Today marks the start of one of the biggest weekends Pennsylvania outdoorsmen have had in a long time.
For the first time in the history of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, deer hunters will open the rifle season with a Saturday-Sunday opening weekend. Like everything, it will be different in 2020. Many are skipping annual trips to the hunting cabins to avoid gatherings amid a global pandemic.
One thing that remains the same: Be safe out there.
The hunters who take to the field are coming off one of the largest harvests in recent memory. The Game Commission (PGC) reports it sold 855,486 licenses in 2018 and another 860,743 last year. Preliminary returns show an increase this year, in part because some people who haven’t traditionally been hunters in the past have taken it up this year because it is an easy social distance activity. According to the PGC, 746,202 licenses were sold as of Nov. 17. By the same date in 2019, 711,224 had been purchased.
“The size and quality of bucks running in Penn’s Woods right now, probably hasn’t been duplicated in the commonwealth in over 150 years,” said Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “The number of record-book bucks being taken is incredible. If you haven’t hunted whitetails in some time, now’s the time to get back into it. You won’t believe what’s running around in Penn’s Woods.”
The additional days in the field are also a luxury. For years, hunters asked for additional days to hunt, including Sundays. The rifle deer season, for decades, began the Monday after Thanksgiving. Last year it opened the Saturday after the holiday. This year, one of the limited Sunday hunt days was added to the first weekend.
That should help hunters in the field. There were 389,431 deer harvested last year, a four percent increase and the highest in 15 years. “Pennsylvania’s firearms season historically has drawn the biggest crowds of all hunting seasons and consequently has been the state’s principal deer-management tool for more than a century,” the PGC said.
As has become a new custom in Pennsylvania, hunters can continue to help people across the state by participating in the Hunters Sharing the Harvest program. Since 1991, the venison donation program allows hunters to share their extra venison through a statewide network of participating butchers to food pantries and community assistance centers across Pennsylvania. The program has distributed 1.5 million pounds of donated venison since its inception in 1991. For each deer donated, 200 meals can be created.
Traditions may have to be temporarily altered in 2020, but that doesn’t mean hunters cannot enjoy a successful and safe season.
NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.