I did not hunt the first day of rifle season here in Pennsylvania. It was not because I’ve already tagged a deer — I have not. In truth it felt a bit strange to have the “first day” on a Saturday, but that really had little to do with my choice of hunting or not.
Since I may hunt any day of any season and have already hunted many, many first days in my lifetime, I simply chose to skip Saturday and instead do a driving tour of local spots, and the number of hunters afield and witness some success, if possible.
In my home area, both buck and doe are open the first day, an important factor when considering hunter numbers and shots fired, because there always seems to be plenty of both when the season starts.
I circled and dissected a large area — about 20 miles crosswise — at mid morning to look for vehicles and hopefully, some successful hunters (I saw none). I talked with a couple of guys at one spot who said they had both passed on some does early, instead hoping for a buck to show, which had not. They said they heard some shooting from distant spots but that it didn’t seem any higher in number than years past, and that most of the shooting came between 7:30 and 8:30, then lessened considerably.
At just about every spot I checked there were vehicles, but in truth, during past years when I had already tagged a buck during archery season and passed on a first day of rifle, there seemed to just as many hunters out on a Monday compared to the new opener.
Later, talking with friends that hunted both nearby and at different spots within the state, accounts of the first day seemed little different from past years, except that most reported more deer spotted than over the previous few seasons.
Two of my closest hunting companions, brothers, hiked in darkness, up a mountain to a ridge where the Appalachian Trail passes through a state game land near the Berks/Schuylkill County line. At 7:15 one of the two shot a medium sized 8 pointer with his flintlock. Taking the buck off the mountain, immediately they returned to the parking lot where they started, and found a low number of vehicles.
They both commented that shooting was light in all directions and that some of the vehicles at the lot where they parked belonged to hikers they had passed on their way back down the mountain, hikers, who even though it was the opening day of rifle, were enjoying a Saturday hike.
One issue that was mentioned by the upstate hunters I know is that some camps with mostly older hunters did not even open for the first day, but chose rather to open late during the first week for the beginning of antlerless season across the state this past Saturday.
That fact my prove testament to an aging hunter population with a smaller group of young hunters to replace them.
All in all, in terms of hunter numbers and harvested deer, things seemed no different than past seasons when the season began the Monday after Thanksgiving. When the official deer harvest count is released for the first day, we’ll all know better.
Of course, being a devoted hunter and nature lover, I would hope this different direction of an opening day is a help for the Pennsylvania Game Commission in recruitment of new hunters, because the future of Pennsylvania’s wild places and wild creatures depends greatly upon reaching that goal.