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Hunting: Why Pa. might OK semi-automatics

Written by Kate Penn/York Daily Record | Feb 1, 2017 7:46 AM
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FILE PHOTO: Pennsylvania Game Commission Officer Terry Beer, right, checks the hunting licenses of Dante Bauccio, center, and Aaron Rech. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

(Undated) -- Using a semi-automatic firearm to take down that trophy buck or once-in-a-lifetime bear in Pennsylvania? It may be possible this year.

A unanimous vote Tuesday by the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners pushed that opportunity one step closer.

"I was skeptical from the start," said Timothy Layton, vice president of the board.

But he and the other commissioners were convinced -- largely because of studies of neighboring states and those with comparable hunting populations by Tom Grohol, director of the bureau of wildlife protection. Those studies showed no correlation between the use of semi-automatic firearms and hunter safety incidents, Grohol said.

Pennsylvania is the only state left that doesn't allow the use of semi-automatic firearms for hunting, he said.

The Pennsylvania State Game Commission regulates all deer hunting in Pennsylvania. Sean Heisey, York Daily Record

Initially, the Game Commission seemed unlikely to allow semi-automatic firearms for big game, trying them only for small game at first.

"Pennsylvanians, our hunters are slow to change, our agency is slow to change and I think most of us thought well, we'll be slow to change on this one too; we'll do it incrementally," said commissioner Dave Putnam.

But as they looked at the studies the commissioners decided to go all in, allowing its use for small and big game.

"There was a group of people who said, well we don't need it so let's not do it," commissioner Jim Daley said. But that's not a reason to prevent people who want to use semi-automatic firearms.

"Its just another way of putting the next round into the chamber," said Daley.

A sunset provision in the proposal would bring the issue back up in three years to examine its impact and make any necessary changes.

Several people asked the game commission not to limit magazine capacity on the semi-automatic firearms, or place a limit of 10 rounds. They wanted to be able to use magazines they already had for uses outside of hunting like target practice. But the commissioners applied restrictions they say are similar to those already in place:

  • A magazine capacity limit of five rounds plus one in the chamber in rifle season for deer, bear and fall turkey.
  • Semi-automatic shotguns would be restricted to magazine capacity of two rounds and one in the chamber for fall turkey season and small game.

A final vote on the proposal is set to take place at the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners meeting in March. The full agenda from this weeks meeting is on the Game Commission website.

Here are some of the other proposals that could have the most impact on area hunters.

Deer season for regular firearms

The regular firearms deer season in Wildlife Management Units 5B and 5A -- which include York, Adams, Dauphin, Lancaster, parts of Lebanon, Cumberland, Franklin and Berks counties -- could be changing in order to better align with the majority of the state.

For 2017, the regular firearms season for deer starts Nov. 27 and runs through Dec. 9. Hunters can harvest doe or buck, one of each, during that period. The proposed amendment would still have the season start Nov. 27, but the first five days would be for buck only. Starting Dec. 2, hunters would be allowed to harvest buck or doe.

This change wouldn't be expected to affect the deer harvest in the area, said Game Commission President Brian Hoover, who cited years of letters asking for a change to that area as the impetus for the amendment.

Turkeys

A three-day turkey season could open up this fall in York County for the first time in 17 years. The proposed season would run Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 in wildlife management unit 5B, which includes York, Lancaster, Dauphin, and parts of Berks, Lebanon, Cumberland and Adams Counties. An increasing trend in harvest densities and summer sightings in the area led state wild turkey biologist Mary Jo Casalena to recommend opening up an experimental limited season in the area.

"At this point we feel the population can withstand a limited fall harvest," Casalena said.

Pheasants

A $25 permit for adult hunters might soon be required to hunt pheasant. This comes on the heels of the closure of two pheasant farms as a cost-saving measure. The permit still wouldn't fully fund the program, Hoover said, but it would put a dent in the bill. An amendment removed a $1 permit for junior hunters.

A final vote on these proposals for the 2017-18 hunting season will take place during the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners next meeting.

If you go:

The next meeting is March 27 and 28 at 2001 Elmerton Ave. in Susquehanna Township. Public comment begins at 8:30 a.m. on March 27. The commissioners will vote on proposals and 2017-18 seasons and bag limits on March 28.

This story is part of a partnership between WITF and the York Daily Record.

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