The Monday after Thanksgiving has long been an unofficial holiday for Pennsylvania hunters.

In a tradition that goes back decades, that day serves as the opener for the firearms buck season.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of state residents march into Penn’s Woods hoping to emerge with a trophy buck, while knowing they are creating lifelong memories.

Now, the Pennsylvania Game Commission is one vote away from changing the traditional opening day to the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

To nonhunters, it probably doesn’t seem like a big deal. After all, what difference will two days make? But, in fact, the long-term health of hunting in Pennsylvania affects everyone who enjoys the outdoors. Hunting licenses are among the state's primary sources of revenue for conservation programs. As such, the steady decline in the number of hunters poses a threat to programs large and small.

In a tradition-bound activity such as hunting, that is usually passed down from one generation to another like a family heirloom, the proposed change would make a huge difference. And it’s created more than a little controversy.

Trying to attract younger hunters: The Game Commission, for its part, is promoting the change as a way to attract younger hunters into the sport. It’s no secret that hunting, while still very popular in the state, isn’t as popular as it was a half century ago. That’s bad news for all of us, because hunting annually pumps millions of dollars into our state economy.

The Game Commission proposal, which garnered unanimous tentative approval from the commissioners last week, states that opening the season on Saturday fits better with the schedules of younger hunters who have to work or attend school on Monday.

As proposed, deer hunting with firearms would begin this year on Nov. 30, a Saturday, and continue through Dec. 6 for bucks only. From Dec. 7-14, hunters could shoot deer with or without antlers. The new deer season would cover 13 days, including three Saturdays.

Having three Saturdays of hunting, instead of the current two, should allow more hunting opportunities for those who have to work or attend school.

The change will take effect if the commissioners approve it a second time at their meeting in April.

Not everyone thrilled: Of course, not everyone is thrilled with the proposal. That’s not surprising. Some folks resist any change, any time.

Many of those opposed to the proposal are hunters who annually journey to hunting camps scattered throughout the state, many in the far northern reaches of the commonwealth.

They often leave the day after Thanksgiving and use the next few days to reconnect with old friends, enjoy a little camaraderie and prepare their camps and gear — all in anticipation for the big Monday opener that many consider sacred.

Many hunters fear that the camp camaraderie and needed preparation will be diminished, or even lost completely, with hunters dashing off into the woods for Saturday hunting.

Well, here’s a thought. No one is forcing any hunters into the woods on Saturday. If the camp camaraderie of Friday, Saturday and Sunday is that important, the answer is simple. Don’t hunt on Saturday. Just operate as you have in the past. Nothing needs to change.

Not all hunters are camp hunters: It’s important to remember that not all hunters are camp hunters. Many don’t have the luxury of missing work on Friday or Monday and traveling to faraway camps. For those hunters, the Saturday opener will be a new opportunity to enjoy the sport and create memories of their own.

Younger hunters, who are desperately needed for the sport to thrive and survive, should especially benefit from the change.

For that reason alone, the Game Commissioners should give the Saturday opener a try.

Let’s see if it can give a sagging sport a much-needed infusion of youthful energy.

Read or Share this story: