What is the value of tradition in deer hunting?

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (AP)

The start of deer season is not just a date on the calendar.

It is a lot more complicated than that. It involves the science behind how deer move and feed, where they live and when they breed. It is part of a management process that looks to keep a necessary part of the ecosystem thriving. At the same time, it’s important to limit them enough to protect crops and stop oblivious animals from plowing into traffic.

But in that intricate balance, has the Pennsylvania Game Commission lost sight of some other important aspects?

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A white-tailed buck silhouetted against a sunset. (Dreamstime/TNS)

You cannot forget the economic impact of hunting. Outdoor sports contribute significantly to the state’s economy, with estimates putting hunting and fishing alone topping $1.5 billion.

When it comes to hunting, deer season is king. No one is traveling to the Keystone State to spend a week shooting squirrels. Use the words “hunting season,” and for many people, the word “deer” is implied, even though there is heavy activity in other quarry like turkey and bear.

In 2019, the commission moved hunting season for the first time in decades. Instead of opening on the Monday after Thanksgiving, the first day was moved to the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

The idea was to give more people who work during the week a chance to get into the woods and participate in a sport that is just shy of a religion in some parts of the state. And the commission would point to its 2020-21 numbers as proof. The number of deer harvested went up 16%, from 375,000 to 435,000.

OK, but should we take numbers from almost anything in 2020 at face value? The pandemic turned most statistics into confetti. Many people weren’t working, freeing them up to hunt more. People were encouraged to spend more time in socially distanced outdoor activities.

Even if the deer harvest is up, let’s not forget the money.

“A year ago, I’d estimate we lost between $12,000 and $15,000 in business that weekend,” said Eric Vandyke, owner of Arrowhead Outdoors & Hardware in Tionesta, Forest County. “When the opener was on Monday, people would come up to camp, do projects and be around more often. Friday and Saturday were very busy days, and we’d even put extra staff in the store.”

A Saturday start also puts the start of hunting season into direct competition with Black Friday and Small Business Saturday. Are there dips in revenue in other areas that could be attributed to hunting camp activity?

We also can’t forget tradition. For many opposed to the move, it’s about culture and custom — about Thanksgiving leading into a second mini holiday. And as to the commission’s argument about days off, have you tried to get anything done on the Monday after Thanksgiving? It’s practically a state holiday.

The 2023 start date will be decided next month. Should tradition and money be the deciding factor? Not necessarily. But they should definitely be a part of the conversation.

— From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (AP).