The Pennsylvania Game Commission commissioned a study to determine hunters’ opinions on the move from the traditional Monday after Thanksgiving rifle deer hunting season opener to a Saturday after Thanksgiving. The result is that sixty percent of hunters surveyed favor the Saturday opener that began during the 2019 rifle deer hunting season.
The 2021 survey was conducted through a phone survey performed by Responsive Management, a Virginia-based research firm specializing in natural resource and outdoor recreation issues.
According to the PGC, and as a condition of the phone survey, hunters had to have hunted at least once during the firearms deer season in 2017 and 2018, when the opening day was Monday after Thanksgiving, and at least once during the 2019, 2020 or 2021 firearms deer seasons, all of which opened on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. That ensured those surveyed had the opportunity to hunt both on Monday openers and Saturday openers at some point in the past five years. The purpose was to determine how the change of opening day might have impacted their hunting participation and attitudes.
According to the survey, 62 percent of hunters said the change of openers had no impact on their hunting. Twenty-five percent of hunters said the change to Saturday had a positive impact on their hunting, while only 11 percent (less than half as many), said it had a negative one.
The survey also found a majority of hunters – 60 percent – hunted on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the second day of the firearms deer season.
The most common reasons given by those who oppose the Saturday opener were that the Monday opener was consistent with tradition, and their set up and enjoyment of hunting camp was rushed with the earlier start date.
Other findings of the survey revealed support for the Saturday opener was higher among those 54 years old and younger. Support was also higher among those who have a child who hunts as opposed to those who don’t.
Top reasons cited by hunters who support a Saturday opener are that they have work obligations on Monday so a Saturday opener provides increased hunting opportunities for themselves and others plus a convenience with their child’s school schedule.
Conversely, opposition to the Saturday opener was higher among hunters 55 and older and among those who hunted from a hunting camp on opening day, compared to those who did not.
With a Saturday opener, the PGC says it brought back what they termed “lapsed hunters,” meaning those who stopped purchasing licenses for a year or more, but bought a hunting license in 2020. It was the consensus that a Saturday opener had a positive impact on their decision to buy a license. In fact, 53 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they started to hunt again because of the Saturday opener. They also reactivated because their child or grandchild asked them to go hunting, or because they were invited by family and friends who favored the Saturday opener.
The PGC added that the Saturday start allowed for broad participation by Pennsylvania hunters, especially working people and college students. Having the opportunity to hunt the first two days (Saturday and Sunday), meant hunters didn’t have to use up work vacation days.
One benefit to the agency was that the Saturday rifle start provided increased hunting license sales which were on the decline before announcing a Saturday opener.
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Nick Hromiak has been an outdoors and automotive writer for over 30 years. He's been published in numerous national and state-wide outdoor magazines and newspapers.