Checking out some of the new hunting regulations

Once again this year, the Game Commission is not providing hunting license buyers with a copy of the “Pennsylvania Hunting and Trapping Digest,” which is a bit ironic considering the many changes and new regs that have occurred during the last two years.

To keep abreast of things, hunters are now forced to buy a copy of the Digest for $6; or to go online and view the digital version on the Game Commission website, www.pgc.pa.gov; or download it in PDF format for viewing on a personal computer or print a copy on a home printer. Following are some of the most important changes and new regulations for 2018.

Chronic wasting disease continues to expand as a threat to Pennsylvania’s wild deer herd. I devoted an entire column to this topic last month, so I won’t go over that in detail again. Since last season, the boundaries of the existing Disease Management Areas have been expanded and a new DMA has been established in Lancaster County. Further restrictions have been imposed on Pennsylvania hunters who hunt deer out of state. The whole carcass of deer harvested in the neighboring states of New York, Ohio, Maryland or West Virginia can no longer be brought back to Pennsylvania. For complete information on what parts of deer harvested in other states can legally be imported back to Pennsylvania and the regulations regarding CWD and deer hunting within Pennsylvania, refer to the Game Commission website.

Pheasant season opens this Saturday, of course, and there are a few changes regarding the wildly unpopular pheasant permit, which was inflicted upon adult and senior lifetime hunting license holders last year. Fewer than 43,000 hunters shelled out the $26.90 (that’s $6 more than an adult hunting license, by the way) for the pheasant permit that was supposed to offset the cost of our meager pheasant propagation program. The permit only raised $1.1 million, however, less than half the $2.3 million tab for the Game Commission pheasant program, meaning the hundreds of thousands of hunters who didn’t buy the pheasant permit were still paying for stocked pheasants they were no longer allowed to hunt or shoot. Simply brilliant.

This year the pheasant permit is still $26.90, but those hunters who purchased a senior lifetime hunting or combination license before May 13, 2017 (the date when the regulation creating the pheasant permit took effect) are now exempt from the requirement to have a pheasant permit to hunt or harvest pheasants. Junior hunters, however, will also need a pheasant permit this season, but the junior pheasant permit is free — at least for now. The Game Commission justifies the junior pheasant permit as a way to help track youth participation. I seem to recall when they rolled out a “free” migratory game bird license some years ago the explanation was to help track hunter participation. Now you must fork out $3.90 for that formerly free ticket if you want to hunt waterfowl, doves or woodcock.

With the disappearance of wild pheasants throughout the late 1970s and 1980s and the dependence on stocked pheasants for hunting opportunities, hen pheasants have been fair game throughout most of Pennsylvania for a couple of decades now. This season hen pheasants will be legal in Wildlife Management Units 2A, 2C, 4C and 5B. This leaves just WMU 4E and WMU 5A as the last two WMUs in Pennsylvania where only roosters can be taken during the pheasant season.

WMUs 4A and 5A are now included in the four-day extended bear season that runs during the latter part of first week of the regular deer season, November 28 to December 1. WMU 4A includes parts of Huntingdon, Blair, Bedford, Fulton and Franklin counties, while WMU 5A includes parts of Cumberland, Franklin, Adams and York counties.

Semi-automatic shotguns are now legal for most firearms seasons for deer, bear or elk hunting statewide. For elk, the shotgun needs to be 12-gauge or larger. This one doesn’t make a lot of practical sense.

Semiautomatic shotguns have long been legal for deer in the densely populated special regulation areas of Allegheny County and the four counties surrounding Philadelphia where using centerfire rifles in prohibited. Why would anyone choose to use a shotgun, semiautomatic or otherwise, for big game instead of a rifle? Better question: Why can’t we use semiautomatic rifles for big game in Pennsylvania like hunters in most other states can?

Four electronic devices have been approved for use by hunters. Hunters now may use electronic decoys for hunting waterfowl; electronic dove decoys solely for hunting doves; electronically heated scent or lure dispensers; and electronic devices that distribute ozone gas for scent-control purposes.

A new Disabled Person Access Permit has been created to allow mobility-challenged hunters to use ATVs, golf carts and other mobility devices on designated routes on state game lands. This permit is free and separate from the permit that allows disabled persons to hunt from motorized vehicles and ATVs. A wider variety of applicants can qualify for the new permit. For more information or to apply for this access permit, contact the nearest regional office of the Game Commission.

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