“The Pennsylvania Game Commission derails the use of semi-auto rifles for big game hunting,” reads the press release from the NRA/ILA. Their attached statement says that the PGC chose not to respect the rich hunting heritage of Pennsylvania gun owners by rejecting the rule which would have allowed hunters to use semi-automatic rifles in some of the most popular seasons throughout the state. By excluding the use of semi-automatic rifles for big game season, they have essentially eradicated the efforts and progress made last session with the passage and enactment of House Bill 236.
Yes, the PGC at their recent board meeting approved semi-auto rifles in .22 caliber or less that propel single-projectile ammunition and semi-automatic shotguns 10 gauge or smaller propelling ammunition not larger than No. 4 lead –also No. 2 steel or No. 4 composition or alloy – for small game seasons in the 2017-18 license year, that begins July 1.
You’re probably wondering why semi-auto shotguns are included since they’ve always been legal for small game, waterfowl and turkey. Well, according to Travis Lau, PGC media representative, that wording was included because of areas like Bucks County’s Special Regulations Area where only manual shotguns are legal for big game with buckshot or slugs.
The new ruling goes on to include semi-automatic firearms that propel single-projectile ammo which will be legal sporting arms for woodchucks and furbearers, with no caliber restrictions for both of those.
PGC also included the use of air guns for hunting small game and furbearers. Air guns will be legal for small game in calibers from .177 to .22 that propel single-projectile pellets or bullets.
For woodchucks and furbearers, air guns must be at least .22 caliber and propel a single-projectile pellet or bullet. However, BB ammunition is not authorized for small game, furbearers or woodchucks.
The PGC decided on these new rules because of a survey they sent out to 4,000 state hunters of which 2,000 of whom responded. Those survey results showed clear support for hunting furbearers (55 percent support or strongly support), woodchucks (51 percent support or strongly support) and small game (42 percent support or strongly support, and 12 percent neither support nor oppose) with semi-automatic rifles.
For big game hunting, 28 percent of survey respondents expressed support or strong support for semi-auto rifles, 64 percent said they opposed or strongly opposed semi-auto rifles for big game hunting, with 52 percent saying they were strongly opposed.
Based on these survey results, the PGC Board decided against their use for big game hunting by saying a clear majority of Pennsylvania hunters voiced opposition to the use of semi-auto's for big game hunting.
Following their vote, the commissioners said if growing support for hunting big game with semi-automatic rifles emerges at some point in the future, they will give consideration to further regulatory changes.
Interestingly, the survey on hunting with semi-automatic rifles showed greater support among younger age groups, including the use of semi-auto rifles to hunt big game.
PHEASANT PERMIT NEEDED IN 2017-18
The other new ruling from the commissioners meeting was that hunters pursuing pheasants will now need to purchase a pheasant permit in addition to a general hunting license in the 2017-18 license year. The permit would cost $25 for adults and seniors, including senior lifetime license holders. Junior hunters would not need a permit to hunt pheasants.
The PGC says it costs them $4.7 million a year to raise pheasants for stocking. And without this permit money, there’s no funding mechanism in place to help sustain the program.
ANTLERLESS DEER ALLOCATIONS FOR 2017-18
The PGC Board allocated 804,000 antlerless deer licenses statewide, which is up from 748,000 in 2016. The following are the allocations for local Wildlife Management Units with last years’ allocation in parenthesis.
WMU 4C: 29,000 (25,000); WMU 5B: 57,000 (50,000);
WMU 5C: 70,000 (70,000); WMU 5D: 30,000 (30,000).
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Nick Hromiak has been an outdoors and automotive writer for over 30 years. He's been published in numerous national and state-wide outdoor magazines and newspapers.