Moving deer season to Saturday after Thanksgiving angers some hunters, could be short-lived

Will the opening day of the firearms hunting season for deer continue as the Saturday after Thanksgiving beyond 2019 in Pennsylvania?

Responding to an ongoing torrent of anger from hunters opposed to moving the opening day of the firearms hunting season for deer to the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the Pennsylvania Game Commission on Tuesday announced it will consider the impact of the move this year carefully before continuing with it in 2020.

The opening day of the firearms deer season has been the Monday after Thanksgiving since 1963, but on April 9 the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners voted 5-3 to move it to Saturday.

Commissioners supporting the change pointed to the shifting hunting demographics and the creation of more opportunities for hunters. By advancing the opener to Saturday, commissioners expanded the firearms season to 13-days, including 3 Saturdays rather than 2 under the current season schedule.

Even before the commissioners concluded their April 9 meeting, angry protests were filling social media channels and similar emails were flowing into the offices of legislators and the governor.

While some hunters who have been unable to hunt on opening day due to work or school commitments supported the change, others who travel considerable distances to their hunting spots, and now must do so earlier in the holiday weekend, opposed it.

Those hunter concerns prompted state House of Representatives Game and Fisheries Committee Majority Chairman Keith Gillespie (R-York) and Minority Chairman Bill Kortz (D-Allegheny) to get together with board president Tim Layton and several other commissioners to discuss the Saturday opener.

According to a commission statement, Layton assured the committee chairmen that the Board of Commissioners will be looking very closely at the potential benefits and drawbacks of a Saturday opener this November. The commissioners will be looking to see if there’s evidence the Saturday opener increased hunting license sales and hunter success, and looking to gauge the opinions of hunters who will have taken part in the state’s first Saturday opener in decades.

Layton also said that when the Board of Commissioners selects an opening day for the 2020 firearms deer season, it will take all those findings into consideration to arrive at a decision that clearly provides the most benefit.

“Acting in the interest of the state’s hunters and the future of hunting in Pennsylvania, always are important components to decisions by the Board of Game Commissioners,” Layton said. “The board gave these factors careful consideration before voting to move the opening day of the firearms deer season to Saturday, and in the coming year, we’ll be drilling even deeper to make sure we understand what the majority of hunters want.”