feed it this year. Here’s a rundown of what hunters have to look forward to this fall.

Three Sundays

We have to start with the three Sundays that have been added to the hunting calendar for chasing big game, because no one alive has ever experienced that in Pennsylvania.

Sunday hunting is allowed in Pennsylvania for foxes, crows and coyotes, but nothing else.

The state Legislature last year gave the Pennsylvania Game Commission authority to add three Sundays to the 2020-21 hunting season for hunting more traditional game.

They are Nov. 15, when archery deer hunting will be allowed; Nov. 22, when bear hunting will be allowed; and Nov. 29, when firearms deer hunting will be allowed.

So with these Sunday additions, the statewide general bear season will now run four straight days from Saturday through Tuesday. Previously, bear hunters hunted Saturday, took a day off and then hunted Monday through Wednesday.

Also, firearms deer hunters now will have the opportunity to hunt a true “opening weekend.”

The Game Commission last year moved the firearms opener from the Monday after Thanksgiving to the Saturday in between.

With the addition of Sunday, Nov. 29 to the hunting calendar, that deer season opening weekend this fall will allow for hunting on both days.

Extended Archery Deer Hunting

Besides the Sunday that was added during the fall archery deer season, the Game Commission also extended that season by a week for 2020-21 across most of Pennsylvania.

For many years, the fall archery deer season lasted six weeks, from late September or early October until mid November.

This year, that normal schedule would have meant an end to fall bowhunting on Nov. 14. Instead, the season will run through Nov. 20.

That’s an incredible bonus for archery deer hunters, who have complained about having to quit hunting in the best part of the fall rut, which typically causes the best daytime deer activity.

Extended Archery Bear Hunting

It wasn’t too long ago that all bear hunting in Pennsylvania was confined to three days, when firearms and archery gear could be used.

A short archery-only season was added in recent years, and for this year, bowhunters will get a solid three weeks to hunt bears, from Oct. 17-Nov. 7.

They will share the woods the first week with muzzleloading bear hunters, but they’ll then have two weeks when only bowhunters will be out.

Those two weeks, in fact, overlap with two great weeks of archery deer hunting, meaning bowhunters in bear country will have the opportunity to take either animal while hunting – assuming they have the proper tags.

Bowhunters Carrying Muzzleloaders

The Pennsylvania Game Commission fixed a quirk in the law for this year that will allow archery deer and bear hunters to also carry muzzleloaders the week of Oct. 17-24, when the archery deer/bear seasons overlap with the muzzleloading deer/bear seasons.

If you have the muzzleloader, you’ll have to adhere to the fluorescent orange requirements, which call for a minimum of 250 square inches of orange on the head, chest and back combined.