Local Hunters Find Success During First Days of Season; Processors Swamped

| December 2, 2021

VENANGO CO., Pa. (EYT) – Regular firearms deer season began on Saturday, November 27, with hunters across Clarion, Jefferson, and Venango Counties reporting success while local deer processors spoke of the large quantities of deer they were processing.

(Regina Snyder with her blood spots from her first deer. Photo submitted by Regina Snyder.)

For Kayla Burke, of Knox, hunting season always gives her the opportunity to spend time with her father.

“I have went hunting with my dad since I was 12 years old,” she told exploreVenango.com. “I’m 26 now. My dad would always go hunting so we kind of watched him. Once we got old enough, it was our turn.”

With her father by her side, Burke bagged a doe early in the morning on the first day of the season.

Kayla Burke

(Pictured above: Kayla Burke with the deer she hunted with her father. Photo submitted by Kayla Burke.)

Alex Enfrenmenko, of Siegel, said he has hunted three deer (seasons) so far this year and said the snow during the first days of the season was very conducive to hunting.

“Saturday, Sunday, and Monday – it was very winterlike,” he stated. “For deer hunting, it’s as nice as you’re going to get I suppose.”

Efremenko stated he is a lifelong hunter and prefers muzzleloaders and flintlocks to bold-action rifles, and took up the hobby of building them himself. For the past 15 years, he has been using the guns he built to hunt almost exclusively.

“It’s kind of a neat experience to take game with something you built,” he said.

Alex Efremenko

(Pictured above: Alex Efremenko with the buck he took on a farm in Siegel. Submitted by Alex Efremenko.)

While hunting on his grandfather’s land in Highland Township, Jeremaih Hartzell, of Lickingville, got a buck before 8:00 a.m. on Saturday.

“Me and my girlfriend were sitting on a little ridge looking down towards the bottom, and out in the field when my girlfriend heard something from behind us which I was clearly not paying attention,” he recounted. “Good thing for her as I turned around I seen him standing there broadside.”

For Hartzell, hunting is a tradition and his younger siblings, 13-year-old Jayaliah and 11-year-old Justus will be hunting for the first time this year.

“I’m hoping I get to be there when one of them tags a buck bigger than mine,” he said.

For others, like Regina Snyder, a senior at Clarion-Limestone, this season is the first time they have gone hunting.

Snyder said she went with her boyfriend’s family to a good location near Rimersburg where she shot a ten-point buck on the first day.

“I don’t think I ever had a great interest or motivation to do it,” she said. “I also never really wanted to take the safety course until now.”

Snyder said apart from her father, no one else in her family hunts, and he has never gotten a buck. She stated a ritual in her boyfriend’s family is to paint yourself with blood marks from the first deer, which Snyder went through with even though she does not like blood.

“They take the blood, the majority from the heart, and give you blood marks,” she said. “It’s a tradition in their family.”

‘Huge influx’ of deer at local processors

“Huge influx of deer right off the bat,” said Monica Hepler of Hepler’s Meats in Emlenton told, who also remarked when previously a hunter brought back one deer for her to process, they might now bring four.

In fact, every deer processor exploreClarion.com talked to stated the first few days of the season have been extremely busy and cited concurrent antlerless and antlered seasons, Sunday hunting, and the lack of deer processors in the area as factors.

“The lack of people that’s processing deer is what’s keeping us so busy,” explained Chad Hollenbaugh, of Hollenbaugh’s Hometown Meat Market in Clarion.

“Over the years, the Shippenville Red and White used to do them, Leeper Market used to do them, O’Neil’s used to do them. It is what it is. You can only do so much.”

Many processors have held off on taking more deer until they finish their current orders.

“So, if someone shoots a deer today, I’m asking them to hold it for a couple of days,” said Hepler.

Snow on the ground during the first days of hunting season has also contributed to the amount of deer needing processing.

“We haven’t had snow for 15 years on the first day of buck season,” said Dave Bowers, of D&D Custom Cutting in Summerville. “Snow is a changing factor; it’s a gold mine for a hunter.”

Interestingly, both Bowers and Hollenbaugh stated the deer they are receiving look larger and healthier than in previous years.

“A lot bigger deer,” said Bowers. “Not getting as many small deer as usual. They’re all bigger, mature deer.”

“Not as much pressure” during Sunday hunting

“There was a lot of pressure on the first day,” said Jason Amory, information officer for the northwest region for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. “I think a lot of our officers would concur Sunday hunting there was not as much pressure as was anticipated.”

Amory stated the volume of traffic at the northwestern region’s office was about 25% on Sunday of what it was on Saturday.

“It just appears that way,” explained Amory. “Anecdotally, driving around, the number of checks that are being done by the officers.”

He said Sunday hunting has proven to be more popular during the earlier archery season, citing milder weather and less disruption of deer.

“The harvest has kind of shifted,” said Amory. “They’re saying 40% of our deer are antlered deer. As many as 40% of our antlered deer are being harvested in the archery season. It’s not so intensive in the rifle season”

Regarding how large a harvest of deer this season will bring, Amory stated he expects it to be around the size of last year’s harvest, which according to the game commission, numbered at 435,180, a 12% increase from 2019 and the highest in 15 years.

“Last year’s winter was pretty mild,” he said. “The mast crop for this fall was pretty good, and I think within the last couple of years we’ve had pretty good mast crop, so there’s been an abundance of food. We had snow this year, so I anticipate it should be right in that range.”

Though the season has run well, Amory explained the largest problem he has seen is the number of mistake kills over the past couple of years, which he says have been occurring at an increasing rate.

“The last couple of years, the biggest problem that we’ve been encountering is that there’s been a lot of mistake kills,” said Amory. “Either they have shot a doe that they thought was a buck, a buck they thought was a doe, or they shot an antlered deer that didn’t have the right number points on the antlers. That seems to be really all too common.”

Regular firearms season will continue through December 11, closing only on Sunday, December 5.

Jeremaih Hartzell

(Pictured above: Jeremaih Hartzell and his girlfriend, Katelynn Burkett. Photo submitted by Jeremaih Hartzell.)

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