Opening Day of Deer Firearms Season

Zach Holt and his son, Parker, 8, of Mount Pleasant, Pa., head back to the car after a wet morning of deer hunting in State Game Lands 50 near Somerset, Pa., on the opening day of deer firearms season, Monday, Nov. 26, 2018.

For decades the first day of deer hunting was a fall tradition in Tom Gross’ family.

Gross, 69, of South Fork, recalled many days spent in the woods hunting buck near Bakersville with his father.

But over the past 10 years, he either hasn’t had time for it or skipped the chance, he admitted.

In a move targeting folks such as Gross, the Pennsylvania Game Commission is changing the opening date of its most popular hunting event – deer rifle season – to a Saturday, ending a Monday tradition in the hopes that an extra weekend will send more people into the state’s fields and forests.

The Game Commission’s 5-3 vote Tuesday moves the opening day of deer rifle season to the first Saturday after Thanksgiving, while also expanding the season to 13 days – three of them Saturdays.

The move was greeted with a mix of support and skepticism by local outdoorsmen Tuesday.

Rifle season for hunting deer in Pennsylvania has kicked off the Monday after Thanksgiving since 1963. 

Opponents said the change would interfere with hunting camp traditions and complicate travel during the Thanksgiving weekend.

Supporters of the change see a Saturday opener as an opportunity to bring back onetime hunters who’ve struggled to find time to hunt in recent years. The weekend opening could also lure high school and college hunters who might have classes scheduled on the traditional opening Monday.

Gross supported the idea, saying the extra weekend “could make a difference” and might entice him to pick up a hunting license for the first time in a decade.

“It’s a pretty good idea,” he said.

To Tom Buzzard, 66, of Johnstown, there’s little doubt the continuous drop in hunting licenses – and the fees Pennsylvania collects – also spurred the state Game Commission to move the opening day of deer rifle season to a Saturday.

“There was a time 25 years ago, when there was more than a million people going into the woods on the first day,” he said. 

“When you look at the number going out today, that (loss) is a big hit.”

Buzzard said he was fine with the Monday “holiday.”

The Johnstown man said he offered his resignation years ago after a hard-line boss suggested he couldn’t miss work on an opening Monday.

“But if the change to a Saturday will draw a few more people into the woods,” Buzzard said, “then I’m all for it.”

“I’ll be out there listening to the woods wake up ... no matter what day it is,” he said.

Steve Turchak, of South Fork, said he’ll be outdoors, too.

But said he doesn’t expect the Game Commission’s gamble will bring a new wave of hunters back into the woods.

“The young generation loves their guns. But they don’t like hunting,” the 68-year-old South Fork man said. “The way they see it, why go out and freeze when you can sit inside, drink hot chocolate and play video games.

“I just don’t see it making a difference.”

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.