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Semiautomatic rifles soon could be approved for Pennsylvania hunters participating in most seasons in which manual rifles can be used.

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners Tuesday gave unanimous preliminary approval to regulatory changes that would permit the use of semiautomatic rifles and shotguns while hunting big game, small game and furbearers. A five-round magazine would be required for all semiautomatic hunting rifles, with the total ammunition capacity limited to six rounds, based on the preliminarily approved measure.

The measure also preliminarily approves the use of air rifles for small-game and furbearers.

The proposal will be brought back to the March meeting for a final vote.

Pennsylvania historically has prohibited the use of semiautomatic rifles, but a new law took effect in November, enabling the Game Commission to regulate semiautomatic rifles and air guns. The new law does not authorize the Game Commission to regulate the use of semiautomatic handguns.

Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation that currently has no hunting seasons during which semiautomatic rifles can be used.

Since the law took effect, the Game Commission has received hundreds of comments about the potential to approve semiautomatic rifles for hunting. Commissioner James Daley said most who offered comment took no opposition to the idea of permitting semiautomatic rifles for small game and furbearers. For big game, the comments were about half in favor and half opposed to semiautomatic rifles, Daley said.

But most of those who opposed cited concerns over compromised safety as their primary reason for opposition, he said.

Before the vote, Game Commission staff did a thorough review of hunter safety in states that allow semiautomatic rifles, including neighboring states and states that most resemble Pennsylvania in terms of hunter density. The review uncovered no evidence the use of semiautomatic rifles has led to a decline in hunter safety in any state where they’re permitted for hunting.

The board’s next quarterly meeting is scheduled to be held March 27 and 28 at the Game Commission’s Harrisburg headquarters.

Pheasant permit may be required: Hunting pheasants in Pennsylvania soon might require purchasing a pheasant permit in addition to a general hunting license.

The Game Commissioners Tuesday preliminarily approved creating a pheasant permit that would be required for all hunters who pursue or harvest pheasants.

The permit would cost $25 for adults, based on the proposal. It would not cost junior hunters anything to continue to hunt pheasants.

The proposed pheasant permit is expected to come up for a final vote at the board’s March meeting.

While Pennsylvania once was home to a robust wild pheasant population, in recent decades, pheasant hunting has relied entirely upon the stocking of farm-raised birds.

The Game Commission annually has raised and released about 200,000 pheasants for release on state game lands and other properties where public hunting is permitted. While the program has been popular with hunters, it has been costing the agency about $4.7 million a year. And without a permit, there’s no funding mechanism in place to help sustain it.

In December, the agency announced it would close two of its four pheasant farms – a move that is expected to reduce annual program costs by about $1.7 million. Additionally, Game Commission staff project a pheasant permit will generate about $1.5 million a year in new revenue.

By making the program more self-sufficient, creation of a pheasant permit helps to ensure the future of pheasant hunting in Pennsylvania, the commissioners said.

Change in leadership: After more than three years as executive director of the Game Commission, and nearly 35 years with the agency, R. Matthew Hough announced Tuesday he will retire March 24.

Following his announcement, and the commissioners expressing their appreciation to Hough on a job well done, Commissioner Robert W. Schlemmer made a motion to appoint Game Commission Deputy Executive Director Bryan Burhans as Hough’s permanent replacement, beginning March 25. The motion was approved unanimously.

Burhans 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.

Information for this article was provided by the Pennsylvania Game Commission

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