By Larry Keane
Pennsylvania hunters racked up big numbers during the 2020 deer season, packed their meat freezers a little fuller and are already eyeing their calendars for next year.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission’s trial run of Sunday big game hunting included three weekends in November last year. It was such a success they’re considering more Sunday hunts in 2021 and the 2020 deer harvest numbers show just how big of a boon the extra days were.
Hunters Took Advantage
The coronavirus pandemic led to an unprecedented renaissance for hunters in 2020 heading out to fields and woods for some natural social distancing. In Pennsylvania, that included an experiment for three extra days of big-game hunting on November Sundays. Pennsylvania hunters didn’t miss their shot.
“This year’s Sunday hunting opportunities were extremely popular with our hunters, and they did not see any substantial issues occur on these Sundays,” explained Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans.
Just how “extremely popular” were the extra Sundays outdoors? The 2020 deer season harvest numbers were released and they’re big. Really big. Almost 400,000 big.
In fact, Pennsylvania was one of only three states that harvested more than 300,000 deer and Keystone State hunters blew past that mark by nearly 90,000. When Burhans submitted the PGC annual report to the state’s General Assembly recently, it showed Pennsylvania hunters took advantage of the extra days and they bagged more than 389,000 white-tailed deer. Even with the significant increase in those heading out to the woods and fields, Pennsylvania hunters did so responsibly, receiving fewer wildlife game violations than all of last year. Burhans praised Pennsylvania hunters.
“This report also notes that Pennsylvania was second in the nation for antlered deer harvested per square mile, and first in the nation in overall deer harvested per square mile,” Burhans said. “These numbers are a testament to the hunting culture and traditions in our state that remain alive and well, as well as the health and productivity of our deer herd.”
Opening Day Anticipation
With a healthy deer population waiting and a growing population of hunters continuing or beginning to participate in the great American hunting pastime, 2021’s season is right around the corner. PGC’s Burhans already spoke to the Pennsylvania House Fisheries and Game Committee and proposed expanding Sunday hunting.
“We also would like to build upon the successes of Act 107 of 2019, which provided for three days of hunting on Sundays. This change was implemented in 2020 and was met with great enthusiasm…,” Burhans said. “The Game Commission supports opening additional Sundays to hunting and welcomes the opportunity to work with this Committee to craft legislation giving full authority to the Board of Commissioners to offer additional Sunday hunting opportunities.”
More Sunday hunting is good news for Pennsylvania’s hunters and for the Pennsylvania economy. All told the commonwealth is home to nearly 13,500 jobs related to the hunting, firearm and ammunition businesses, the fourth-most of any state. They also accounted for more than $2.2 billion in economic impact, which was good for the seventh-highest among states. If there were any doubt as to the popularity of hunting remaining high in Pennsylvania leading into next season, PGC Commissioner Travis Lau confirmed the welcomed trend, saying “Sales so far in 2020-21 have exceeded totals for 2019-20.”
Last year saw a boost to hunting activities in all corners of the country, including hunters of all ages and demographics. The rise in numbers is a great sign for conservation and wildlife management, including in Pennsylvania. Monies collected from the purchase of hunting licenses and fees, and excise taxes paid by firearm and ammunition manufacturers supplying hunters with needed equipment, contribute to wildlife management and conservation project funding through the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program (WSFR). In 2020, that total was $1 billion, $121 million above the 2019 total.
Pennsylvania hunters will no doubt keep their eyes peeled for what the Pennsylvania House Fisheries and Game Committee determines for next year’s hunting calendar, but all signs point to more Sunday hunting. NSSF encourages hunters to recruit new friends and family to come along and join them in the hunting sports through the +ONESM Movement initiative in order to keep hunting traditions alive and well.
Larry Keane is Senior Vice President of Government and Public Affairs and General Counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry trade association.