By Ross Guidotti

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – For many in Pennsylvania, this first Monday after Thanksgiving is an unofficial holiday as it is the start of the state’s rifle deer season.

Hunters can track and harvest deer over the next two weeks, except on Sundays.

In most parts of the state, only bucks can be taken during the first week.

The statewide buck harvest has increased in each of the past three years.

In terms of total harvest numbers, Pennsylvania ranked third in the country in 2016. Only Texas and Michigan had higher harvest totals.

Deer hunters are helping to feed the less fortunate in Pennsylvania.

The state’s Hunters Sharing the Harvest program lets hunters donate their deer to food banks, soup kitchens and hungry families.

Last year, more than 3,300 donated deer provided more than 667,000 meals to those in need.

For Jake Douglas and his two young step-brothers, opening day was a bit of a wash-out.

“We were out there about 6 o’clock this morning and it was a fun trek up in the rain,” he said.

Douglas was one of the 750,000-plus hunters taking to the commonwealth’s woods to try to bag a buck.

According to the state Game Commission, there are about 1.5 million whitetails out there, or 30 deer per square mile.

Early on, a lot of soaked hunters saw nothing, but not everyone went home wet and empty-handed.

“We’d see doe in buck season and buck in doe season. It’s really all in the luck and how you time everything,” hunter Aaron Amoroso said.

For Amoroso, timing and luck came together perfectly around 10 a.m. Flush with success, young Aaron headed to Hoffer’s Ligonier Valley Packing for deer processing.

“We’re probably about average. I’m sure the rain’s held some of them off. But they’re still coming in, so that’s a good sign,” Matt Zimmerman, from Valley Packing, said.

The state says last year was a near-record for the deer harvest in Pennsylvania. Who knows what this year holds, but Douglas says he’s wet, he’s cold but he’s undaunted. It’s about more than getting a deer.

“No matter what, it’s still fun. Enjoying being outside, that’s the biggest part,” Douglas said.

Deer season runs until Dec. 8.