Rifle deer season may start on a Saturday

Ben Destefan

Firearms deer season in Pennsylvania is one step closer to starting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners gave preliminary approval to proposed hunting seasons for the 2019-20 license year. Moving opening day of rifle season to the Saturday after Thanksgiving rather than the traditional Monday start date was included in the proposals.

Although successfully passing Tuesday's vote, the motion to open rifle season on Saturday, Nov. 30, of this year will not be made official until the board's next quarterly meeting in April.

Under the preliminary proposal, the season will run from Nov. 30 to Dec. 14, expanding to three Saturdays.

A six-day, antlered-only season is scheduled for Nov. 30 through Dec. 6 in 20 Wildlife Management Units (WMUs), with a seven-day, concurrent season of antlered and antlerless hunting set for Dec. 7 through Dec. 14. This remains in line with recent stipulations, just with the added Saturday opener.

Sunday hunting is still prohibited.

"It's about providing more opportunity to participate," said Travis Lau, communications director for the Pennsylvania Game Commission earlier this month. "We hear from a lot of hunters that they can't participate on opening day due to work obligations, but they would be able to participate on Saturday. The same goes for students. While a lot of schools still have off the Monday after Thanksgiving, it's no longer across the board."

Also on Tuesday, the board retained the antler restrictions that have been in place for adult and senior license holders since the 2011-12 season. It remains "three-up" on one side, not counting a brow tine, for five WMUs in the western part of the state, and three points on one side in all other WMUs.

Other matters of interest from the meeting included:

— Commissioners gave preliminary approval to simplify requirements for wearing fluorescent orange clothing during specific seasons. The proposal would eliminate the requirement to wear fluorescent orange at any time while archery hunting for deer or bear. The proposal also would eliminate the requirement for fall turkey hunters to wear fluorescent orange material. All other seasons would continue with their existing fluorescent orange requirements, including firearms deer season.

— Commissioners are going to consider a proposal to allow semiautomatic rifles for big-game hunting, beginning this license year. Semiautomatic shotguns were permitted for big-game hunting last season, and semiautomatic rifles have been permitted for hunting small game and furbearers. Like the potential move to a Saturday opener, this proposal is meant to expand opportunities for a changing demographic of license buyers. A preliminary vote on this motion may be held at the April meeting, meaning it could be made official in July.

— Commissioners gave final approval to bridge a gap between the mentored youth and mentored adult hunting programs. The mentored hunting programs are designed to increase hunter recruitment by providing an opportunity to experience hunting without the requirement to obtain a license. With the change, youth up to 16 years of age can participate in the mentored youth program, and those 17 and older can participate in the mentored adult program. Under the previous framework, there was no opportunity for those 12 to 17 to participate in a mentored program.

The next Board of Game Commissioners meeting is scheduled for April 8 and April 9 at the Harrisburg headquarters.