It's finally here.

If you're a big-game hunter in Pennsylvania, this is one of your favorite weekends of the year. The traditional two-week deer season kicks off on Monday, and the weather across the state looks just about perfect.

Sure, some hunters have already spent dozens of days in the woods and a lucky few have already filled their tags, but compared to Monday's big deer-season opener, the state's early seasons are little more than pre-game warm-up. Now it's time for the big show.

This weekend, many hunters are doing what their families have done for generations. They're packing their supplies and heading north to the "big woods" section of the state. God's country is a busy place these days.

But each year, more and more hunters stay home. Part of the decision is economics. Another leading reason, though, is some of the biggest bucks in the state now live in the scattered woodlots of the suburbs.

While I would stop short of calling the firearms season two weeks of mayhem in the woods, depending on where you set your stand, the sentiment may not be too far off. With some 750,000 hunters expected to take to the state's fields and forests, no matter where you head, you'll see plenty of blaze orange over the next couple of weeks.

This will be the second season with the known presence of chronic wasting disease within the state. But unlike last year, successful hunters in the Game Commission's disease management areas will not have to take their deer to a special monitoring station. Instead, the state's biologists will work with cooperating processors to collect random samples, which will help monitor the spread (or, hopefully, the lack thereof) of the disease.

Although every hunter dreams of bagging a big, healthy deer at first light on opening day, a truly successful hunting season is a safe season. I know it sounds cliché, but I would be remiss if I didn't review the essentials.

First, always know your target and what lies beyond. With so many hunters in the woods, it's not only important to ensure you're aiming at a legal deer, but it's vital to be positive you're not aiming at an unseen or unnoticed hunter. Once you pull the trigger, that bullet isn't coming back.

Another must is a safety harness. As a hunter who has been saved from a long fall by one of these simple devices, I won't go near a tree without this piece of equipment.

Finally, tell somebody where you're going and when you'll be back. Penn's woods are enormous and without proper directions, even in the York County suburbs, help could be a long way off.

Most important of all, have fun. Hunting is not all about the kill. There's much more to the sport, such as camaraderie, tradition and time spent outdoors.

When you head out on Monday morning, be safe and remember what the hunt is all about. If you do, it won't matter if that 10-point you've been dreaming of pays you a visit or not.

Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at