Pennsylvania's hunting heritage is full of tradition.
From an annual pilgrimage to our camps in the state's northern reaches to the rifles we pull out of the closet on opening day, honoring the past is a big part of our sport.
But there's a new tradition emerging. And it's a major threat to one of Pennsylvania's most sacred "holidays."
For the last several years, as the hunting season draws to a close, a debate begins to boil. As the Game Commission works to set the dates for the upcoming season, we hear cries to make a big change to the rulebook.
A growing crowd of hunters want deer season to open on a Saturday. They want to ditch the deep tradition of a Monday start and bow to convenience.
The idea makes sense, but is far from popular.
Two years ago, a state representative introduced a bill that would move the start of the season ahead by two days. And late last year, Commissioner David Putnam reignited the debate when he simply asked, "What about a Saturday opener for deer?"
If you are a fan of the traditional Monday start of deer season, don't worry. Nothing is changing. Both attempts at a switch were quickly dismissed. But does that mean the right decisions were made?
This state's hunting heritage faces immense threats. But our biggest enemy is not the anti-hunting crowd, the folks who want to take our guns, or the drillers carving up our mountains. Our biggest threat is ourselves.
The state's hunting ranks are declining. Over the last three decades, the number of licenses sold by the Game Commission has dropped by roughly 10 percent per decade. It's an unsustainable trend that begs a serious question.
Is a tradition worth preserving if there is nobody there to celebrate it? In other words, is our tradition doing more harm than good?
To start to answer those questions, let's imagine if we suddenly did away with two of Pennsylvania's most debated hunting traditions. We'd open deer season on a Saturday and let folks hunt on Sunday -- ideas that are blasphemous to many hunters.
Suddenly, hundreds of thousands of hunters could get two days in the woods without taking a day off work and students wouldn't have to cut class to get outside two days in a row. In an age when money is tight and jobs are scarce, many hunters are unable to choose hunting over work. But with a Saturday opener, there is no choice for most folks.
Our lifestyles and our economy have changed over the last few decades. What worked for our agrarian grandfathers may not work for our grandsons.
The decision to ditch tradition and move deer season's opening day to a Saturday is complicated. There is no easy compromise. But we must remember a tradition is not worth preserving if there is nobody there to celebrate it.
Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sports@york dispatch.com.