At their recent meeting, the Pennsylvania Game Commission Board gave preliminary approval for the use of semi-automatic rifles and shotguns for big game hunting in the state.
Up until now, only semi-auto shotguns could be used for small game, turkey and waterfowl hunting. So this new approval opens the door for such firearms as modern sporting rifles (wrongly termed assault rifles) as well as military M1 Garand and M14, Remington 7400, Browning BAR and similar style rifles. And this includes semi-auto .22’s for small game like squirrels.
In addition, preliminary approval was also given for air rifles for small-game and furbearers.
This brings up the use of air bows like the Airbow from Benjamin. Says Travis Lau, PGC media representative, “I haven’t heard any discussion about them,” when asked if they were considered for legalization. When air bows came on the scene it was speculated that if legalized for big game hunting, they would only be allowed during the rifle seasons.
With the approval for semi-autos for hunting, there are stipulations. Allowed will be a five-round magazine (or clip for top loaders) with a total ammunition capacity limited to six rounds. The new law, however, does not authorize the PGC to regulate the use of semiautomatic handguns.
It was pointed out that Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation that currently (up until final passage) has no hunting seasons during which semiautomatic rifles can be used.
Since the law took effect, the PGC has received hundreds of comments about the use of semi-auto rifles for hunting. And for big game hunting, the comments were about half in favor and half opposed to their use, according to James Daley PGC Board Commissioner. Those opposed cited concerns over compromised safety as their primary reason for their opposition Daley pointed out.
This proposal, says the PGC, did not come without some thorough review of hunter safety in states that allow semiautomatic rifles, including neighboring states and states that closely resemble Pennsylvania in terms of hunter density. Nor has their use led to a decline in hunter safety.
The approval on these semi-autos include .22 caliber or less that propel single-projectile ammo and semi-auto shotguns in 10 gauge or smaller propelling ammo not larger than No. 4 lead - also No. 2 steel or No. 4 composition or alloy – would be legal firearms for small game seasons. Semiautomatic firearms that propel single-projection ammo also would be legal sporting arms for groundhogs and furbearers. There are no caliber restrictions for groundhogs or furbearers.
Semi-autos for deer, bear and elk hunting would be limited to six rounds with magazines that hold no more than five rounds.
As for air-guns, they must be in calibers from .177 to .22 that propel single-projectile pellets or bullets.
For groundhogs and furbearers, air-guns must be at least .22 caliber and propel a single projectile pellet or bullet, BB ammo. BB ammunition is not authorized for small game, furbearers or groundhogs.
This also brings up the subject of the new air guns that propel .45, .357, .308 and other caliber bullets. Their ballistics are similar to their use in rifles/handguns of those calibers. But obviously these rifles fall into the same category as the Airbow as their operating principle uses compressed air.
These powerful air guns can make good topics of conversation compared to .177 pellet rifles. Doug Koenig, pro and champion handgun shooter who represents S&W and Gamo air guns, told me he took a 250-pound hog with a .177 pellet Gamo air gun. Compared to the newer more powerful compressed air guns, it would seem the latter, which propel much larger calibers listed above, would be more effective with longer range for groundhogs and furbearers.
PHEASANT HUNTING PERMIT PRELIMINARILY APPROVED
The PGC Board also gave preliminary approval for a $25 permit to hunt pheasants, which we outlined in a previous column.
All proposals will be voted on for final approval at the boards quarterly meeting March 27 and 28.
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.