Pa. hunters gear up for first day

November 30, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- Pennsylvania's only unofficial holiday, the two-week firearms deer season, begins with Monday's rising sun, when a group larger than the standing armies of most nations will shoulder rifles and take to the woods.

Between 850,000 and 900,000 men, women and children ages 12 years and older are expected to take part in the first day of the two-week firearms deer season, said Gerald Feaser, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. In many parts of the state, schools will be closed for the first one or two days of the season, he said.

Among those who will be hunting will be Jeremy Endrusick of Shippensburg, Pa., who picked up his hunting license Wednesday at the Franklin County Treasurer's Office. A member of the Pennsylvania National Guard, Endrusick just returned from a deployment to the Sinai Peninsula in the Middle East.

A rookie hunter, Endrusick will be going out with his father-in-law, said his wife, Amber.


"My father is a big hunter, but his sons aren't so interested," Amber said.

"So he's going to take me out and show me the ropes," Jeremy said.

While Endrusick was filling out the paperwork, another military man walked in looking for a license. Luke Korpak, accompanied by his 5-year-old son, Luke Jr., said he was heading to Scranton, Pa., for Thanksgiving and will be hunting in Promised Land State Park in Pike County.

An Air Force recruiter stationed in Hagerstown, Korpak said this will be his 17th hunting season. He's been hunting since he was 12, the minimum age for a license in Pennsylvania.

Treasurer David Secor said four people had come in for military licenses before Wednesday at noon.

Antlerless deer licenses went on sale Aug. 4 for the three wildlife management units (WMUs) in Franklin County, and they were sold out Sept. 9, Secor said. After the initial sale, hunters could apply for a second license three weeks later, when unsold licenses became available. The last of the remaining doe licenses went on sale Sept. 8, he said.

For the portions of the three WMUs in Franklin County, a total of 11,440 antlerless licenses were available, Secor said. That was down from about 12,800 in 2007, he said.

"Antlerless licenses have been reduced the last three years," Feaser said. Statewide, 849,000 were issued this year compared to 1,039,000 in the peak year of 2002, he said.

The game commission has no projections on how many deer will be taken by hunters this season, Feaser said. In 2007, the count was 323,070, down from 361,560 in 2006, he said.

The first day's weather made a huge difference last year.

"The weather was horrendous the first day," with poor visibility and torrential downpours through much of the state in 2007, Feaser said. The harvest was half of what it was on the opening day of the 2006 season, he said.

After that opening day deficit, hunters did not have a chance to make up the difference, Feaser said. The peak days of the season are opening day and Tuesday and the first and second Saturdays, he said.

The National Weather Service in State College, Pa., is forecasting Monday's weather to be overcast with a high in the upper 30s and a 30 percent chance of precipitation. That will be followed Tuesday by partly sunny conditions and a high of 41, according to the weather service.

Hunting requires skill, safe equipment

A hunter for more than four decades, Rick Merritts will start another season before dawn Monday, taking with him a new generation to carry on a family tradition.

Dakota Merritts, his 12-year-old son, will be going out as a licensed hunter for the first time, but he bagged his first whitetail, a spike buck, in 2007.

"After he missed two other ones," his father said.

Dakota Merritts went out last year as part of a mentoring program, where those not yet old enough to be licensed can learn the fundamentals of hunting with a parent or guardian, Rick Merritts said.

"Safety is the big thing," Rick Merritts said.

In the mentoring program, Rick Merritts carried the unloaded firearms into the woods and loaded them. While hunting, his son had to stay "within arm's reach," he said.

Of particular importance is that other hunters see them. The Pennsylvania Game Commission requires a minimum of 250 square inches of fluorescent orange on the head, chest and back, but the Merritts will be wearing completely orange hats, coats and pants.

"If they made orange boots, I'd probably wear them," Rick Merritts said.

They also will have a radio to communicate with Dakota's grandfather, who will be hunting nearby, if anyone needs assistance.

Like many hunters, the Merritts keep their favorite grounds a closely guarded secret. It also is something they begin preparing for as early as July and takes in the archery and muzzleloader seasons as well.

In an age when many children spend more time on computers than outdoors, Rick Merritts believes the work, preparation, skill and patience needed to hunt provides skills and values that cannot be learned through a keyboard and monitor.

"There's even a chance to speak with God," Rick Merritts said. He will say a hunter's prayer, one which considers both the hunter and the hunted.

"If I'm going to take one of God's creatures, I want it to be quick, easy and painless," he said.

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