New Year promises seasons of change for Pa. hunters
As we wade a bit deeper into 2019, it’s time we took a look ahead in anticipation of what the new year may bring for those outdoorsy types among us. First and foremost, Pennsylvania hunters can expect some seasons of change, especially when it comes to those seasons affecting deer and bear hunting.
Word is the folks at the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) are giving serious consideration to moving the traditional opening day of our firearms deer season from the Monday following Thanksgiving to Saturday. Most of us veteran deer hunters cut our teeth on the Monday opener, a mainstay here in the Keystone State since 1963 and a day when, not so long ago, most schools and many workplaces took the day off to mark the occasion. With the ranks of hunters, primarily among youngsters, thinning every year, fewer and fewer schools and workplaces (especially in our corner of the Commonwealth)continue to honor that tradition.
The theory is that moving opening day to two days earlier on a weekend Saturday(as opposed to a weekday workday/school day)will facilitate hunter recruitment and retention since more would-be hunters will already have the day off. While some nostalgia for keeping the traditional Monday opening day persists among sentimental old graybeards, the hunter recruitment/retention side of the debate seems far more compelling. To that end, we might expect the PGC to address this issue at their board meeting later this month.
However, rest assured that the folks at the PGC will weigh in with members of the state legislature to survey their thoughts and assess their feedback before attempting any switch. The folks at the PGC are not inclined to step on any legislative toes since, after all, any increase in hunting license fees to help assuage the PGC’s ongoing budget crunch lies in the hands of those sometimes capricious lawmakers.
In the shadow of the potential Monday-to-Saturday opener shift lies the specter of Sunday hunting and the possibility of making it legal to hunt deer on Sunday here in Penn’s Woods as it already is in most other states. The case for legalizing Sunday deer hunting is similar to that supporting a Saturday opener - hunter recruitment and retention and the argument is getting louder and stronger. There’s a grassroots group called HUSH (Hunters United for Sunday Hunting) lobbying hard to make it happen. And while there’s significant opposition to it from the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, anti-hunting organizations, and some hunters mired in tradition who believe that deer deserve a day of rest too, the PGC favors the idea – again, the recruitment/retention angle.
However, the PGC itself is powerless to legalize Sunday hunting and is totally at the mercy of the state legislature, the government body that could bestow that power to the PGC. To that end, HUSH and others are working to persuade legislators to modify Title 34 which, as written, prohibits most Sunday hunting with the exception of hunting for crows, foxes, and coyotes. If the legislature changes the law, any decision to expand Sunday hunting opportunities would then be at the discretion of the PGC. Given the bureaucratic and political obstacles that need to be surmounted, however, it’s a major long shot that Sunday deer hunting in Pennsylvania will become a reality in 2019 (maybe 2020? 2021?).
The new year may also bring changes in the state’s bear season. The reason: a population spike in the number of bruins now roaming the Commonwealth, currently estimated at around 20,000 up from the estimated 15,000 some ten years ago. With greater numbers of bears comes greater numbers of problems as their range expands and creates more bears, damages to farm crops, and potentially dangerous bear/ human interactions. A recent example of the last occurred on Dec. 12 when a sow bear mauled a Lycoming County woman, inflicting serious injuries. The attack was apparently provoked by the woman’s dog (a Chihuahua mix somewhat ironically named “Bear”) when it harassed one of the sow’s cubs. Bear(the dog) was also injured by the sow and is currently recovering from its injuries as well. PGC attempts to live trap the fugitive bear have thus far been unsuccessful. Mange, an occasionally deadly skin disease caused by a microscopic parasitic mite, Sarcoptes scabiei, is a growing problem that has become more widespread among our expanding bear population.
So, with rising numbers of problematic Pennsylvania bruins stalking bird feeders and beehives, it should come as no surprise that PGC biologists are looking to further cull and contain the bear population. The most likely fix is through extending the firearms seasons in some Wildlife Management Units and increasing the number of days that bowhunters could harvest bears. It’s also possible that muzzleloader hunters could get a brief season to hunt bears. Any changes to the state’s bear seasons remains up to the PGC. Look for some of them to go into effect this year.