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PA deer hunters…spending 40 years in the desert

Last week, a guy in his late 50s posted a complaint on social media. He was both complaining about “not enough deer” to hunt in Pennsylvania, and also boasting about how he buys up as many doe tags as he can get, and then he tears them up, and then he uses them to file false deer harvest reports. He hopes this all will influence Pennsylvania’s science-driven deer management. One result of all this complaining by guys like this man is that the PA Game Commission is unable to get the license fee increase from the legislature that the PGC and most hunters want.

On the one hand, this self-defeating complaining and tearing up of doe tags is pretty much insane behavior, and a complete waste of one’s own precious time on Planet Earth.

On the other hand, that someone is so passionate about hunting and wildlife is a good thing. The question is, can this guy and the thousands of other unhappy hunters like him be educated about scientific deer management? Or are they so close-minded and emotional about this subject that they are immune to empirical evidence, logic and reason?

One result of our state’s scientific wildlife management is that we are now a major trophy hunting destination. Previously unthinkably enormous bucks and gigantic bears are within reach of those who are willing to hunt hard and smart. Bucks that rival and surpass those of the “best” whitetail states in the Mid-West. Black bears that are as big as Alaskan grizzlies. These are tangible signs of policy success, and that Pennsylvania is now an outdoor Promised Land after decades of hunters being happy with a pathetic forkhorn or even a spike buck.

On my westward drive along I-80 last week, and my drive south yesterday, from northwest Lycoming County down to Dauphin County, I saw dozens of dead deer littering the sides of the roads. Actually there were so many that I lost count. There may have been a hundred dead deer along the roads. Including along very rural roads in areas where many older guys complain there “ain’t no deer.” Obviously there are a lot of deer in these places, because they are not all being killed on the highway. These dead deer are the fruit of deer-car collisions, a very expensive and dangerous result of an overabundant deer population.

To be fair to the complaining hunters, the PA deer population in these places may be too high for the road system and not high enough for hunters’ desires. That is a very real possibility. It may be that the Pennsylvania road system is just too big, too widespread into rural areas, to allow many deer to survive into the Fall hunting season.

No, we are not going to shut down the public roads to stop the carnage, though it would make sense for Pennsylvania to put a moratorium brake on road building. We taxpayers cannot afford the operations and maintenance costs on the roads and bridges we have now, let along on any new roads and bridges. PennDot must re-direct its energies into safely maintaining the infrastructure we already have, like how about wildlife tunnels? And if the deer-car collisions are any indication, our public road system has been poorly planned and badly implemented; it has spiderwebbed out into the most rural areas and wildlife habitats. Thereby inviting expensive car collisions with wildlife.

I think this unhappy hunter situation is going to be like the ancient Hebrews’ 40 years in the desert. The older generation that cannot adapt to changing habitat, changing deer behavior, changing land use patterns and changing hunting methods is going to have to die off. Then the younger generation can get in the driver’s seat on deer management policy.

The younger generation understands and values science and biology in setting policy, like doe harvest tags, the crucial importance of getting buy-in and acceptance from the larger society around us (people unhappy about hitting overabundant deer; in Europe hunters are personally responsible for keeping wildlife populations at safe levels), the need to be multifaceted and flexible when hunting deer, etc. These complaining hunters represent the ex-slave mentality of those Hebrews who left Egypt and who could not learn to live as free men. Moses could not let them enter the Promised Land because they would infect everyone with foolish ideas and weakness. That would put the entire effort at risk. So he kept them wandering until that generation died out.

Sorry, old complaining guys, you are living in a broken past. You are slaves to an unproven, non-scientific, failed approach to wildlife management. If you cannot change your mindset and embrace reality, then you will be remembered as the lost generation that stood in the way of success and happiness.

And to be fair, this same broken thinking has haunted the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s approach to Sunday hunting. The older generation there has successfully blocked a 50% increase in hunting opportunity for decades, just because they think it is “wrong,” for no good, defensible reason. But that also is about to change, soon, as the fed-up younger generation of farmers, including religious Mennonites, takes this important policy issue in hand and directly bucks the older guys standing in the way of family success and happiness.

To enter the Promised Land, you must shed your slave mentality. I hope the anti-science hunters and the anti-freedom PA Farm Bureau folks will join us as we enter a glorious new period in Pennsylvania’s outdoor heritage.

Ode to bear camp

Not too long ago, just a few years, actually, a couple hundred thousand Pennsylvania hunters would gather together for the three days before Thanksgiving.

They’d meet under old tar paper shacks, new half-round log cabins, and “camps” both fancier and more rustic. Wherever they gathered was “bear camp,” the place from which they would sally forth in the state’s most rugged topography in search of a lifetime trophy, one of Pennsylvania’s big black bears.

This 100-year tradition that spawned many long Thanksgiving holidays and peaceful family gatherings among the quiet outer fringes of civilization was inadvertently destroyed by the introduction of a Saturday opener for bear hunting.

Now, pressed for time, bear hunters can get out on one day and say they tried. Lacking Sunday hunting for bears, these hunters might hang out, cut some firewood, and then return home to watch a football game Sunday evening. Fewer hunters make camp together for the remaining Monday through Wednesday season. Sure, hunters are out there, and some camps have tagged incredible numbers of bears in recent years, but the momentum of camp itself is gone, fragmented by the introduction of Saturday hunting and the absence of Sunday hunting.

To say that bear camp was a unique amalgamation of individuals is a gross understatement. Used to be that only the crazy die hard bear hunters would be so driven as to take off of work. Now, so many guys come and go on Saturday that the flavor and chemistry of bear camp is changed, and for the poorer.

I’m an advocate for Sunday hunting. Lots of reasons why, but the loss of that bear camp feeling is a good one by itself. If bear season opened Saturday and continued through Sunday, the old experience would be resurrected. I miss it, because I miss the guys who come up now to only hunt Saturday, and by the time I arrive Sunday, they’re packing up or already gone. Gone are the easy times catching up about our kids, families, and work.

Now, bear camp has evolved two “shifts,” the Saturday hunters, and the oddball crew made of guys who can think of no better way to spend time than out in steep, remote areas, hanging off cliffs, falling down steep ravines, and sitting around with buddies back at camp at night to laugh about it. Two shifts, same camp. Same roof, different people.

Sad. I want that old feeling back. Gimme Sunday hunting for bears, please, so I can reconnect with the old friends I hunted bears with for over a decade before the advent of a Saturday opener.

UPDATE: Well, plenty of people have weighed in on this essay. Seems that Saturday has opened up bear hunting to more kids than ever before, and more hunters in general. Concentrating most of the hunters on one day is a fact of lacking Sunday hunting. And no one disagreed that the momentum has now been lost on the week days.

Sunday Hunting in Pennsylvania

Hunters United for Sunday Hunting (www.huntsunday.com) filed a federal lawsuit yesterday, seeking to compel Pennsylvania to allow the Pennsylvania Game Commission the authority to establish Sunday hunting for various species beyond the crows, coyotes, and foxes presently allowed.

The merits are enormous, the case against it weak. It comes down to good government applying consistent laws, a hallmark of democracy. Religious freedom is also part of the suit, since the ban on Sunday hunting is religiously motivated and prevents equal participation by all citizens.

What is sad is hearing pro-gun, pro-hunting folks use anti-gun, anti-hunting arguments to prevent Sunday hunting, as if it does not come back to hurt them.

Here is my position: If you hunt and own guns, then you should desire a greater hunter recruitment rate to replace the people we are losing to age. More hunters means a stronger Second Amendment advocacy pool. Otherwise, if we fail to make up the gun owners we lose, then the gun owners lose political power, and watch their rights slip away as laws change and they are powerless to stand up.