GARARDS FORT – Rob Cole of Connellsville, his friend and his friend’s two sons were taking a break Monday at the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s shooting range near Garards Fort.
It was about 12:30 p.m. Monday, the first day of deer season in Pennsylvania, and Cole’s hunting party had been out in the woods since sunrise. “We saw lots of tracks, but no deer,” Cole said.
It wasn’t exactly ideal conditions for deer hunting, what with the clear skies and warm temperatures. “But it is a nice day and good to be out,” Cole said.
That’s part of the reason he enjoys hunting so much. “It’s nice to go out; it’s relaxing and it’s quite enjoyable to just walk around. If you see a deer that’s a bonus,” he said.
Cars and trucks were parked along many rural roads throughout Greene County and hunters’ orange could be seen at local restaurants and stores.
Often referred to as the holiday following Thanksgiving, schools were closed and many adults took the day off from work hoping to bag a buck.
Wildlife conservation officers for the Pennsylvania Game Commission in Greene County could not be reached Monday for comment. But it appeared the day went well, with no report of injuries.
Not having had a chance to fire their rifles, the Cole’s group had stopped at the range to make sure their sights were still on.
Cole, who was hunting in the county for the first time, said he had seen other hunters in the woods that morning though not many. “We heard maybe half a dozen shots over a few hours.”
The group planned to hunt the same area today. “Tomorrow might be a little better,” he said.
It could be ideal. The National Weather Service in Pittsburgh forecast a chance of snow overnight and early today, which could make deer move around a bit more and make them more visible to hunters.
Hunting still attracts people to Greene County.
The Hartley Inn in Carmichaels opened at 7 a.m. and normally attracts a good-size hunting crowd the first day of buck season.
“We had a few hunters,” said Mackenzie Metcalf, a waitress at the restaurant. “But not as many as we used to have,” she said. Metcalf said she counted four or five groups of hunters who had come in early for breakfast.
Laverne’s Place restaurant on Route 188 opened at 6 a.m. and had quite a few hunters for breakfast, said owner, Laverne Thistlethwaite.
“You see a sea of orange,” she said, describing her dining room that morning. “Lunch was very good, too,” she added.
Local motels also were busy.
“We had a ton of hunters here this morning,” said Cheyenne Finch, front desk clerk at the Comfort Inn in Franklin Township.
Many of them come in and stay just for the first day of hunting season, but some are regulars who come back to the motel each year, she said.
Super 8 Motel said they had a few hunters staying there on Sunday night, but also still had few rooms available.
Microtel Inn and Suites in Franklin Township had its share of deer hunters.
“There are numerous deer hunters in the area and they are staying at area motels,” said Ann Bargerstock, a clerk at Microtel. “We have a significant number of hunters here,” she said.
Bargerstock said the hunters come from all over. Some stay for a night, others for the week.
Local meat processors were just starting to pick up business late Monday afternoon.
In Washington County, numbers appeared to be down slightly at some deer processors, while holding steady for others Monday afternoon as they waited for many hunters to return from the woods.
Faith Lenik of Lenik Deer Processing, 204 Railroad St., Finleyville, said they handled about 30 deer as of Monday afternoon instead of the 50 or 60 they usually receive by that point on opening day.
“We did good, but not as many as we normally do,” she said.
Hunters may be in less of a rush to get their deer to processors, thanks to the cool weather, Lenik said.
“The evening rush may be a little better than the morning,” she said.
Lenik also speculated that the local deer population may be thinning out and inhabiting areas where people can’t hunt.
Despite their numbers being a bit low for archery, Lenik said more hunters donated venison this year toward the state’s Hunters Sharing the Harvest program, which distributes venison to food banks, soup kitchens and pantries.
Kira Bobeck of Bobeck’s Deer Processing, 139 Craig Road, Monongahela, said they were down for the afternoon of opening day, but expected the numbers to increase.
“We’ve gotten a few in so far,” she said. “We’re anticipating a good year. We had a good archery season.”
Bobeck said the cool, but sunny weather may have encouraged hunters with multiple tags to stay out later in the day.
In addition to supporting the Hunters Sharing the Harvest program, Bobeck said they offer hungry hunters samples of their specialty smoked meats, which range from hot sausage to capicola.
“It’s not just a sport, we’re feeding people,” she said. “We don’t let things go to waste.”
Steve Shuba of Shuba’s Processing, 1116 Allison Hollow Road, Washington, said he’s taken in about 80 deer as of late Monday afternoon and expects to see at least 70 more that evening, which is on par with the number he normally handles on opening day. He said many hunters wait until nightfall to bring in their deer for processing.
“Once it get dark that’s when the mother lode comes in,” Shuba said.
Of the deer Shuba already received Monday, he said about a dozen have been donated to Hunters Sharing the Harvest.
Shuba said the nice weather in the forecast is a “big indicator” that this year’s harvest should be a good one.
“We have 15 so far,” said Jill Virgili of Virgili Custom Meats on Route 88 near Dry Tavern. “But we will probably be getting a lot more towards dark,” she said.
Virgili said her family’s business normally processes 300 to 400 deer a season. Business should be even better Saturday when hunters also can shoot doe. “Saturday will be a very, very busy day,” she said.
The Hungarian Smokehouse, also on Route 88 in Cumberland Township, had 75 deer about 5:30 p.m. Monday. “It’s been pretty non-stop,” said Martha Oshkie, who helps out at the business.
“We have gotten a couple of nice ones,” she added. One 6-year-old boy brought in a nice 9-point deer, she said. But they also received a few nicer ones than that.
Oshkie also expects Saturday will be a very busy day. “Hopefully, we’ll get some of these out of her before then,” she said.
And, those wondering whether they need to have their deer checked for Chronic Wasting Disease can rest easy on this side of the state, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
Conservation Officer Scott Tomlinson said the commission has established a disease management area near Gettysburg, but this does not affect the southwest region of the Pennsylvania.
According to the commission’s website, Chronic Wasting Disease is a neurological disease found in deer, elk, and moose that “attacks the brains of infected (animals) and produces small lesions that eventually result in death.”
The disease was discovered in a captive deer herd in Adams County, which led the commission to set up the disease management area in portions of Adams and York counties.