Survey: Pennsylvania deer hunters favor Saturday opener
Sixty percent of Pennsylvania deer hunters support a Saturday-after-Thanksgiving start to the firearms deer season, while another 12 percent have no preference between a Saturday or Monday opener, and 27 percent oppose a Saturday opener, based on recent survey results presented to the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners.
Pennsylvania in 2019 shifted the opening day of firearms deer season, which for decades began on the Monday after Thanksgiving, to begin the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The past two firearms deer seasons opened on Saturday.
The move was welcomed warmly by hunters who otherwise would have missed the opener due to work or school obligations, but now could participate. Others – especially if they travel to camp to hunt – said they liked the traditional Monday start better.
But there hadn’t been any data to shed light onto which opinions were more popular.
The Game Commission in 2021 contracted with Responsive Management, a Virginia-based survey research firm specializing in natural resource and outdoor recreation issues, to conduct a telephone survey of Pennsylvania deer hunters to better know their opinions about the opening day of deer season.
As a condition of taking the survey, hunters had to have hunted at least once during the firearms deer season in 2017 and 2018, when the opening day was the Monday after Thanksgiving, and at least once during the 2019, 2020 or 2021 firearms deer seasons, all of which opened on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. That ensured those surveyed had the opportunity to hunt both on Monday openers and Saturday openers at some point in the past five years, providing insight into how the change in the opening day might have impacted their hunting participation and attitudes.
In all, 2,009 resident Pennsylvania deer hunters 18 years old or older were surveyed, resulting in a minimum 95 percent level of confidence. The sampling error is, at most, plus or minus 2.18 percentage points.
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The survey allowed researchers to learn more about the hunters who responded, and what characteristics helped shape their opinions about the opening day of firearms deer season. For instance, support for a Saturday opener is higher among those 54 and younger. Support also is higher among those who have a child who hunts as opposed to those who don’t.
The top reasons cited by hunters who support a Saturday opener are that they have work obligations on Monday, that a Saturday opener provides increased hunting opportunities for themselves and others, and convenience with their child’s school schedule.
Conversely, opposition to the Saturday opener is higher among hunters 55 and older, and among those who hunted from a hunting camp on opening day, compared to those who did not.
The most common reasons stated by those who oppose the Saturday opener are that the Monday opener was consistent with tradition, and their set up and enjoyment of hunting camp was rushed with the earlier start date.
“One fact that has never been in question is that Pennsylvania hunters are passionate about deer hunting. And over the past three years we have heard from numerous hunters expressing good points on both side of this issue, therefore it was necessary to conduct an independent, scientific survey to allow the board to know where hunters stand after three years of a Saturday opener,” said Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “Without hard data, it would be impossible to know the degree to which hunters might support or oppose the change. With this survey, that question now has been answered.”
Since establishing a Saturday firearms deer opener in 2019, the Game Commission has closely monitored the impacts of the change. Previous survey work showed the switch to a Saturday opener helped spur increased hunting license sales in 2019-20, a year when most states experienced decreased sales. Hunting license sales increased again in 2020-21 and remain higher compared to last license year with a Monday opener. The newly unveiled survey continues the Game Commission’s study of impacts of a Saturday opener.
While the survey made clear hunter opinions about the opening day of firearms deer season, it’s important to note, too, that the shift to a Saturday opener didn’t impact deer hunting for most.
According to the survey, 62 percent of hunters said the change had no impact on their hunting. Meanwhile, 25 percent of hunters said it had a positive impact on their hunting, while only 11 percent – less than half as many – said it had a negative one.
The survey also found a majority of hunters – 60 percent – hunted on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the second day of the firearms deer season.
The results of the study on the Saturday opener are consistent with a separate study performed by the Game Commission that looked into “lapsed hunters,” meaning those who stopped purchasing licenses for a one year or more, but bought a hunting license in 2020.
That study, conducted by Game Commission Human Dimensions Specialist Dr. Coren Jagnow and also presented to the board today, found that those who returned to hunting in 2020 said the Saturday opener had a positive impact on their decision to buy a license. Specifically, 53 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they started to hunt again in 2020 because the firearms deer season now opened on Saturday.
In addition, having the opening two days of firearms deer season on a weekend seemed to be especially appealing to this group. Their attitudes about and participation on those Sundays were highly correlated with their agreement that the Saturday opener encouraged them to hunt again.
Those who said they reactivated because of the Saturday opener also were more likely to say they started hunting again either because their child or grandchild asked them to go hunting or because they were invited by family and friends.
Commissioner Scott Foradora, who represents District 3 in northcentral Pennsylvania, said both studies provide yet more concrete evidence the Saturday opener is more convenient for the majority of hunters, and good for Pennsylvania deer hunting overall. That outcome is what the board was hoping to achieve in making the change three years ago, he said.
“The Saturday opener has allowed for broad participation by Pennsylvania hunters, especially working people and college students,” Foradora said. “And with the day of Sunday hunting that follows it, rifle hunters who work and have weekends off now can enjoy the season’s first two days without having to worry about taking vacation. Universities across the state hold classes, as well, on the Monday after Thanksgiving, so the Saturday opener and first Sunday gives increased opportunity to college students, too. And opportunity might be the most important factor in keeping hunters happy and coming back.”