Big Changes Proposed for Upcoming PA 2019-20 Hunting Seasons (Part 1 of 3)

Outdoor Opportunities By COL(Ret.) Grey D. Berrier II

They say, “the only thing constant in life is change!” Well, if you are a PA hunter, get ready for some major changes, if the preliminary 2019-20 hunting seasons put forward by the PA Board of Game Commissioners at their recent Jan. 27-29 meeting receive approval at the Board’s next quarterly meeting on Apr. 8-9. Once finalized at the April meeting, the new hunting seasons and regulation changes will take effect on July 1, 2019, the start of the new 2019-20 hunting license year. Please keep in mind, the public comment period for the 2019-20 hunting seasons and regulations that received preliminary approval in Jan. is open now until Apr. 7; so, if you feel strongly about any of the proposed changes, take time to submit your written comments to the PA Board of Game Commissioners. Information on how to provide your feedback is found on the PA Game Commission’s website, or if you are so inclined, you can actually go to their next Board meeting in April out in Harrisburg and sign up to provide your perspective in-person.

Let’s take a look a some of the proposed changes that are currently on the table:

1. Moving Opening Day of Firearms Deer Season to the Saturday after Thanksgiving – Talk about shifting a paradigm! As far as I can find, opening day of PA fi rearms deer season has always been Monday after Thanksgiving. That Monday has traditionally been an “unofficial State holiday” with schools closed to allow students to go hunting, and many businesses making provisions for a high percentage of their workforce taking a vacation day to participate. Moving opening day to the Saturday after Thanksgiving will expand the firearms deer season by one day, making it 13 days total, which includes three Saturdays. In the vast majority of the state (20 out of 23 WMUs), the first six days (Nov. 30 – Dec. 7) will be antlered deer season, while the last seven hunting days (Dec. 7-14) will be concurrent antlered and antlerless deer season. While most hunters seem to be in favor of the earlier opener and extra day of firearms deer hunting, there is concern amongst business owners (hotels, restaurants, stores, & gas stations) in rural PA counties that depend on the substantial influx of hunters and their expenditures, that many hunters will simply head home from camp or depart their hotel rooms after the Saturday opener and the average length of stay and dollars spent will significantly go down with the change.

2. Expanded Bear Hunting Opportunities – With our PA bear population pushing 20,000 for the past several years, PA bear biologist, Mark Ternent, predicted potential harvests of 4,000+ bears. Unfortunately, the weather hasn’t cooperated and in spite of the high population, statewide harvests have slipped from 3,438 in 2017 to 3,153 in 2018. (2018’s bear harvest was the lowest total in 11 years.) I’m excited about the tentatively approved additional bear hunting seasons for 2019-20. First, the statewide week-long early muzzleloader season in October, which was traditionally open for antlerless deer only, will now also be open for muzzleloader hunters (using a flintlock, percussion cap, or inline) to harvest a bear from Oct. 19- 26. Second, the three-day special statewide firearms antlerless deer season for junior & senior license holders, mentored youth & disabled person permit holders, and active duty military, will also be open for bear hunting with a firearm, Oct. 24-26. (A great chance for those eligible to pursue a bear in warmer weather.) Third, bear archery season is being expanded from one to two weeks, stretching from Oct. 28 – Nov. 9. Finally, the extended bear season, which runs concurrently with the first week of firearms deer season in select WMUs, will be open seven days (Nov. 30 – Dec 7) in all those 12 WMUs. (In the past, some opened on Mon. and others not until Wed.) These additional bear hunting opportunities should enable dozens of hunters to harvest their first PA bruin.

Next week, we’ll look at other tentatively approved hunting seasons. Just a reminder, tonight is Sportsman’s Night Out at Laurel High School! God Bless, Be Safe, and Great Outdoors! ©WBB 2019

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