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Saturday hunting opener aims to maintain younger hunters

Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton A.J. Chimenti, 5, was out with his grandfather, Anthony Chimenti, in Sheffield Township when the elder Chimenti bagged this eight point buck on Monday morning.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission bucked tradition by opening its rifle deer season on Saturday this year.

It was an attempt to keep younger hunters.

“We’re losing hunters,” Pennsylvania Game Commission Northwest Region Information and Education Supervisor Chip Brunst said. “We wanted to try something new. This was about retention.”

“The main reason for opening Saturday was an effort to increase participation,” Dave Donachy said. “An increase in harvest should be a part of that. Success will be reviewed for both.”

A Monday opener was fine for working people who could take time off if that was their priority and for high school students who, in this area, have the opening Monday off of school anyway.

It didn’t work for those between.

“When kids leave to go to college, most of them don’t have that Monday off,” Brunst said. “We lost them to hunting and a lot of them never came back until they started hunting with their children.”

The commission hopes that providing an opening Saturday will allow those college students to keep up their hunting traditions.

“If they can hunt on the first day because it’s Saturday, we’ll never lose them,” he said.

“Locally, it was a quiet day,” Donachy said. “I don’t have good information on how many deer were taken or hunter satisfaction at this time.

The official results are not in, but “I think it was well-received,” Brunst said. State-wide, “there were a lot of people out there. A lot of people were successful.”

In advance of Saturday’s opener, the Warren County Treasurer’s Office was open Friday to sell deer licenses to active duty military personnel.

Four people purchased licenses during that traditional offering by the treasurer’s office, according to Deputy Treasurer Gabby Carlson.

Carlson believes the change to a Saturday opener brought in some additional non-resident sales and some additional enthusiasm among hunters.

“I think people were excited to get out for one extra day,” she said.

The change to an opening Saturday is being tested on a trial basis. But, thanks to a new state law, there will be one, or possibly two, more days of deer season.

In November, Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill that adds three Sundays to the state’s hunting seasons — one during rifle deer season, one during archery deer season, and one at the discretion of the Game Commission.

That change will not take effect until Feb. 25, 2020.

The Game Commission could put the rifle Sunday between the new Saturday opener and the traditional Monday opener, creating a three-day opening weekend.

“With the opportunity to hunt a Sunday in firearms deer season next year, I think the Saturday opener makes sense long term,” Donachy said.

Alternately, Brunst said the rifle Sunday could be placed after the first week of antlered deer season — when both antlered deer and antlerless deer seasons will be open.

“We have a floater that the Game Commission gets to assign,” Brunst said.

When the agency will allow the third Sunday of hunting has not been determined. It’s possible that the discretionary Sunday, as well as one of the required Sundays, could be during rifle deer season, he said.

The antlered and antlerless deer seasons cover two weeks, including three Saturdays. Adding two Sundays would make for an uninterrupted season.

“It’s deer hunting that drives the hunting force in Pennsylvania,” Brunst said. “That’s what drives the economy in Pennsylvania in terms of hunting.”

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