Changes in store for this hunting season

Semi-automatic rifles will be legal in Pennsylvania for small game, groundhogs and coyotes for the first time this year.
Semi-automatic rifles will be legal in Pennsylvania for small game, groundhogs and coyotes for the first time this year. For the CDT

Hunters and trappers should be aware of a few changes when they purchase their Pennsylvania 2017-18 hunting and trapping licenses, which will be available June 19. The previous year’s license expires on the last day of June.

Many hunters buy their licenses shortly after they go on sale so that they are ready to mail in their antlerless deer applications. This year, applications from Pennsylvania residents will first be accepted by county treasurers on July 10 and accepted from non-residents on July 17. July 10 will be upon us before we know it.

Last year, all license buyers received an 88-page Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest when they purchased a license — but not this year. Instead, all license buyers will receive a complimentary pocket-guide that contains general hunting regulations, hunting hours, fluorescent orange requirements, a map of the Wildlife Management Units, season dates and bag limits.

Want the full digest? Pay an extra $6 for a printed copy or access it for free at the Game Commission’s website — www.pgc.pa.gov.

Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans explained that this decision was a result of the agency’s financial situation, which has already caused the Game Commission to eliminate programs and reduce personnel.

“These kinds of reductions in services are necessary as the Game Commission approaches nearly two decades without an increase in the cost of a general hunting or furtaker license,” he said.

I realize that the agency needs to cut costs. However, as someone who often refers to the regulations digest, I think that this cost-saving move by the PGC is a big mistake. Yes, we live in the Internet age and the age of smartphones, but all hunters do not have that access. The digest was one sure way for the Commission to reach all of its license buyers. It was a way to highlight all season changes, explain regulations and get their conservation message across. I will miss my digest, and I think that other hunters will, too.

The changes won’t stop there, either — and if you are a pheasant hunter, you could be in for a big shock. This fall, all adult pheasant hunters will need a $25 pheasant stamp (plus $1.90 issuing agent fee). If you hold a Resident Senior Lifetime license or lifetime combo, you will still need to pay the $26.90 if you want to hunt pheasants. Junior license holders do not need a separate pheasant permit.

Last year, the Commission’s stocked pheasant program cost about $4.7 million — no small chunk of change. Considering that only 15 percent of licensed hunters pursue pheasants, something had to give. Two of the agency’s pheasant farms were closed as a cost-saving measure, and a separate pheasant permit was approved to generate income.

The creation of a separate pheasant permit was needed, justified and totally fair. I do not have a crystal ball, but I suspect that fewer pheasant hunters will be afield this fall — likely put off by the cost of the license. However, for serious hunters, the $25 permit is still a bargain. If you question that, check out what it costs for a few hours of pheasant hunting at a shooting preserve.

Due to low ruffed grouse numbers across most of the state, there will be no extended winter season on grouse. Archery bear season will be increased by one day, and by hunter request, it will be moved to coincide with archery deer season. This fall, archery bear season will be held Oct. 30 to Nov. 4. There are also slight alterations to turkey seasons in some wildlife management units.

Another big change for this year is the legalization of semi-automatic rifles for hunting small game, groundhogs and coyotes. I think that many squirrel and coyote hunters will make this move — particularly if they already own a semi-automatic rifle.

Most rabbit hunters use a shotgun, but my brothers and I changed over to using .22 rifles for rabbits around 1970. One of my friends even liked to hunt them with a .22 revolver. True, we bagged less game, but we had lots of shooting and it made the hunt more challenging and fun. An auto-loading .22 would provide great sport for rabbit hunting.

Some hunters expressed disappointment when commissioners voted not to make it legal to hunt big game — deer, bear and elk — with semi-automatic rifles. The Game Commission surveyed license buyers, and the majority were not in favor of this change. I am sure that the day will come when semi-automatic rifles are legal for big game in Pennsylvania, but for now, I think that the agency did the right thing by surveying hunters and following majority opinion.

There has not been a general license increase since 1999. Adult resident licenses still cost only $20.90 — with that, you can hunt antlered deer, turkey, grouse, squirrels, rabbits, coyotes and others. That is a true bargain.

Mark Nale, who lives in the Bald Eagle Valley, is a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association and can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com