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State Game Commission hopes it’s on target with hunting change

Published April 17. 2019 12:07PM

It was the shot heard around the state: By a 5-3 vote, the Pennsylvania Game Commission pulled the trigger on a long-pondered proposal to move the start of rifle deer-hunting season from the Monday after Thanksgiving to the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Forget about issues with North Korea and Iran; forget about the pros and cons of the actions of President Donald Trump and his administration; forget about the contents of the Mueller Report. Among hunters, this is the big news.

So what is behind this controversial move? After all, during the last decade or so, the game commission has modified and changed around the dates of bear, grouse, turkey and pheasant seasons, but the one constant, the one they did not want to mess with was the start and duration of rifle deer-hunting season.

Well, that was then. Now, with the number of hunting licenses continuing to decline as they have in recent years, the game commission is looking at creative ways to reverse the trend and get more younger hunters to take up the sport. The Monday to Saturday change also adds a day to the season.

The two members of the commission who represent the counties in the Times News area are Stanley Knick Jr. of Dupont, Luzerne County, whose Region 7 includes Carbon and Monroe counties, and Brian H. Hoover of Glenolden, Delaware County, whose Region 8 includes Schuylkill, Northampton and Lehigh counties.

According to members of the commission, hunters have been aiming for this change for years, but pushback from traditionalists has prevented the members from dropping the boot.

Those who approve point to busy work schedules, a reluctance of bosses allowing hunters time off on a Monday and family obligations. Others see the Monday start as a ritual, not only for themselves but also to be passed down to their children since most schools are not in session the Monday after Thanksgiving.

“Years ago, we hunted not only for sport but out of necessity, to feed the family,” said William “Dapper” Lynn of Summit Hill, who, along with other hunters he knows, is thrilled with the change and the extra day of hunting.

Although he and his brothers make a day of it, others take multiple-day trips to hunting camps during the weekend where they can not only bring home a prized trophy but also “commune with nature.”

Potter County in north-central Pennsylvania is one of the key destinations, and county leaders and local business owners there fear the change will dramatically affect the local economy.

One of the most enjoyable parts of these trips, hunters say, is the camaraderie it fosters, including meeting up with old friends and family members and debating strategy before heading for the woods on Monday.

Many hunters will prepare their bagged deer for consumption and have a butcher prepare various cuts for the dinner table. I find deer meat to be gamy and an acquired taste, but those who eat it often rave about its flavor and enjoyability. I am told that the wild flavor of venison is related to what the deer eats.

Spoiler alert: I am not a hunter, but I have many friends and some family members who hunt and are among those who eagerly prepare for the start of the deer-season ritual. They grow beards, get their weapons and provisions ready, sometimes weeks in advance, buy their portable deer stands to enhance their stealth, and then it is human vs. deer in an ages old matching of wits.

The state Federation of Sportsmen and Conservationists issued a report saying that a majority of its members were against the change, largely because of traditionalist sentiments.

The Monday start has been a 56-year tradition in Pennsylvania, so this is something that the Game Commission considered carefully. They did not want to misread hunters’ interests, especially since they are a vocal group and can become an aggressive lobbying force.

Going back to 1869, deer-hunting season has begun on every day of the week except Sunday, and if current legislation in the General Assembly passes that exception will go by the boards, too.

Earlier this year, Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, introduced Senate Bill 147, which would give the Game Commission the authority to start Sunday hunting. This bill has passed the Senate’s Game and Fisheries Committee, which Laughlin chairs.

This is the first time a Sunday hunting bill has ever cleared committee, but it still faces an uncertain future when it is debated by the full Senate. The House will need to pass identical legislation before a clean bill goes to the governor.

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com

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