Sunday, November 27, 2016

Hunter numbers down on opening day of PA deer season, but it remains busiest day

Bob Frye

There is no question in Jim Daley's mind.
The Cranberry man, who serves as a member of the Pennsylvania Game Commission board, will be in the woods on Monday morning for opening day of the statewide firearms deer season. It's the same way he has spent every Monday after Thanksgiving for decades.
Neither his dad nor grandfather will be there this year; both have passed away. His son will be missing, too, in college in Texas.
So he most likely will be going it alone. But go it he will.
“For a lot of old guys like me, it's in your lifeblood. It's almost inbred,” Daley said.
“You'd sort of have to be on your deathbed not to go.”
That's still the case for the majority of Pennsylvania hunters anyway. The first day of deer season remains the busiest hunting day of the year.
“Every year we just get surges of people coming in getting ready for opening day,” said Zack Prugh of 4K Outdoors, a sporting goods store in Elderton.
That's how things were on Friday for sure. The store was jumping with hunters, he said.
“We're pretty busy right now. They're looking for everything from knives to ammunition to scopes to guns.”
And yet, things aren't what they once were.
At one time, less than a decade ago, opening day put upwards of 750,000 hunters in the woods. This year the commission estimated the opening day crowd will number closer to 550,000.
There are thought to be several reasons for that, not the least of which being there are fewer hunters now than in the past. In 1982, according to the commission, Pennsylvania had an estimated 1.2 million hunters. Now license sales are closer to 900,000.
The growth of archery hunting is a factor, too.
“Participation in the firearms deer season has been trending downward in recent years as the archery deer season has become more popular with hunters, and more deer are taken in the archery season, before the firearms deer season begins,” reads a commission news release.
“Archery license sales have increased annually since 2007. And in the 2015-16 seasons, deer harvested during archery seasons accounted for 31 percent of the overall deer harvest.”
Deer are more widespread than they once were, too, added Game Commissioner Bob Schlemmer of Export. When he was a youngster in Punxsutawney in the 1950s, he said, there were no deer around locally. Hunters — from across Pennsylvania and other nearby states — flocked to the “big woods” where they did exist.
“You could not pull out on Main Street in Emporium on the weekend before deer season, there were so many cars,” Schlemmer said. “If you were on a side street, forget it.
“But that's all changed.”
With longer deer season providing opportunities to chase whitetails throughout fall, and deer spread out to the point that they're sometimes more numerous in the suburbs than elsewhere, and people's work and social schedules different, opening day of the season is different than the “old days.”
“Human dimensions have changed completely,” Schlemmer said.
There still is value in going out from a harvest standpoint, though.
According to commission figures, hunters killed 315,813 deer in the 2015-16 seasons. That was about 4 percent more than the year before. The buck kill — 137,580 animals — was up 15 percent over the year before.
Twenty-seven percent of all those deer — and 47 percent of all those bucks — were killed on opening day, alone.
Beyond that, opening day remains important for other reasons, said Matt Hough, the commission's executive director.
“It's a tradition that's about more than just harvesting deer. It's about family and friends enjoying the outdoors together. Moreover, it's what being a Pennsylvanian is all about,” he said.
Jason Beck of Monessen, president of the National Pike Branch of the Quality Deer Management Association, agreed. He will spend opening day hunting with his wife, Elainna.
Lots of other hunters likewise will be in the woods with family members and friends, he said. That's how things will always be, no matter changing seasons, deer populations, demographics and more, he predicted.
“I believe there's a core group of individuals who hold it dear to their hearts and go out for all the right reasons. They'll always keep it going,” Beck said.
“It's not all about the horns. It's relationships, it's what keeps us together. It's still important to us.”
Bob Frye is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via @bobfryeoutdoors.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments will be moderated. Anyone may comment.