Changes on the horizon for the Pennsylvania Game Commission and Keystone State hunters

Pennsylvania game commissioners, at their recent meeting, gave preliminary approval for various changes certain to affect Pennsylvania hunters in a pretty significant way. Alterations to the status quo are regularly made each year to keep with the ebb and flow of game populations, hunter demand, etc., but the 2017-18 hunting season could bring some big changes worth mentioning.

First and foremost, is the vote to move the statewide archery bear season from the week preceding the regular firearms bear season in mid-November to Oct. 30-Nov. 4 (running concurrently with the second to last week of the statewide archery deer season).

This is huge! If given final approval at the March 27-28 Game Commission meeting, Pennsylvania hunters would not only have the opportunity to kill a rut-crazed buck during arguably the best week of deer hunting all year, but they could also target the state’s prized bruins at the exact same time. Consider the possibilities – and the vacation days that are destined to get burned this week.

Other notable proposed season changes include bucks-only hunting from the opening day through the first Friday in wildlife management units 5A and 5B; opening a brief mid-week fall turkey season in unit 5B, and reducing the season length in units 4A, 4B and 4E; scrapping the post-Christmas ruffed-grouse season to boost winter survival rates; restoring an extended black-bear season in unit 3A; opening unit 5A to put-and-take bobwhite quail hunting; and opening the Central Susquehanna Wild Pheasant Recovery Area to a youth-only pheasant-hunting season.

But changes in the hunting season weren’t the only things discussed at the meeting. Commissioners also gave unanimous preliminary approval for the use of semi-automatic rifles and shotguns for hunting big game, small game and furbearers, with a restriction on ammunition capacity, as well as the use of air rifles for small game and furbearers.

In other news, commissioners proposed the creation of a $25 adult resident pheasant stamp to help cover the cost of pheasant propagation, which runs the agency roughly $4.7-million a year. Under the proposal, junior license holders could still hunt pheasants without the stamp, but their mentors would have to pay up if they hope to pursue the treasured game bird as well.

With the closing of two commission pheasant farms, and egg/chick cooperative programs being discontinued to cut costs, there will assuredly be fewer birds in the field next year. Forking out an extra $25 to hunt scarcer birds might be a tough sell for hunters, but it’s likely the only way to save pheasant hunting in Pennsylvania.

Other meeting business included the delisting of ospreys as threatened species, shooting range rule changes, DMA 2 permit removal, limitations on dog training, a wildlife management units 2C and 2E boundary adjustment, State Game Lands acreage acquisitions, and natural resource-based revenue deals, among others.

But there was one significant personnel change also announced at the meeting, when Executive Director R. Matthew Hough shared that he will retire on March 24. After nearly 35 productive years with the agency, Hough said he felt blessed to have served and will part on good terms.

His proposed replacement is current Deputy Executive Director Bryan Burhans, who has an impressive resume, including his past leadership as CEO of the American Chestnut Foundation, serving on the executive staff at NWTF, and experience as a wildlife biologist in both Florida and Virginia’s state wildlife and fisheries agencies.

He came to the Game Commission in 2014 as the agency’s deputy director of administration. He was commissioned as deputy wildlife conservation officer in 2015, and in addition to his responsibilities in the executive office, presently serves in the field in Lebanon County.

So, as we’ve come to expect, the January Game Commission meeting again brought sweeping change as it often does. Public comment will run from now until the March meetings, when we’ll all find out if these preliminary proposals hold fast, meaning change is indeed on the horizon for both the commission and hunters it serves.

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