A Saturday deer opener in Pennsylvania? It may be in the mix

Harrisburg, Pa. — Some of today’s hunters admittedly may not like it. But some of tomorrow’s may need it.

That’s the thinking of at least some Pennsylvania Game commissioners when it comes to the notion of moving the opening day of Pennsylvania’s statewide firearms deer season to the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

The Monday after Thanksgiving is the “traditional” opener. It’s been that way since 1963.

But lawmakers are looking at moving the date. One, Harry Readshaw, an Allegheny County Democrat in the House of Representatives, has introduced a bill to that effect. And several senators voiced support for the idea at a recent hearing.

But maybe the game commissioners will beat them to the punch.

Commissioner Jim Daley, of Butler County, said he’d like to see the agency, as soon as possible, explore the idea of a Saturday opener.

The main reason, he said, is because the Monday opener is increasingly a hindrance to school-aged children and young parents. All have trouble getting time off to get into the woods, he said.

A Saturday opener could alleviate those issues, he believes.

“That set is the one a Saturday opener really benefits,” he said.

Not all hunters will like the idea, predicted Commissioner Brian Hoover, of Chester County. And it’s likely – at least generally speaking – that any opposition voiced will come from older hunters.

It’s that group that spoke up loudest against allowing semi-automatic rifles for hunting small game last year at this time, he said.

“Everybody likes the status quo. Nobody likes to see change,” Hoover said.

But hunters would likely adapt quickly to any change in the opener, he added.

As for concerns, voiced by some, that hunters need the whole weekend to get camps ready for opening day, commissioners downplayed that.

The number of people going to camp is declining, Daley said. And anyone who wants to get camp ready can do so on Friday, as many are off work then, Hoover said.

Others have voiced concerns that opening the season on a Saturday would mean a shortening of the season overall.

That would not necessarily be the case, said Chris Rosenberry, the biologist who heads up the agency’s deer and elk section.

“On the antlered side, hunters are going to harvest what they harvest. I don’t think an extra day of a Saturday versus a Monday is going to make a big difference,” Rosenberry said.

If anything, a different opener would likely just shift harvest around rather than increase it, said Bryan Burhans, executive director of the commission. That’s what other states have seen when adding Sundays to hunting seasons, he noted.

Opening day doesn’t include doe hunting anyway. But if the herd overall started to decline based on a Saturday buck harvest, the commission could adapt through its antlerless allocation, Rosenberry said.

“We’d see how it plays out and then those adjustments could be made going forward,” Rosenberry said.

A Saturday opener would likely necessitate some other changes, said commission President Tim Layton, of Somerset County. That Saturday now is open to small game and turkey hunting. Those seasons might have to be tweaked, he said.

Commissioners didn’t outline a timetable for advancing a Saturday opener. And Hoover said there remains some “convincing” to do.

But a Saturday opener holds promise, Daley believes. And he wants to look at it closer.

“There are a whole lot of reasons a Saturday opener might make sense,” Daley said.

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