The changing face of hunting here and around Pa.
In a number of respects this year’s hunting season in Pennsylvania will be unlike any other that has come before. Here’s why:
The changing face of hunting here in Penn’s Woods is due to recent regulatory changes primarily affecting sporting arms and electronic devices. This began back in April when the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC), in a departure from past practice, approved the use of semiautomatic rifles and air guns for hunting small game and furbearers statewide. However, that provision could not be extended to the state’s Special Regulations Areas, which are covered under a separate section of the law.
So, at their meeting held back on June 26, the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners gave preliminary approval to allow hunters and trappers within Special Regulations Areas (like ours here in the southeastern corner of the state) also to use semiautomatic rifles and air guns. Only rimfire ammunition would be allowed when hunting or trapping with semiautomatic rifles in Special Regulations Areas, based on the proposal, which is scheduled for a final vote at the PGC’s September meeting.
Special Regulations Areas include all of Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties, and Ridley Creek and Tyler state parks during special controlled hunts. Hunters within Special Regulations Areas must follow different guidelines than in other parts of the state, and are limited to using manually operated rimfire rifles, shotguns, muzzleloading long guns and archery equipment.
The amendment would add air rifles to that list, and lift the requirement that rimfire rifles be manually operated. Air guns would need to be between .177 and .22 caliber when used within Special Regulations Areas to hunt small game, woodchucks, or furbearers, based on the preliminarily approved measure.
Semiautomatic rifles would need to be .22 caliber or less to hunt small game, woodchucks or furbearers within Special Regulations Areas. If the measure is adopted at the PGC’s Sept. 26 meeting, it likely would take effect sometime in November or December. Regulatory changes become official upon their publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin, which usually takes about six weeks from the time a board approves such a change.
At their most recent meeting the Commissioners also okayed a measure that would make three additional electronic devices lawful to use while hunting. If the measure is adopted, hunters would be able to use electronic decoys in hunting waterfowl; electronically heated scent or lure dispensers; and electronic devices that distribute ozone gas for scent-control purposes. The measure is scheduled to be brought back to the September meeting for a final vote. The board indicated it will also consider adding electronic mourning-dove decoys to the list when it’s brought up for a final vote.
Electronic devices generally are prohibited for hunting use in Pennsylvania, but over the years the PGC has received requests to review several specific electronic devices and has approved some of them for hunting. As part of the review process, the PGC evaluates to what degree a given device might negatively impact the principles of resource conservation, equal opportunity, fair chase and public safety. In reviewing the devices that were recently preliminarily approved for hunting use, the PGC identified no negative impacts that would result from their use. We’ll have to wait and see how it all shakes out at the agency’s September meeting.
**** SAFE HUNTING PREVAILS. Pennsylvania hunters had one of their safest years on record in 2016. The number of hunting related shooting incidents statewide was the second-lowest ever, and for only the second time on record, a year passed without a single fatality related to gun handling while hunting or trapping in Pennsylvania, according to a newly released report from the Pennsylvania Game Commission. There were 25 hunting-related shooting incidents statewide during 2016. Only 2015 had a lower number of incidents with 23.
And the only other year without a hunting-related fatality in Pennsylvania was 2012. The trend of increasingly safer hunting is something of which Pennsylvania’s hunters — and the Game Commission’s team of volunteer instructors — can be proud, said Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. Decades ago, hundreds of incidents occurred annually, year after year in Pennsylvania.
“There’s always work to do when it comes to improving hunter safety because even one incident is too many,’ Burhans said. “But the fact remains that hunting is safer than it’s ever been, and in Pennsylvania, the credit for that can be shared by the legions of hunters who make a habit out of making good decisions and the dedicated instructors who have trained them so well.”