The statewide archery season for deer opened yesterday, kicking off a full slate of fall hunting opportunities, including several new and expanded seasons.

The special season for squirrels and rabbits for junior license holders also started yesterday. Junior hunters also get a head start for ring-necked pheasants starting Oct. 12.

The junior seasons for all three species run through Oct. 19.

For the rest of us, the regular season for the small-game species squirrels, rabbits and ruffed grouse opens Oct. 19 with pheasant season starting on Oct. 26. The small-game season reopens again from Dec. 16 through Dec. 24 and again from Dec. 26-Feb. 29 for squirrels, rabbits and pheasants.

Bear hunting will see the biggest expansion for 2019 as the number of statewide bear-hunting days will double. “It’s the largest suite of bear-season changes ever approved in a single year,” said Mark Ternent, Game Commission bear biologist. “In most of the state, we’re going from 14 or 16 days of bear hunting to 32, from three Saturdays to seven, and we will start hunting bears almost two weeks earlier.”

The general bear season remains at four days from Nov. 23 to 27. It is followed is followed by and extended season that runs the entire first week of the regular deer season, Nov. 30 to Dec. 7, in twelve Wildlife Management Units. A new statewide bear muzzleloader season begins Oct. 19 and ends Oct. 26.

An early firearms bear season for junior and senior hunters, hunters who are on active military duty, and certain disabled persons runs from Oct. 24 to 26. Those seasons are followed by a two-week archery season from Oct. 28 to Nov. 9.

A one week antlerless-only muzzleloader deer season runs statewide from Oct.19 to 26. This week also includes a special three-day firearms season for junior and senior hunters, mentored youth, hunters who are on active military duty and certain disabled persons Oct. 24 to 26.

With all these extra and special seasons, why can’t we have a real muzzleloader deer season in Pa.? Most other states have real muzzleloader opportunities, yet we have a week of doe-only and another couple weeks of an irrelevant flintlock season in the dead of winter.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the opening day of the regular deer season opens on Saturday instead of the long-standing Monday after Thanksgiving.

Since the Board of Commissioners passed this measure back in April, every hunter I’ve talked to has expressed an opinion on this big change. And mostly, there seems to be little middle ground on the subject among the hunting community. It’s either “love it” or “hate it.” On the upside, I suppose, the regular deer season is now 13 days instead of 12.

Personally, this is the rare issue about which I have no strong feelings one way or the other. Bring the season in at 2:30 on a Tuesday, and I’ll be there. I do believe, however, changing the traditional deer season opener to Saturday when we still can’t hunt Sundays in Pennsylvania seems patently ridiculous.

That silliness doesn’t rest entirely with the Game Commission because the prohibition on Sunday hunting is an antiquated state law that will take an act of the legislature to correct. I’m not going to entertain a discussion on the Sunday hunting issue this week other than to say it’s well past time for the politicians to get a clue and bring dear old Pennsyltucky into the twenty-first century.

Finally, the statewide flintlock and late archery deer seasons each gain an extra week this year and will run from Dec. 26 to Jan. 20.

Walt Young is an outdoors writer for the Altoona Mirror.

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