Between an additional day of hunting and better weather forecasts this year compared to last, the annual Pennsylvania buck harvest figures are expected to increase in 2019 after a drop last year.
Today, Saturday, marks the season opener for buck rifle season — the first time since 1962 the season didn’t begin on the Monday following Thanksgiving. With that additional day, hunters in Pennsylvania will be able to venture out 13 days rather than the traditional 12.
That additional day in the woods has garnered split opinions amongst local hunters and from hunters statewide.
“I look at it as an opportunity,” said one local outdoorsman, Charlie Burchfield. “It’s an opportunity to get these youngsters who may have had commitments to school on Monday. Now they can get more access to the outdoors, and then next year on Sundays, too.”
On Wednesday, a Sunday Hunting Bill was signed into law by Governor Tom Wolf that will provide three Sunday hunting days to state hunters — one during firearms season, one during archery season and another on a Sunday designated by the Game Commission. That won’t begin until the 2020 season.
Burchfield said he won’t personally take a deer with today’s extra opportunity, but instead will be taking his grandson into the field for some family time. He’ll get into the woods himself on Monday and then again in the later half of each of the next two weeks.
For others, though, he says it likely wouldn’t matter which day the season opened.
“As far as other people taking advantage, it’s the first day of hunting season. Regardless of whether it was a Monday or a Saturday, hunters will be out there and enjoying it.”
That sentiment is not shared by all hunters, though.
Said another outdoorsman, Wade Robertson, “It’s actually a disadvantage. The majority of hunters I’ve talked to would rather have it on Monday.”
Robertson, who took a deer during archery season and won’t be out in the woods today, noted that the sentiment for the Monday start date was so that hunters could arrive at their deer camps over the weekend and then settle in before taking to the woods.
“(Hunters would) go to the rifle ranges on Saturday, shoot and get settled in, and then Monday would come for the opening day. This has destroyed all that.”
Burchfield says that while he understands that traditionalist sentiment of a Monday start date, this move actually paves the way for the future of hunting in the state, and this year specifically can be used as a tool to test how the shift works out.
“If we linger in the past, that’s where we’ll stay. If we choose to move into the future — it gives us heartache to see these changes — but I think it’s a good thing, at least for now,” Burchfield said. “This year, we’ll be able to evaluate it and next year even further into the back-to-back Saturday and Sunday hunts.”
Regardless of which day the season begins, the state Game Commission is expecting opening day to once again be the top day for harvest numbers.
The Harrisburg-based Patriot-News reported that opening day has always traditionally seen the highest total, and officials are expecting similar results in 2019.
“We expect the opening Saturday to become the biggest harvest day for bucks,” Christopher Rosenberry, supervisor of the Game Commission’s Deer and Elk Section, told the outlet. “The first Monday will play a lesser role, but how much less remains to be seen. The second Saturday, since it is concurrent with the start of antlerless season, will probably become the second-biggest harvest day for bucks.”
And with a better weather forecast in the works this year (temperatures in the mid-to-upper 30s, relatively light winds and a few snow showers), buck harvest numbers will likely rise, too. The 2018 buck harvest totaled at 147,750, a 10% decrease from the previous year, despite the overall deer harvest totaling in at 374,690, the highest total in 14 years.
Much of that was attributed to cold temperatures, winds and most especially rain during the first portion of last season.
Such was the case for Robertson.
“It was so cold, windy and miserable last year, many didn’t even bother hunting. I was in it, and I didn’t get a buck until Thursday,” he said.
He added, “With the weather better this year, I’d be surprised if they didn’t shoot more deer than last year.”
If the aforementioned forecasts hold true, Burchfield also says to expect a strong harvest.
“I would expect at least for this year, if we have good weather — chilly with tracking snow — we’ll have a real good opening day,” he said.
The statewide general firearms season runs from Nov. 30 until Dec. 14. For a complete listing of hunting restrictions and other regulations, read the 2019-20 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, available online at www.pgc.pa.gov.