Nov 13 2021

Youth Hunting : Where PA is missing the mark.

By Rob Harrity November 13, 2021

Getting youth into the outdoors and especially into hunting is on the radar of many states game commission boards.  With hunter numbers down and the average age of a license buyer, at least specific to Pennsylvania, being in the late 50s hunter recruitment is more than ever a topic of concern.  Game agencies find themselves at a marketing battle ground for developing the young hunter.  A cultural shift certainly has been edging out the desire for youth to get outdoors however the overall issue is likely not just one or even a few issues.  In an epic death by a thousand cuts getting today’s youth into the outdoors is stacked up heavily against electronics, sports, lack of mentors, stigmas and yes along the mentor topic a lack of men being ..well men.  Society has taken a down hill decline in men being men, being leaders, abandoning the moral fabric of authentic manhood.  A specific topic that certainly warrants its own thesis and investigation for a future topic.  To the point of youth in the outdoors, statistics show we are missing the mark.  So what can individual states leverage in hunter recruitment?

Among the reasons identified that stack up against getting new youth into hunting remain the typical issues seen in hunter retainment of adult hunters. Are the game populations down?  Are hunter access opportunities declining?  Are the hunting seasons too limited and specifically how are the seasons and bag limits being adjusted for new and especially the youth hunters?  

As for seasons and bag limits; according to the PA Game Commission the seasons have in fact been extended increasing hunter opportunities.  In recent years specific to white tail deer hunting there have been Sunday hunting dates added to the calendar.  Along with an additional change in the traditional opening day of rifle season beginning on Saturday opposed to the Monday after Thanksgiving.  The archery deer season also added a Sunday to the season in recent years as well as extending the season further into November.

Adding Sunday hunting as controversial as it may be certainly expands opportunity and starting the season on a Saturday in theory should give the working man more time in the woods. 

Specific to youth hunting in Pennsylvania the PA Game Commission has done a superb job in defining a youth mentor hunting program – with one major flaw but more on that later.  This program gives youth 7 and older the opportunity to purchase a buck tag and join the hunt with a licensed hunter.  The youth 7 or older is also provided the opportunity to purchase their own doe tag. Youth younger than 7 years old are not left out as they too can purchase the youth mentor permit providing the mentor the ability to transfer his or her antlered/antlerless tag to the mentored youth.  This youth permit is $2.97 for resident and non-resident youth alike; the price could not be more affordable and likely covers the cost of the license itself.  Credit should be given to the PGC for implementing the youth mentored program. If you have youth or know of youth in that age group by all means take them out and get them into the outdoors and enjoy our hunting traditions.   

What is the major flaw with the PA youth hunting program?  PA is missing the mark majorly in my opinion and bending over to the idea they may ruffle the feathers of the traditional rifle hunter in PA.  The current youth season or weekend in PA is in mid October and limits the youth to taking only doe.  Sounds great on the surface to old timers the grizzled rifle only hunters but envision sitting in your double stand with your son or daughter, hunter safety system attached on a crisp cool mid October morning and seeing the buck you had been documenting for the past 4 years on a trail camera.  What an opportunity for your son/daughter to really get hooked into hunting and the overall romance of the hunting experience that could last a lifetime.  As the deer steps out into the clearing for that opportune shot you slowly prepare as the mentor and go over the steps you have worked with your mentee time and time before; you begin to feel your heartbeat increase even as the bystander….hold the phone right there; you can’t take that big buck. 

In fact you couldn’t even take the small buck that is tailing the mature buck standing 25 yards in the clearing.  So you watch instead.  Watching a whitetail deer in its full glory in God’s Awesome Creation during a mid October sit is not all that bad, except you are fully prepared in a hunting situation ready to harvest and fully appreciate that deer and overall experience of a field to table learning experience.

On a recent episode of The RFP (RyanFurrerPodcast) Ryan had the great opportunity to talk with the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission; Mr. Bryan Burhans.  The episode is an excellent talk and shows how open and passionate Mr. Burhans is in maintaining and conserving the vast great outdoors and hunting opportunities in Pennsylvania.  With of course one exception in my opinion and that is missing the mark for the youth weekend in mid October. 

Check out episode 26 of the RyanFurrerPodcast to hear all the topics covered – an excellent listen and in particular Mr. Burhans response to a listener question about this exact topic of youth hunting weekend in PA – give feedback on your thoughts of how the PA youth weekend/season is implemented.  

In wrapping up this little discussion visit the resources identified below and do a comparison of just a few other states and their youth hunting opportunities.  Myself at the time of this writing I plan to take my son out for the Maryland Youth Weekend this coming weekend (November 13/14 2021).  The Maryland DCNR does have hunting on select Sundays, one of which during the youth hunting weekend.  For inquiring minds, the Maryland youth hunt allows the youth to take a buck or a doe, and the harvests don’t even count toward a youths overall statewide or region specific season bag limit.  I would go on further to talk about how the Maryland youth hunt is even during peak whitetail rut but will save that argument for an upcoming hunting camp discussion.