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Fewer Kids, More Women Expected for Opening Day of Rifle Deer Season

by on November 29, 2010 5:57 AM

To Cameron Englehart, hunting means family.

He’ll never forget the time his grandfather took him hunting for turkey, which essentially involved four hours of sitting and talking. Right as they were about to give up, they spotted a lone turkey. Englehart, a Penn State student from State College, went home that day with a new bond with his grandfather. The bird is now mounted in his grandfather’s home with a picture of the two from the excursion.

Englehart joins nearly 750,000 other hunters today in Penn’s Woods for the opening day of deer season. Yet the sport is actually on the decline in Pennsylvania.

“We used to sell well over one million licenses and we’re probably down close to 900,000” in Pennsylvania, said Gary San Julian, a professor of wildlife resources at Penn State.

Part of the reason, he said, is the sport’s lack of appeal among many children today. This lack of appeal may be due in part to the urbanization of the population and the demands on children's time from other activities. 

San Julian has been hunting since his uncles taught him at age 12. (In January he will travel to North Carolina for a goose hunt, an annual trip with friends that has been going on for 28 years, and last year included three different generations.) But, in general, he said, “kids just do different things and they don’t hunt as much.”

When there are fewer hunters, a concern is too many deer. According to Carolyn Mahan, associate professor of biology and environmental studies at Penn State Altoona, "The white-tailed deer population has been too high in many parts of Pennsylvania resulting in forests that are ‘over-grazed’ by deer and not as healthy. An unhealthy forest has negative effects on other species of wildlife and plants like songbirds and native wildflowers." 

While biologists try to maintain the deer population, many people—including hunters—are diametrically opposed to shooting does. That belief was reflected in new rules set by the Pennsylvania Game Commission, which reduced the amount of doe permits.

Instead of a two-week overlap, hunters can now harvest both bucks and does only during the week of Dec. 4-11 with the proper permits, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Northcentral Region Office.

Furthermore, the length of the season was reduced; it now runs from Monday Nov. 29 to Dec. 3 in certain parts of the state, including the designated hunting area that includes Centre County south of Interstate 80.

Despite the gradual six-year decline in license sales, there’s some good news for the sport, including a growing popularity among women.

A program entitled “Becoming an Outdoors Woman,” started at the University of Wisconsin, has revolutionized hunting for women, said San Julian, adding that hunting stores and catalogs now feature entire sections for women who want to hunt or fish. “That’s an important element, because there is no reason why they shouldn’t.”

Another development is the increase in technology, including scent-erasing clothing and range finders.

Yet San Julian is more of a traditionalist. “People used to and still do harvest animals without them," he said, "and are quite successful.”

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Michelle Willemin is a intern and a Penn State junior majoring in print journalism. She can be reached at [email protected]
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