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On the first day of deer season, the town of Claysville gets its shot

Monday, December 02, 2002

By Michael A. Fuoco, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The coffee's been brewed, the pastries are freshly baked and the eggs and bacon await frying.

Fear not, hungry deer hunters, restaurants and markets in Claysville, Washington County, are ready for your visit today, the first day for hunting deer with firearms.

Joseph A. Comfort practices shooting yesterday at State Gameland No. 245 near Claysville, a 2,000-acre tract which will be filled with deer hunters beginning today. (Pam Panchak, Post-Gazette)

The tiny borough of 720 residents swells each year with the influx of deer hunters drawn there by easy access -- it's Exit 6 off Interstate 70 --and State Gameland No. 245, which has four sections totaling more than 2,000 acres.

Annually, the community is energized by the first day of the new deer season, as is most of Washington County, which led the state last year with more than 17,000 antlered and antlerless deer harvested there.

"It's a rural community, so a lot of local people hunt," said Claysville resident and businessman Ron Allum. "It's a big thing. It's the talk of the town [from the day after Thanksgiving] until Monday."

Allum's a hunter but whether or not he bags a deer today he's still likely to make out. He and his wife, Judy, own Allum's Family Restaurant at the corner of Main and Greene streets, across from the municipal fire hall.

For them and other business owners serving hunters' needs, the first day of deer season is, relatively speaking, akin to what the day after Thanksgiving is to the malls.

"It will be a madhouse in here," Judy Allum said, predicting the scene inside the 30-seat restaurant. "We get people from Pittsburgh and, of course, from around here. And everybody's out of school. If we get a little bit of snow and it's cold, we should be busy."

The restaurant will open today at 5 a.m, an hour earlier than normal, and will offer "Deer Hunter's Specials."

One is eggs, home fries, and sausage or bacon for $3.20.

"And we sell a lot of sausage and gravy over biscuits," Ron Allum said. "That's a big seller at $2.40."

Allum, who is also a bow hunter, opened Backyard Boys Archery store in nearby East Finley in September.

Fellow business owner Neil Brownlee also has been looking forward to today, when he's likely to sell close to 100 pots of coffee between 4:30 and 7:30 a.m. at Brownlee's Exxon, just off the interstate. He also owns Minteer's Market at 211 Main St. but the Exxon mini-mart, because of its location and ample parking, is where deer hunting has the greatest impact.

"Coffee seems the big thing but they also buy something to snack on and cigarettes," he said. "We bake extra pastries, where normally we have a couple dozen we make five or six dozen.

"A lot of them come back in for lunch, grabbing a sandwich or a hot dog. And in the afternoon, just about dusk, they'll come back, buy some snacks, coffee or soda and maybe gas up on the way home," Brownlee continued.

"The first day is usually the busiest and then it tapers off the next day and comes back up on Saturday. But it helps out all week quite a bit."

Of course, he said, much depends on the weather. Hunters like it cold with some snow -- the opposite of last year when it was unseasonably warm.

"It's been too warm the last four or five years," he noted.

Bill Kubia, manager of King's Family Restaurant, also just off the interstate, likewise is hoping for good hunting weather. He said there's nothing quite like the atmosphere as hunters prepare for the hunt.

"Everybody's excited as they're getting ready to go out hunting," he said. "You can feel that anticipation."

The 24-hour restaurant fills up from 4:30 to about 6:30 a.m., requiring Kubia to schedule additional cooks and food servers.

The big seller, he said, is the Country Breakfast -- three hotcakes, home fries, bacon or sausage -- which he discounts from the regular price of $4.70 to $4.29.

"The hunters know they're going to be out there most of the day so they eat a heavy breakfast," he said.

Nearly 1 million hunters in the state are expected to participate in the two-week deer season, the first with a change in antler restrictions since 1953.

In hopes of improving the state's breeding ecology and to increase the size and number of bucks, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has implemented antler restriction regulations that will vary throughout the state. In Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Crawford, Erie, Indiana, Lawrence, Mercer, Washington and Westmoreland counties, hunters may shoot only bucks that have at least four points on one antler. In all other counties, with two exceptions, hunters are limited to shooting bucks that have at least three points on one antler.

All hunters in the state's six special regulations area counties -- Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia -- may still harvest bucks that have at least one 3-inch spike or an antler with two or more points. In addition, statewide, junior license holders, disabled hunters with a permit to use a vehicle, and Pennsylvania residents on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, may still harvest bucks that have at least one 3-inch spike or an antler with two or more points.

The commission estimated this year's statewide deer herd numbers at 1.3 million, down from last year's population of 1.4 million. The commission expects the total deer harvest to be similar to previous years; last year, it totaled 486,014.

Michael A. Fuoco can be reached at mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968.

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