VENESKY: Possible change to start of deer season headlines pivotal Game Commission meeting

(Wilkes-Barre) Times-Leader (TNS)
The Pennsylvania Game Commission is considering several important changes at its meeting in late January that would greatly impact the state's hunters. DISPATCH FILE PHOTO
  • The Pennsylvania Game Commission is mulling several important changes.
  • One change would move the starting date for the rifle deer season.
  • If approved, rifle deer season would start the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
  • The state rifle deer season has traditionally started the Monday after Thanksgiving.

If you've never attended a Pennsylvania Game Commission meeting, the end of this month might be a good time to start.

The board meets quarterly at its Harrisburg headquarters, and this month's agenda is full of topics of interest to hunters statewide.

Topping the list is a motion to change the start of the rifle deer season from the traditional Monday opener to the first Saturday after Thanksgiving. The move has been discussed for some time, and if it's approved at the next meeting (Jan. 27, 28 and 29), it will need final approval when the board meets again in April.

Messing with the state's most popular hunting season is no small step, and commissioners who are in favor of the change feel it will boost the ranks of hunters — license buyers —  since a Saturday opener would allow for greater participation since many people are off from work and conflicts with college classes wouldn't be an issue.

Those opposed to the change believe it will destroy the tradition of the season, which is defined by the Monday opener. A switch to Saturday would also impact deer camps that generally utilize the weekend as a time of preparation and camaraderie.

Not to be overlooked, small game and turkey seasons would also lose a day that has long been a popular time for hunters.

While a proposed change to deer season is significant, there are other consequential items on the agenda as well.

Possible bear changes: Bear hunting opportunities will expand dramatically, and that is good news for areas where complaints are consistently high. The board will vote on a motion that will shift the archery bear season to mid-October, expand the October muzzleloader and special firearms seasons to the entire state and increase the length of the extended bear season from four to six days in several Wildlife Management Units.

In addition, there will be a statewide muzzleloader season for bears (Oct. 19-26) and a special firearms season (Oct. 24-26) for junior, senior and disabled hunters and active duty military personnel.

Fluorescent orange: Another big change centers around fluorescent orange regulations, which the agency has admitted are complex.

The major changes include no fluorescent orange requirement during all of the archery deer and archery bear seasons, along with the fall turkey season.

The 250-inch minimum fluorescent orange requirement will remain for all deer, bear and elk firearms seasons.

I'm glad the board is attempting to simplify the orange regulations, but I feel too much is being cut at the expense of safety. Allowing hunters to go without orange during the fall turkey season, for example, is concerning, especially since turkey hunters are still allowed to use rifles.

Plenty more: There's plenty more on the agenda of interest to hunters and wildlife enthusiasts, including a change in the status of the peregrine falcon from endangered to threatened, and adding the Northern long-eared bat, little brown bat and tri-colored bat to the state endangered mammals list.

Game Commission meetings generally aren't heavily attended by the public, but with so many changes on the table, this is one meeting that hunters don't want to miss.