Deer hunting season change not supported by hunters, businesses
By RANDY SANTUCCI
The Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) changed the over half-century-old, traditional deer season opening day from the Monday after Thanksgiving to the Saturday prior amidst strong opposition.
To someone not familiar with the dynamics of this weekend, this change might seem innocuous, but that would be a poor analogy.
Economic losses were identified from 10 business contacted exceeding $360,000.00, statewide impacts are likely in the several millions.
Opposition to this change came from 65% of our hunters who were surveyed by the PGC. 81% of approximately 1,300 hunters who contacted the agency opposed the change.
Even the agency staff itself who was tasked to research the PGC commissioners’ reasons for making this change came back with data that did not validate their thought process.
Opposition of this magnitude toward any issue should be concerning, particularly when the decision-making body, the PGC board, is required to educate themselves with this information as a primary source in their decision making.
Why did the majority of hunters oppose the Saturday opener and why the economic losses?
The Thanksgiving holiday complicated the new Saturday opener.
Thanksgiving condensed countless hunter preparations and traditions previously done throughout the weekend following the holiday, into only one day- the Friday after Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is the most travelled holiday of the year identified by AAA and TSA, this made it difficult if not impossible for many hunters to clear their schedules due to visiting family members or related scenarios.
Taking away 2/3 of the pre-opener time in this weekend, upset many hunters in many ways, especially those that hunt from camps, seasonal homes and non-resident hunters.
These hunters travel for hours to open and warm their camps and have dozens of pre-hunt preparations to complete before daylight the next morning.
The travelling hunters recognized the Saturday opener as a bigger problem, but the overall research evidence and hunter outcry identified statewide negativity.
For over half a century hunters anticipated this labor of love steeped in tradition.
Lee Dechant, owner of Route 66 Sporting Goods, Shippenville Pa., may have said it best referring to the PGC board “what a mess they made of this!”
The Saturday opener was unfolding like a bad dream for many hunters, and ended up a nightmare for rural businesses.
Putting Thanksgiving to bed and just having enough time to get ready for a pre-daylight Saturday hunt, eliminated long standing traditions and hunt preparation, but also took the hunter patronage out of countless Pennsylvania stores that weekend, almost completely!
The Saturday opener reduced an over half-century raging stream of hunter dollars to a trickle in dozens of counties and thousands of businesses. In many northern rural areas, this weekend sales surge from hunters would be the last big sales weekend before the dead months in winter. Dollars made here were stretched until spring when trout season brings sportsman back into these areas.
A good indicator of this circumstance was evident in the feedback from sporting goods stores that specialized in hunting supplies, license sales and firearms. The owners of 10 sporting goods stores from throughout the state indicated their sales loss numbers were stunning, some were already in the process of writing letters to the PGC! These 10 businesses ranged in size from very large to medium to mom and pop variety.
They all identified losses directly attributed to the Saturday opener totaling in excess of $360,000! With only these 10 stores racking up these kinds of losses, one can only imagine the overall impact to all types of small businesses that hunters previously patronized this weekend. These 10 owners stated many neighboring businesses they spoke with also experienced losses never before seen in this weekend.
Their claims were all validated with historical sales analysis of this weekend. They also identified Saturday opener opposition from their hunting customers was running as high as 90% .
The data shows most hunters do not like the Saturday opener.
The PGC commissioners were actually recalled to Harrisburg last spring to reconsider their vote by The House Game & Fisheries Chairmen Keith Gillespie and Bill Kortz, in response to hunter opposition. This PGC board was given ample reason and chance yet they refused.
Now we have a severe economic impact hurting many small businesses, combined with the hunting related woes. When small businesses identify they depended on the sales from the opener weekend to carry them through winter months, and now questioning how to pay their utility bills again this is not an innocuous situation.
When some even stated possibly closing their doors over this, it is time for someone to look at the facts and guide this ship of PGC hypothetical reasoning back to the port of reality and accountability!
Several legislators have already expressed their opposition to the Saturday opener, and we need other legislators to push for the return to the traditional Monday opener of the deer season.
Furthermore, hunting license sales still declined, it’s clear the change didn’t work.
Randy Santucci of McKees Rocks, Pa., is a small business owner, past president and current Southwest Regional Director for The Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania. He also had served on former Gov. Tom Corbett’s Advisory Council for Hunting Fishing and Conservation.