It was a bad day to be a deer in Centre County.
Generally, cars are the problem for roaming whitetails. But on Monday, many rural roads in places like Rush Township were thick with trucks and SUVs parked along the edges. The vehicles were empty, the owners in the woods to take advantage of the unofficial Pennsylvanian holiday that is the first day of deer season.
Specifically, it is the first day of rifle season, and the Pennsylvania Game Commission estimates more than 700,000 hunters are in pursuit of the perfect buck.
For Robert Ordich, of Newark, Del., the first Monday after Thanksgiving is an annual ritual, the day that he always treks to Pennsylvania.
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“It’s the best hunting in the world up here,” he said quietly, careful not to startle the wildlife outside Mid-State Regional Airport. This year, son Greg, 11, was along for his first hunting trip.
Closer to state Route 504, Barry Bruggerman, of York, wouldn’t let a little thing like a heart condition get in the way of his tradition. Disabled, he was hunting from his truck for the first time. He hadn’t seen any deer, but it didn’t matter.
“I’ve hunted all my life, since I was 12 years old,” he said. “I just enjoy being out. If I don’t get one, that’s fine. It’s a day out in the woods for me.”
Locals were a little more picky. One Philipsburg sportsman said the hunting had been declining in recent years. The Game Commission says a poor season for one of the herd’s food sources, acorns, could have an impact. Centre County hunters reported seeing very few acorns, and some, like Jim Myers, of Philipsburg, said they saw very few deer, too.
But that wasn’t everyone.
Andy Rea and son Josh counted about 16 as they hunted near Sandy Ridge. Rea took a 10-point buck and Josh hopes to pick up his own before the two-week season closes. The family ritual does more than just get their boots wet on a cold December morning. It fills the freezer with venison they will enjoy all year, and gives them memories that will last a lot longer.
“I just like it,” said Josh.
The state has adjusted its regulations in two regions this year to help fight chronic wasting disease, Game Commission spokesman Travis Lau said.
The state added a 900-square-mile region that takes in parts of Blair, Bedford, Cambria and Huntingdon counties to the disease management area previously established in York and Adams counties.
Hunters are not allowed to transport high-risk deer parts outside the area, Lau said.
In many parts of the state, about half the antlered deer season’s total harvest is taken in the first day, Lau said.
Still others are content to wait for the first two days, when many hunters are still off work or school, to end and the woods to quiet down.
“Hunting on the first day of rifle season is like shopping at Wal-Mart on Black Friday,” said Marty Moyer, of Philipsburg. “It’s just too many people.”