HUNLOCK CREEK — For the first time in three years, Jeff Williams went out to the woods and brought home a buck.
Trouble was, he had his eye on another.
“Tbere were two of them, side by side,” Williams, from Larksville, said. “With the angle I had, I only had one shot.”
This wasn’t a one-that-got-away tall tale.
For proof, Williams pointed to a a picture on his cell phone, sent to him by a neighbor who bagged his coveted buck.
“This is the one I wanted,” Williams sighed. “Mine was a 6-antler, they got a 7.”
He couldn’t complain too much, though, after a successful harvest Monday on the opening day of deer rifle season in Pennsylvania.
And by the looks of the non-stop flow of pickup trucks pulling into Naugle’s Deer Processing and Custom Butchering, Williams had plenty of company.
Take the haul the Mentrikoski family brought in, for example.
Both Mark Mentrikoski, from Mountain Top, and his sister-in-law Hannah, from Nescopek, were on the hunt by 6 a.m. and both felled deer pretty early.
“Nice weather,” Mark Mentrikoski said of Monday’s 40-degree temperatures on a clear morning. “Ideal conditions. It was simple this year. This is my first one in two or three years.”
Bob Jones knows the feeling.
“I haven’t shot a buck since 2012,” said Jones, of Exeter, who ended his five-year drought quite quickly Monday morning. “I needed it.”
Wildlife conservation officer Mark Rutkowski, of the state game commission, didn’t need to leave his office to point out the first day of deer season in 2017 was going to be successful.
Rutkowski said reports out of Harrisburg estimated some 600,000 people around Pennsylvania would join the deer hunt, and he had no reason to doubt those figures will turn out to be accurate.
“Perfect hunting conditions,” Rutkowski said. “The temperature was good, with light winds. Usually, for the first day, it’s always a big push.”
Rutkowski said their were no hunting-related shooting incidents in the region as of 6 p.m. Monday evening.
Kevin Naugle, the owner of Naugle’s, reported a lot of hunting-related kills.
He expected some 200 to 300 hunters would pass through the shop by day’s end, to have their deer dressed, skinned, de-wracked and/or turned into a trophy mount.
“It’s on par with what we did in the past,” said Naugle, who has been processing deer for 33 years. “We’re extremely busy from (deer) archery. Archery is three times as big as it used to be. That takes some of the pressure off gun season.”
Still, the first day of deer rifle season is equal to a holiday for some.
Jones, who has been hunting for 25 years, said while he may not build to the gleeful anxiety he once did, getting a deer the way he did Monday still sends a surge of satisfaction to his heart.
“I shot, missed it and it ran toward me,” Jones said. “That was the second mistake it made.”
And while Jones tried to downplay the excitement of Monday’s opener by saying anticipation doesn’t often keep him stirring through the previous night, his wife had a different story.
“Yes it does, don’t even lie,” Barb Jones chided her husband. “This is like Christmas for them.”
Naugle said he’s been seeing the same faces arriving to have their deer processed for years, and told a tale of one family that regularly features generations of hunters who camp out overnight while waiting to take their rifles into the woods.
“It’s exciting,” Naugle said. “You get to see some of them over and over, you get to know them a little bit. It’s like a big family.”
And for many hunters, a successful opening day means they won’t have to worry about feeding their families for awhile.
“I got a perfect shot, I shot him right in the jaw,” Williams said. “He ran a couple feet, I gave him a second one. My mom will be happy.
“She’s 92, and she wanted some deer meat really bad.”
Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski