Game commission OKs semiautomatics

HARRISBURG — Semiautomatic centerfire shotguns that propel single-projectile ammunition soon could be approved for Pennsylvania hunters participating in most firearms deer, bear and elk seasons.

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave unanimous preliminary approval to regulatory changes that would permit the use of semiautomatic centerfire shotguns that propel single-projectile ammunition while hunting deer, bears or elk. For elk, the shotgun would need to be 12-gauge or larger.

The Game Commission historically has permitted the use of semiautomatic shotguns for deer and bear seasons within its special regulations areas near Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. The preliminarily approved proposal would extend this authorization to the remainder of the Commonwealth, as well as permit semiautomatic shotguns using single-projectile ammunition for elk hunting.

The proposal will be given final consideration at the board’s next quarterly meeting.

Also at the January meeting, the board tabled a proposal to require people who install, use or occupy tree stands or other elevated hunting positions on state game lands to wear fall-restraint devices.

Commissioners said they support the use of fall-restraint devices by all hunters who use tree stands, and an amended proposal that would require fall restraints when using tree stands on game lands could be brought back for consideration at a future meeting.

But the wording of the tabled proposal needs to be amended so it applies only to game lands, the commissioners said.

Commissioners also adopted a host of improvements that enhance public access to state game lands by persons with mobility challenges.

The package was developed through an extensive review by Game Commission staff of public access to game lands — a process that included opportunities for public comment and a series of meetings at which the public could learn about game-lands access and offer input.

Central to the initiative is creation of a Disabled Person Access Permit, which allows mobility-challenged game-lands users to use ATVs, golf carts and other mobility devices on designated routes on game lands.

This permit will be free, and separate from the existing permit that allows disabled persons to hunt from motorized vehicles and ATVs. A wider variety of applicants might qualify for the new permit.

In other action, the board:

¯ Preliminarily approved eliminating the need for a baiting permit when using bait to hunt deer on private property in the Southeast Special Regulations Area.

While the use of bait while hunting is prohibited broadly in Pennsylvania, it is allowed conditionally on private property within the Southeast Special Regulations Area, where traditional hunting and deer-control methods have proven ineffective and a large deer herd frequently leads to property damage.

Under the proposal, landowners and the persons they permit to hunt would not need a permit to operate a bait site within the Southeast Special Regulations Area, but they would need to ensure bait sites comply with regulations.

¯ Preliminarily approved a measure that would require junior hunters to obtain a free pheasant permit to hunt pheasants in Pennsylvania. Currently, no permit is needed for junior hunters.

Issuance of the free permit will help the Game Commission quantify the number of youth participating in pheasant hunting annually — data that might entitle the agency to additional funding for its pheasant program through federal hunter recruitment funding initiatives.

¯ Gave preliminary approval a package of usage regulations for Game Commission archery ranges. None would require archery range users to acquire a range permit.

Under the proposal, ranges would be open from dawn to dusk daily, shooting would need to occur from established firing lines, and shooters would be limited to six shots when sharing the range.

In addition, broadheads would be permitted only when a broadhead-shooting station is provided, and range users could not possess an intoxicating beverage, or be intoxicated.