The chang­ing face of hunt­ing here and around Pa.

The Kutztown Area Patriot - - SPORTS - Tom Ta­tum Colum­nist

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.”

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