They came by pickup truck and car. Some were wrapped in tarps to protect the vehicle's interior; others lay in truck beds.
With the morning chill still in the air Monday, gleeful hunters - clad in camouflage, blaze orange and heavy boots - were happy to tell the tale of how they got their buck on the first day of firearms deer season.
Jayce Roberts, 6, spotted the seven-point buck with his father, Clint, just after sunrise in a wooded area in Derry Township.
"I said, 'OK, get ready. Hold your ears. We've got to wait for him to stop,' " said Clint Roberts, of the Blairsville area. "He got on the radio and told Pap we got one."
They were the first to arrive at Hoffer's Ligonier Valley Packing, backing up Roberts' blue Ford F-150 to the processing area at 8:30 a.m.
"It wasn't a monster, but it was the memory. That's all that matters," Roberts said.
The pair was among the half-million hunters expected to head to fields and woods across Pennsylvania in search of a whitetail on the opening day of deer season. The first day marks the start of a busy two weeks, as hunters will bag about 25 percent of the season's harvest on opening day, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The season runs through Dec. 9.
In fall 2016, hunters killed 333,254 deer - 149,460 bucks and 183,794 antlerless deer - as the state's main tool for managing the population. Commission deer biologists believe that could rise in 2017 for the third consecutive year.
Long before deer started arriving for processing, workers at family-run Hoffer's in Ligonier Township were setting up for the onslaught of hunters. They tidied up and organized paperwork used to track each order. A pot of coffee was ready and workers set out samples of venison jerky and other products for hunters to try when deciding their order.
"Everybody gets a number. That way we keep track of the deer with the rightful owner," said Morgan Zimmerman, whose parents operate the small shop.
Co-owner Mark Zimmerman, wearing a white plastic apron with processing tools hanging from a belt, joked with customers and listened to their stories. Four deer arrived between 9 and 9:15 a.m., including a 10-point shot shortly after sunrise by 84-year-old Jim McGinnis. It was the biggest deer he ever bagged.
"I called [my son] on the phone and said I need some help," McGinnis recalled. "I'm just thankful that I have a son who can drag it out of the woods."
He and Jim McGinnis Jr., who was visiting from out of state, have been hunting together since the Jim Jr. was a boy.
Since Denise Zimmerman's parents opened the shop in 1974, they've processed an estimated 32,000 deer. It's down to a quick science - saw off the antlers if requested, pull the animal out of the vehicle, and drag it by its rear legs to the processing area while hunters place their orders and chat inside.
Mark Zimmerman spent a few hours in nearby woods but didn't see any deer.
"Believe me, if we didn't have this place, he'd be out all day," said his wife, Denise.
He came in around 8:30 a.m. to help with the preparation work.
"We do about half as many as we used to; there's about half as many hunters out there as there used to be," Mark Zimmerman said. "A lot of people have just quit. Not many young people hunting. It's not a real big thing anymore."
At the opposite end of the county, Piper Bay Cafe in Level Green opened at 4 a.m. for the first time to feed hunters before they headed for the woods. The cafe is typically closed on Mondays, said executive chef Jim Fry.