Game Commission official discusses status of hunting
With tens of thousands of hunters heading into the woods for the two-week rifle season for deer, which starts at sunrise today, Mirror reporter Russell O’Reilly talked with Richard Danley, the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s law enforcement supervisor for the 12-county South Central Region, which includes Blair and Bedford counties.
Mirror: What is the biggest issue for the Game Commission?
Danley: Chronic wasting disease is the number-one priority across the state, but Blair and Bedford is ground zero for it. Conservation officers are enforcing regulations for chronic wasting disease there and setting regulations that apply there but not anywhere else in the state. For example, it is illegal to feed deer. People like to put out corn and see the deer, but it’s illegal in all of Blair and Bedford counties to do that.
Mirror: Has hunting changed?
Danley: Hunting has changed dramatically over the years. What’s the same is that Pennsylvania is one of the top deer-hunting states in the U.S. Every year, Pennsylvania is in the top three in hunting license sales, and the vast majority are for deer. Texas and Michigan hold the other spots. So it’s been a tradition forever. Hunting season has its own niche between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and in central Pennsylvania, students get off school to go hunting. But hunters are becoming fewer, and hunting is less and less participated in. You don’t see them drastically reduced, but over the years as time goes along, what we are seeing is the trend is less participation.
Mirror: What do you see causing the decrease in hunting participation?
Danley: There are myriad reasons. For one, there’s a shrinking land base. There’s less and less area available to hunt because even rural towns are getting bigger. And there are different styles of hunting today compared to decades ago. Deer hunting used to be something that groups of people would engage in. One group would start at one end of land and another would start at the opposite, and they would push deer to the other group. Deer drives require a lot of people and walking and land. That’s what you saw through the ’50s to the early ’80s.
Mirror: What is the current style of hunting?
Danley: Now hunting is more sedentary. It’s the kind of hunting you see on TV. You have a tree stand in a small location, and the animal comes to you because now you have a lot more ownership of hunting areas. You get more compartmentalized hunting as opposed to the communal hunting you had in the past. You don’t cover vast amounts of ground. I’ve also seen a trend over the years of people buying land and posting no trespassing signs so no one goes on it. In the past, land was more shared. There’s been more liability in every facet of existence. I think people think that having people on your property opens you up to liability, or maybe that’s what they’ve been told. But in fact, if you open up your property to hunting, there are laws that protect you from liability, but people don’t know or believe that.
Mirror: What do you see for the future of hunting?
Danley: I think the future is optimistic with expanding opportunities through different seasons and methods and things of that nature. We’ve been seeing a slight uptick in youth involvement. The menace of chronic wasting disease leaves us concerned for the future of deer hunting, but that will be determined years down the road. What is the future of hunting? Cautious optimism is what I would say.
The Danley file
Name: Richard Danley
Career: Law enforcement supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s South Central Region, 2011-present. In that capacity, he manages all of the South Central Region composed of 12 counties ranging from Snyder and York west to Blair and Bedford. Prior to his most recent position, he spent from 1999-2011 in the field as a wildlife conservation officer.
Family: Wife, Katrina, and daughter, Chelsie
Hobbies: Hunting, trapping and fishing