Pennsylvania Game Commission still evaluating effects of change to opening day of buck season
Pennsylvania's most significant recent hunting developments have been all about weekends.
How do the commonwealth's hunters and other residents feel about hunting on Saturday and Sunday? It's a question that Pennsylvania Game Commission officials and state legislators dealt with throughout 2019.
Eventually, the PGC voted to open deer firearms season on a Saturday, ending a 55-year tradition of Monday opening days.
Later in the year, state legislators passed a bill that allows for hunting on three Sundays beginning in 2020, and Gov. Tom Wolf signed the bill into law. That broke another long tradition of Sunday being off limits for Pennsylvania's big-game hunters.
The first Saturday opener took place Nov. 30. As a Pennsylvania hunter for almost 40 years, I was initially skeptical. After the first year, though, I'm a cautious supporter.
Admittedly, I have a self-interest in the change because I shot a nine-point buck on the morning of the opening Saturday.
My initial skepticism was based on breaking more than 50 years of tradition. My hunting camp had a number of weekend rituals before each Monday opener. Plus, we had out-of-state hunters who had to travel long distances to camp.
However, we adjusted our camp schedule and didn't experience too much disruption.
Travis Lau, the Pennsylvania Game Commission's press secretary, said that early feedback from hunters about the Saturday opener varied from region to region.
He said PGC regional offices that received negative feedback were often in places where hunters had to travel to camps.
Some regions reported more hunters in the woods, and others reported less hunting pressure.
The PGC's original motivation behind the change to a Saturday opener was the hope that it would lure younger hunters and stop the decades-long exodus of licensed hunters.
Lau said the license sales through December were down 0.4 percent from the previous year, and even though that was a drop, it was a smaller drop than recent years.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission will meet Jan. 25 in Harrisburg, where it will listen to more comments from the public. In March, the PGC's deer harvest report will be ready for analysis to measure how the Saturday change might have affected the deer kill and key demographics, including younger hunters.
As it awaits the findings, the Game Commission has scheduled a 2020 Saturday opener on the draft agenda for the January meeting. Although it's a preliminary schedule, that's an early sign that Saturday openers might continue.
The PGC also has tentatively scheduled Sunday hunting for three consecutive weekends in late November to include deer archery season, bear season and buck season.
One year from now, the PGC is sure to be doing a second evaluation to see if hunters supported Sunday hunting.
Erie Times-News staff writers share their views from behind the scenes, stories and bylines. Jeff Kirik can be reached at 870-1679. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.