Commissioners and Director Burhans,
Please read this email and the attached article. We have known the progression stages of a hunter’s goals, the fifth and sixth stages identify and reinforce the importance of not putting an inordinate amount of emphasis on the opportunity. We have done much to bring young hunters into the fold with special youth hunts etc., opportunity again and again. We know these attempts have had little to no impact on youth license sales. Some like to argue ” sales would have declined more without these attempts” But the simple truth is, that statement has been around for several decades now, and is just pacification for the truth we all know inside, society has changed, the landscape has changed, and the hunting experience struggles to keep pace. I’m not sure it can keep pace regardless of what we do. Taking care of what we have and providing the best quality experience will do the most to carry our beloved sport into the future. My position as a hunter is a combination of stages 4,5 and 6. The Saturday opener implementation as you know was done against strong opposition, even staff science did not support it to increase license sales (the bottom-line barometer).
You all know my activism approach to bringing back the Monday deer opener. Well today, after the 3-year Saturday test period, we have seen a steady decline in resident youth sales. Even the anomaly increases in overall license sales from Covid in 2020 did not pull resident youth sales up to the 2019 sales number, and almost all that sales bump disappeared in 2021. Adult resident and youth resident totals are today below the 2018 totals, the year before the Saturday opener was implemented. Yes, some hunters like the Saturday, but we have created a rush after Thanksgiving that took away time for our “dyed in the wool” sportsmen, and those can even be in their later 30’s, to propagate the sport to our youth and even amongst ourselves. If we are seeing Saturday support from stages 1,2 and 3 hunters, and are damaging the hunters in stages 4,5, and 6 we have taken away the demographic that wants to promote and give back.
Our camps (25-35% of hunters) are youth and adult mentor program that instills far more excitement in a newbie than just pulling the trigger. Non-camp hunters are feeling the Thanksgiving squeeze, and hunters like everyone procrastinate leaving hunting prep to the last minute which compacts the problem. Rush becomes stress, stress breeds anxiety, and ultimately, we will shy away, or not seek to participate in what brings that anxiety on. A lot of hunters hunted the Saturday that frankly state “it just doesn’t feel the same anymore”. (The Reilly article is just one indicator) Many hunters accept the Saturday believing it was implemented by the agency as a result of sound research and it would be better for our youth, neither is true.
It is understandable that implementing the Saturday opener was an attempt to stimulate hunting participation. I’m a healthy 62 now thank the lord, those in the agency that know me, know how deeply I have been involved in Pa. hunting at all levels, and the years have taught me, anything you do rush you don’t do as well. Many hunters today say they “hate” the Saturday opener, and conversely it has appealed to some hunters, but do we really know those that half-heartedly support the Saturday opener because they want to hunt and what choice do, they really have? Or are we seeing Saturday support from stages 1,2,3 who will do little to further the sport? Whatever the reasoning, license sales predictions that caused a divorce from data and opinion analysis in 2019 have failed now in 2021.
Santucci Process Development