New Year prom­ises sea­sons of change for Pa. hunters

The Southern Berks News - - SPORTS - By Tom Ta­tum

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.

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