Sea of orange

There are many things that make Pennsylvania unique, especially this time of the year. We have the opportunity to experience the best of the fall foliage and crisp November air that seamlessly leads into holiday cheer and hopefully a white Christmas. However, there are a couple of weeks between the feast of Thanksgiving and the joy of Christmas morning that are just more Pennsylvania, than any other time of the year. It is a season that is not defined by its weather, but by its tradition.

It is deer season.

This history of deer season in Pennsylvania dates back as far as 1771 when Provincial Governor William Keith put a ban on deer hunting from January 1 through July 1 due to an extremely low deer population. Just over a hundred years later, hunters were prohibited from killing fawns. In 1906, state Legislature passed a law banning the hunting of does through 1922, again because of low populations while the Pennsylvania Game Commission started to stocking deer on game preserves across the state. Fast forward 20 years to 1942, when deer skin sales were sanctioned in an effort to urge hunters to donate the skins to make vests for those in the armed forces fighting in World War 2. Since the end of WW2, the regulations of deer season have come and gone depending on populations growth or loss, but there is one part of this brief history that is not often recorded.

That part is the tradition. For most, deer season is something more than just trying to, “bag the biggest buck.” But rather about the comradery between friends and family as you walk the hills before the sun rises. The stories that have been told spanning from generation to generation has helped keep those who have passed on, alive and well in the minds of the youth.

Throughout today, there will be young men and women who are dawning the orange hat and vest for the first time on opening day. They may have shot a rifle before, perhaps many times, but today is THE day. They will only ever have one first, first day.

Today they are one of the sea of orange that will flood the forest in search for the elusive white tail. Their mothers packed them food. Their fathers checked their rifle. They themselves, bundled up. Quickly they’ll learn to walk lightly, careful not to step on a branch and to be as attune to listening just as much as they are accustomed to seeing. They will recollect the stories they had heard over their so far short lives, as they gracefully walk the same hills the story tellers had. And eventually they will get to the “spot.”

After that, it is a matter of luck. It may happen, it may not. But when it does, when they hear the dry fallen leaves start to rustle in a slow uneven pattern, or they see the hot breath hitting the frozen air, it will be a fusion excitement and nervousness. Battling both to keep composure. Remembering to keep their movements slow and steady while bring the deer into their sight. They will take a deep breath, calm themselves, tighten their finger on the trigger, and then…

What happens after that is for only them to tell as their own first story

See, the focus of this isn’t to be a history lesson or tell a hunting tale, but instead to highlight how something, despite the regulatory changes over the last almost 250 years, has essentially gone unchanged. I challenge anyone to find something in civilian life in the United States that has been regulated by some form government for that long and still kept its core principles. They are few and far between.

Sometimes we need a little tradition in a world that is ever changing. Let’s face it, even our holidays aren’t what they used to be. So, whether you hunt or not, as you’re driving through Warren County this week, take in the view of those setting out to teach and those to learn. It is more than just a hunt. It is a life experience. It is Pennsylvania.