Highlights from PA Game Commission Meeting
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners at its meeting today approved the 2021-22 hunting and trapping seasons and bag limits, and moved forward with a number of other actions.
“Hunters and trappers can start making their plans for the year ahead,” said Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “It will be a year full of exciting opportunities, with statewide concurrent antlered and antlerless firearms deer hunting, expanded Sunday hunting opportunities and more ways to get afield.”
The complete list of adopted 2021-22 seasons and bag limits is contained in a separate news release.
Other board action is summarized below.
BOARD APPROVES CONCURRENT ANTLERED AND ANTLERLESS SEASONS STATEWIDE
The slate of deer seasons approved by the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners for the 2021-22 license year will allow for concurrent hunting for antlered and antlerless deer through the duration of the firearms deer season in all Wildlife Management Units (WMUs).
The board had authorized concurrent seasons in 10 WMUs in the 2020-21 seasons, mainly in WMUs in which Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) had been detected in free-ranging deer. By expanding concurrent seasons statewide to all WMUs, the board has provided hunters with more opportunities to harvest antlerless deer, and reduced confusion about which WMUs are open to antlerless hunting.
In adopting a statewide concurrent season, the board noted allowing antlerless deer hunting throughout the season is not intended to increase the antlerless harvest. Deer populations are managed through the allocation of antlerless licenses. On average, one antlerless deer is harvested for every four antlerless deer licenses allocated.
In most WMUs, antlerless license allocations were decreased with the move from a seven-day to a 14-day concurrent season. But because deer-population objectives determine harvest goals, and therefore the allocation of antlerless licenses, the allocations are not decreasing everywhere. For example, in WMUs where the deer population is increasing, but the deer management plan goal is to stabilize the population, an increase in harvest is needed. As a result, the antlerless allocation has increased to achieve a higher harvest. In WMUs with chronic wasting disease (CWD), similar increases in allocation and harvest are necessary.
Providing for the concurrent antlerless and antlered season provides hunters with additional time to meet the deer management objectives in each WMU and takes into account the potential for inclement weather to negatively affect hunting opportunities during the firearms deer season.
THREE-LICENSE LIMIT FOR ANTLERLESS DEER HUNTERS LIFTED
Hunters statewide now have the opportunity to apply for and receive additional antlerless deer licenses, as long as those licenses remain available, and provided that a hunter holds no more than six unfilled antlerless licenses at a time.
The Board of Commissioners today adopted a measure that removes the three-license limit for antlerless deer hunters statewide.
Hunters will continue to mail antlerless-license applications to county treasurers, as required by law. Applications will follow the same schedule as in years past, where residents, and later nonresidents, are permitted to apply for a license in the opening round, and in each of two successive rounds for any Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) where licenses remain. Then, in early September, over-the-counter sales will begin, and hunters can pick up a fourth, fifth and sixth antlerless license in any WMU where licenses remain, either by going to a county treasurer’s office to purchase them or sending an application by mail.
Once a hunter obtains six licenses, the hunter can’t purchase additional licenses without first harvesting deer and reporting them. At no time is a hunter able to possess more than six unfilled antlerless licenses.
But there is no limit on the total number of licenses a hunter can obtain in a license year. As long as licenses remain available, and a hunter holds fewer than six unfilled antlerless licenses, the hunter can purchase another. A hunter without an antlerless deer license can purchase six licenses at a time over-the-counter starting in September.
Commissioner Kristen Schnepp-Giger noted previously that this change won’t impact the vast majority of hunters, who already are able to purchase antlerless licenses within the initial rounds of the antlerless application process, prior to the WMU of their choice selling out. But it does allow hunters in WMUs with leftover licenses to buy up to six of them, instead of the previous limit of three.
The proposal to remove the three-license limit for antlerless deer hunters statewide is intended to ensure that licenses allocated within a WMU are issued to the fullest extent possible. For instance, in WMUs 2A and 4A in the 2020-21 license year, well over 16,000 antlerless licenses remained available in mid-November, and hunters in these and other areas have questioned whether the three-license limit continues to make sense.
The new process is simpler, since the same distribution rules now apply to all WMUs, and it maintains fair and equitable distribution. The rule change could make more antlerless licenses available deeper into hunting season, perhaps giving hunters who purchase their licenses later a chance to get one. And it likely will result in the collateral benefit of increasing harvest reporting.
Initially, the proposal to lift the three-license limit set a hunter’s limit at four unfilled antlerless deer licenses. That limit was increased to six to better serve hunters in the state’s Special Regulations Areas while still maintaining simple, consistent rules for all hunters statewide.
ELIMINATING RIFLE USE FOR FALL TURKEY HUNTING COULD SPARE ADDITIONAL SEASON-LENGTH REDUCTIONS
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today adopted a measure that will provide the Game Commission an additional tool to respond to below-goal turkey populations.
The commissioners voted to eliminate the use of manually operated centerfire and rimfire firearms for fall turkey hunting.
Recent survey data indicate only 14 percent of Pennsylvania fall turkey hunters primarily use rifles, but rifles are responsible for 33 percent of the fall turkey harvest. By eliminating rifle use in fall turkey season, it’s estimated the statewide harvest could be reduced by 20 percent, while most turkey hunters would be unaffected by the change in requirements.
Reducing fall turkey season length has been the primary method to help out turkey populations. Season length adjustments are based on standards set forth in the Game Commission’s Wild Turkey Management Plan.
At present, turkey populations are below goal in 15 of 23 Wildlife Management Units, and shorter season lengths have been adopted in response. Depending on the actual impact of removing rifles from fall turkey seasons, recent fall turkey season length reductions could eventually be reversed and more hunting opportunities added.
“The Board of Commissioners wants to take the necessary steps to protect Pennsylvania’s turkey populations, which have been below-goal in many Wildlife Management Units,” said Commissioner Scott Foradora, who represents District 3 in northcentral Pennsylvania. “Faced with a decision between either shortening the overall season length which will impact all turkey hunters, or removing rifles which are used by a smaller group of hunters, the board believed that the better option is to remove rifles. Taking rifles out of the fall season will reduce the harvest of hens in that season, without further reducing season lengths, thus giving turkeys further protection without limiting hunters’ time afield.”
COMMISSIONERS CALL FOR COOPERATION IN BATTLING CWD
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) continues to be a serious threat to Pennsylvania deer and deer hunting, and combatting it is going to require cooperation between wildlife managers and hunters.
Commissioner Timothy Layton, who represents Game Commission District 4, made that clear after hearing about the results of CWD testing across the state in the 2020-21 hunting seasons.
The Game Commission tested more than 12,000 whitetails for CWD in the 2020-21 license year. That’s more than most states were able to do given impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unfortunately, 218 of those deer were found to have CWD. Matthew Schnupp, director of the Game Commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Management, likened that news to a “punch in the stomach” for wildlife managers and hunters.
CWD prevalence rates continue to be highest in Disease Management Area 2 (DMA 2), and even more specifically in that portion of DMA 2 known as the Established Area. There, the CWD prevalence rate climbed to nearly 14 percent in hunter-harvested adult deer, up from less than 8 percent a year ago.
The only hope for making things better in the Established Area, and for keeping CWD at bay elsewhere in the state, is for hunters to help wildlife managers, Layton said.
“Today, more than ever, we must realize as hunters and outdoor enthusiasts, that working together is crucial for the future of wildlife conservation here in Pennsylvania,” Layton said. “The Game Commission has asked for help from sportsmen across the state in managing CWD, which is becoming a larger problem every year. Conservation is a big word and it’s crucial that we all work together – as one – using the best science on a statewide level.
“As we look back at 2020, the CWD incident rate increased once again, in the Established Area. Without the Game Commission and hunters uniting in the effort to combat this disease, the future increase of CWD-positives is imminent.”
CWD is not just a Pennsylvania problem, Layton noted. It’s found in more than half of the nation’s states. Resistance to doing what’s necessary to battle the disease, here or anywhere, is a losing game, he added.
So Layton thanked Pennsylvania hunters for their noteworthy work as conservationists in the past, and called on them to continue building on that legacy into the future.
“We need to show the whole country what being a Pennsylvania hunter is all about. Our Game Commission has been a leader in wildlife-conservation efforts since its inception 125 years ago,” Layton said. “We need your help now more than ever to unite and battle this disease together and cooperate to protect the future of our incredible white-tailed deer herd.”
BOARD ALLOWS DIGITIAL LICENSES
Pennsylvania’s new hunting and furtaker licensing system, HuntFishPA, is equipped to provide hunters and trappers electronic versions of the licenses they buy. In recognition of that, Pennsylvania’s Board of Game Commissioners today agreed to allow hunting and furtaking eLicenses to be carried afield as an alternative to carrying certain paper licenses.
Harvest tags will continue to be issued in physical form on durable stock. No electronic versions of these documents will be issued or authorized for use, and durable-stock harvest tags still need to be carried in the field when hunting in big-game seasons or trapping seasons when harvest tags are used.
But for other hunting and trapping opportunities, eLicenses now are a permitted substitute for hunters and trappers to carry in the field.
Hunters and trappers buying licenses online will continue to be mailed all durable-stock license panels, including harvest tags, and will also be given access to eLicenses. Those buying licenses from an issuing agent will be issued harvest tags at the time of purchase and will have the opportunity to have digital licenses provided through email.
“We’re always looking to improve our customer’s experiences, and with the launch of our new HuntFishPA online system, we’re able to provide the additional convenience of a digital license, which provides hunters and trappers access to their license documents on any mobile device,” said Deana Vance, director of the Game Commission’s Bureau of Automated Technology Services. “It’s an option many might prefer.”
There is no additional fee to retrieve eLicense products from HuntFishPA, but regular fees still apply for the replacement of harvest tags, or where the customer opts for a physical reprint of the license.
LANDOWNERS GET MORE TIME TO APPLY FOR DMAP
Landowners now have two additional months to apply to enroll their properties in the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP).
Pennsylvania’s Board of Game Commissioners today voted to extend the annual application deadline from May 1 to July 1.
Many DMAP landowners consider the May 1 application deadline too early because it does not allow adequate time to collect post-winter data, analyze it and incorporate those findings into their applications. The new, later deadline gives landowners more time to prepare and submit applications.
“This change is a win-win for hunters and landowners,” said Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “It gives landowners the extra time they need to enroll based on the latest, best data, which will increase the number of properties participating in the program. That will ultimately give hunters more properties to hunt and more tags to use in assisting landowners in controlling deer populations.”
NEW MENTORED HUNTING OPPORTUNITIES EXPLORED
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to expanding the number of opportunities that can be experienced by mentored hunters.
The board voted to allow mentored hunters to pursue waterfowl and bears.
The proposal also would allow mentored hunters over the age of 7 to purchase their own bear licenses and special spring turkey licenses, and would permit those licenses to be transferred from their original holders to a mentored hunter under age 7.
The proposal will be brought back to the July meeting for a final vote. If adopted, the additional opportunities would bring the list of mentored hunting opportunities closer into line with those available to hunting license buyers.
STRAIGHT-WALLED CARTRIDGES CONSIDERED FOR SPECIAL REGULATIONS AREAS
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to a host changes to the regulations governing the state’s Special Regulations Areas.
Among the changes, which will be up for final approval at the July meeting, is a proposal to allow the use of straight-walled centerfire cartridges within Special Regulations Areas.
These cartridges essentially are a short-range option for rifle shooters. They lose velocity quickly, but at their optimal ranges, they can be highly effective ammunition. In many states, they have become an alternative in shotgun-only areas given their limited range, which is similar to a rifled shotgun, inside 200 yards.
Additionally, the proposal reorganizes regulations pertaining to Special Regulations Areas to make the regulations clearer.
ELK LICENSE REGULATIONS CLARIFIED
Pennsylvania’s Board of Game Commissioners today approved a package of amendments to elk license regulations, better defining the licenses issued for separate elk hunting seasons and the random drawing among license applicants, and better delineating the elk management area and elk hunt zones.
“The changes clarify some finer details of how our elk hunt runs and provide a clear structure for the hunt zones and their associated allocations,” said Game Commission elk biologist Jeremy Banfield. “While much of this was already known and understood by elk hunters, adding additional language to the regulations ensures that it is understood by everyone.”
BEAVER TRAP RESTRICTIONS COULD BE RELAXED
In the overlap with otter trapping season, and for five days beyond, beaver trappers in Wildlife Management Units with open otter seasons have been limited to using no more than five traps or snares, no more than two of which may be body-gripping traps.
This restriction minimizes the chances of a trapper exceeding the one-per-season otter limit. And the requirement for trappers to adhere to the trap restriction for five days beyond otter season was implemented in case otter season is extended.
Given that otter season hasn’t been extended since 2015, and longer trapping seasons instead of season-specific extensions will be proposed by the Game Commission in areas where more otters can be trapped sustainably, the Board of Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to a proposal that would apply the trap restriction only during open otter seasons. If adopted, beaver trappers in WMUs with otter seasons could resume normal beaver trap restrictions when otter seasons close.
The proposal will be brought back to the July meeting for a final vote.
ACREAGE ADDED TO GAME LANDS
Pennsylvania’s Board of Game Commissioners today approved two land acquisitions and a real-estate exchange that together would add about 19 acres to the state game lands system.
The board approved the acquisition of an about 12-acre parcel adjoining State Game Lands 148 in Shenango Township, Lawrence County.
The property is being offered by Joseph A. and Bonnie L. Schweikert for $30,000 lump sum. It is adjacent to a property being donated to the Game Commission by the Estate of Mary Joan Pavlich.
The board also approved a 6.38-acre acquisition in Nesquehoning Borough, Carbon County. The property lies within the existing boundary of State Game Lands 141 and was offered for a $30,000 lump sum by Mary Ann Kruslicky.
Additionally, the board approved a land exchange in which the Game Commission would acquire about 1 acre within the boundary of State Game Lands 44 in Spring Creek Township, Elk County, and transfer about 0.29 acres, also in Spring Creek Township. The exchange would resolve a private-property encroachment onto the game lands.
JULY MEETING DATES ANNOUNCED
The next meeting of the Board of Game Commissioners is set for Friday, July 23, and Saturday, July 24, at the Game Commission’s Harrisburg headquarters.