Rifle season for white-tailed deer began at dawn today, and Pennsylvanians hit the woods in force.

Marissa Pursel and her grandmother, Susan “Suzy” Horvath, both of Hermitage, planned to be among them.

Mrs. Horvath, 57, has been hunting 35 years and is looking forward to spending time in the woods with her 12-year-old granddaughter.

Marissa doesn’t come across as the typical hunter. “I’m kind of a girly-girl, I think, and a lot of my friends don’t really see me hunting. But I really do enjoy it,” she said.

“Even though we’re hunters, Marissa and I still enjoy shopping and makeup. It’s not that we’re just hunters,” Mrs. Horvath said.

Marissa’s interests are varied, said her grandfather Dave Horvath. She’s a sharp student and a Herald spelling bee champion, plays fast-pitch softball and piano, among other things.

Mrs. Horvath said they’ll see if the hunting sticks after this year.

It’s not about killing the animals, it’s about spending time out in the forest, Mrs. Horvath said. “I just really, really enjoy being outside in nature and watching the birds and other animals.”

She recalls times during archery season -- before the animals get spooked by the rifle season -- where birds would land on her bow or squirrels perch momentarily on her hat.

The family likes to eat venison, Mrs. Horvath said, so what they harvest they use.

Marissa has never hunted deer before, but went duck and pheasant hunting for the first time this year. So far she prefers the thrill of pheasant hunting, which requires tromping through a field and firing at the birds in a fashion similar to skeet shooting.

Deer and duck hunting require a lot more sitting still, she said.

Marissa said she wasn’t sure at first if she wanted to hunt. She killed a duck a few months ago. “When I hit it, I started bawling my eyes out. It took me a while to realize that it’s OK to hunt, that it’s not being bad or mean.”

“It’s not like anything else,” she said. “You get to be outside and you get to see all kinds of things. And especially when you call things in, you get to see how all the animals react. It’s just a really wonderful experience.”

Marissa has been preparing for her first deer hunt for about a month. She planned to use a .243-caliber Winchester rifle. The 12-year-old is versed in shooting because of hunter-safety courses with her grandmother and National Rifle Association shooting competitions.

Marissa said she’s a little nervous, not only because it’s her first time, but also because the family has a friendly competition in the sport. “I kind of have a lot to live up to with my family, especially my dad. He always jokes around with me. I’m a little bit nervous, but more-or-less excited.”

Mrs. Horvath is looking forward to seeing the fruits of all their training come together.

“I’m really excited to hunt with my granddaughter, so I can see the results of all the time I spent teaching her in hunter education classes.”

Marissa said she’s at the age where a lot of her friends are getting into hunting.

“There’s definitely an increase in the number of young ladies who are doing the sport,” Mrs. Horvath said.

Both Marissa and Mrs. Horvath want to go for the bonding time. Marissa’s favorite part is just being outside with her grandmother and grandfather.

“The experiences will be, I think, truly precious and I hope one day to share them with the rest of my grandchildren,” Mrs. Horvath said.

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