His rifle in tow, Keith Keller trekked into the Susquehanna County woods early Saturday and bagged a six-point buck about 7 a.m.
The Dickson City hunter joined thousands of other camouflage-clad sportsmen and -women from across the state who participated in the opening day of Pennsylvania’s rifle deer season.
It marked the first time since 1963 the season opened on a day other than the Monday after Thanksgiving — a change that’s been met with mixed reviews.
Officials felt opening the season Saturday would provide additional hunting opportunities for schoolchildren and adults who work during the week, said Mark Kropa, a conservation administration supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission Northeast Region Office.
The change frustrated some hunters who used the weekend after Thanksgiving to sight their rifles and ready their camps. Others simply factored the Monday opening day into their annual hunting and holiday traditions, Kropa said.
Despite a successful Saturday morning, Keller said he preferred the traditional Monday start.
“I’m retired now, so every day is Saturday, but I kind of liked the old way,” he said after dropping his kill off for butchering at Sibio’s Deer Cutting in Dunmore. “It was OK for me. I got lucky today. I got a deer early, but I kind of liked the old system better.”
Scranton hunter Roy Howarth, who shot a six-point buck near Lake Winola on opening day, said he understands why some are happy with the change, but generally agreed with Keller. As Keller and Howarth chatted outside, several generations of the Sibio family worked inside butchering deer down into steaks, chops, roasts, hamburger and stew meat.
Cousins and business co-owners John and Jody Sibio learned the trade from their fathers, Butch and the late Bob Sibio, who started the deer-processing operation before they were born.
Bob Sibio died in 2005, but his picture hung in the room where the rest of the family cut and packaged the venison. Now 83, Butch Sibio worked alongside his son and nephew early Saturday afternoon.
The early start to the season didn’t change the nature of that work, and John Sibio expected hunters to bring dozens more deer in for butchering as Saturday wore on.
“If you come in at 5, 6 o’clock tonight, you’ll probably see 50 or 60 deer on the floor,” he said.
Rifle deer season continues through Dec. 14.