by Keith Rhodes March 22, 2023
Those that hunt the the Keystone State are all too familiar with the recent change to Pennsylvania’s firearm season. For those who may be unaware, please allow me to fill you in.
Pennsylvania has, for years, retained orthodox laws. From low speed limits to strict enforcement of alcohol sales, traditional law had remained in place well into the 21 st century. However, over the past decade or so, the state has loosened up a bit. PA got its first 70 mph speed limit in 2014 and alcohol can now be purchased in grocery stores and gas stations. Pennsylvania’s hunting regulations are no different. Sunday hunting had been banned in PA for 338 years until 2019 when the state finally allowed
hunting on three Sundays per year (with the exception of foxes, coyotes, and crows, which could always be hunted on Sundays).
Most Pennsylvanians have welcomed these law changes as a step into the 21 st century. However, one rule change seemed to ruffle more feathers than any other – changing the date of the firearms deer season opener. For over 60 years the first day of rifle season was the Monday after Thanksgiving, but in 2019, the state moved the opener up two days to the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
At the time, it seemed like a good idea. For most of the state the firearms deer season is only two weeks long, so the Monday opener meant that you only got two weekends of deer hunting, excluding archery and muzzleloader seasons. Pair that with the Sunday hunting ban and the deer season boiled down to just two Saturdays for those who work a typical schedule. The Saturday opener added an extra weekend to the season. Surely hunters would rejoice with more days in the field.
Some did not. In fact, so many did not that the Pennsylvania Game Commission contracted a study to evaluate how hunters felt about the change. The study, titled Pennsylvania Deer Hunters’ Attitudes Regarding Opening Day of the Season, found that 60% of hunters support having the deer firearms season open on Saturday while 27% oppose it, with 13% being indifferent. While 27% is hardly a majority, it is enough to make some noise.
That noise has been heard. In recent months two different PA legislators have proposed bills to move the opener back to Monday. On December 13th, PA state representative Brian Smith (R-District 66) announced he will be introducing a bill to move the opening day of the state’s rifle deer season back to its traditional day of the Monday after Thanksgiving. Then on, March 8th, Senator Lisa Boscola, (D-District 18), a member of the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee, announced a sister bill in the Pennsylvania
State Senate to do the same. Both legislators cited negative impacts of the Saturday opener as reason for their respective bills.
In his memorandum introducing the bill, Smith stated “In changing the opening day to Saturday, they took away the family time that was traditional for many that weekend, as hunters now have to leave earlier for deer camp. This also meant losing the family traditions of attending fundraising events and of shopping on Friday and small business Saturday. The loss of revenue to these small business owners, volunteer fire companies and other volunteer organizations has been devastating to their bottom line.”
Boscola cited complaints about the opener as the impetus for her bill, stating “My office received a number of letters and phone calls regarding the impact of moving opening day to the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Local business owners and hunters seem aligned that the move of opening day has hurt businesses and many of the traditions associated with the longstanding original opening day.”
Whether the Pennsylvania Game Commission reverses its decision and moves the opener back to Monday is yet to be seen. The Game Commission already announced that the 2023 regular firearms deer season will commence on Saturday, November 25 th so any changes made to the deer firearms opener will likely have to wait until the 2024-25 season to take effect.
Stay connected with our newsletter