Preliminary approval given to semi-automatic hunting rifles

Last week, the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners gave preliminary approval to several measures that could change the way many of us hunt in Pennsylvania.

The most dramatic of those is a proposal to permit the use of semi-automatic rifles for hunting big game, small game and furbearers in most of the seasons that now allow the use of manually operated rifles. According to Game Commission sources, “Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation that currently has no hunting seasons during which semi-automatic rifles can be used.” Welcome to the 21st century, Pennsyltucky.

The prohibition for using semi-automatic rifles for hunting in Pennsylvania was yet another longstanding, antiquated state law, not simply a restriction of the Game Commission, and changing it required the action of the General Assembly. That occurred last November when the state house and senate passed legislation that was ultimately signed by the governor giving the Game Commission the authority to regulate the use of semi-automatic rifles for hunting.

Under the proposed regulations, semi-automatic centerfire rifles and shotguns would be legal for big game; semi-automatic rifles in .22 caliber would be legal for small game; and semi-automatic firearms that propel single-projectile ammunition of any caliber would be legal for woodchucks and furbearers. All semi-automatic hunting rifles would be limited to a five-round magazine with a total ammunition capacity limited to six rounds.

Another interesting part of this proposal is the approval of air rifles for small game and furbearers. Air guns from .177 to .22 caliber that propel a single-projectile or bullet would be legal for small game, while air guns of at least .22 caliber that propel a single-projectile or bullet would be legal for groundhogs and furbearers. BB guns, however, are not included in the proposal, so you won’t be able to dust off your old Daisy Red Ryder to go after squirrels anytime soon.

I applaud the commissioners for taking prompt action to allow the use of state-of-the art, modern sporting rifles for hunting and for their unanimous preliminary approval of the measure. Despite that, I have already heard some friction regarding the proposal from some fellow hunters, mostly under the guise of safety concerns. To them, I say get a clue, please.

A semi-automatic sporting rifle is no more or less dangerous than any other sporting arm currently legal for hunting in Pennsylvania, period. Even our ultra-conservative Game Commission gets that, saying, “Prior to a vote, Game Commission staff did a thorough review of hunter safety in states that allow semi-automatic rifles, including neighboring states and states that most resemble Pennsylvania in terms of hunter density. The review uncovered no evidence the use of semi-automatic rifles has led to a decline in hunter safety in any state where they’re permitted for hunting.”

In other actions at the recent meeting, the commissioners approved the hunting and trapping seasons and bag limits for the 2017-18. The most notable change there is “eliminating the post-Christmas segment of the ruffed-grouse season to improve adult survival due to recent population declines.”

If the folks on Elmerton Avenue think the decline of ruffed grouse populations is “recent,” I would suggest they get out of their offices on in a while. Those of us who have actually tramped the ridges for those magnificent gamebirds have experienced that decline for at least the past 20 to 25 years or so. Sad but true.

In order to help control the spread of chronic wasting disease over the past several years, the Game Commission issued special antlerless deer permits for Disease Management Area 2 that now comprises more than 2,400 square miles in Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Clearfield, Franklin, Fulton, Huntingdon and Somerset counties. The commissioners have said it is unlikely there will be DMA 2 permits issued for the 2017-18 deer seasons and will defer to the use of the Deer Management Assistance Program that targets specific landowners to help curtail the spread of CWD in DMA 2.

In the most reprehensible proposal of the recent meeting, the commissioners preliminarily approved creating a $25 pheasant permit “for all hunters who pursue or harvest pheasants.” They project this boondoggle will raise $1.5 million toward funding a program a program that costs about $4.7 million a year to release just 200,000 pheasants. Let’s do the math on this mess.

To get $1.5 million from a $25 permit, they will need to sell 60,0000 permits. According to Game Commission estimates we currently have 100,000 pheasant hunters, so this will reduce pheasant hunters by 40 percent. Way to go with promoting hunter retention and recruitment.

No one loves to hunt pheasants more than me, but any practical way you assess our pheasant program, it is a giant loser. I am also not willing to spend another nickel to feed the mouth of an agency that keeps biting me. I would rather see the whole pheasant stocking program go away altogether.

Someone needs to explain to me why an act of the legislature is necessary for an increase of the cost of a hunting license, but the Game Commission can arbitrarily create a “permit” for a single species that costs more than a general hunting license. And they are shameless about concocting yet another permit to extract another few million from us, the gullible sportsmen and women, who always seem more than willing to pony up for yet another of the Game Commission’s hunting taxes.

All the proposals mentioned here will be up for final approval at the Game Commission’s March meeting, and public comments are welcome regarding the proposed changes. Send your comments by mail to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, 2001 Elmerton Avenue, Harris-burg, Pa. 17110; or by email to pgccomments@pa.gov.

Fly-tying program time

If you are looking for a cure for the wintertime blues, Father Clement Gardner present a program about tying productive flies with foam and other synthetic materials at the regular monthly meeting of the John Kennedy Chapter of Trout Unlimited on Tuesday, at 7 p.m. at the Allegheny Township Municipal Building at 1400 Colonial Drive in Duncansville.

The program is free and open to the public. For more information, call 309-3474.

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