Hunting changes on the way
New wildlife management unit; early squirrel season; no minimum age for kids.
A new wildlife management unit is being created in Pennsylvania's Big Woods country.
Late firearms doe hunting is being eliminated from parts of Lancaster, Berks and neighboring counties.
Boar-hunting preserves are on their way out.
Squirrel hunters could start hunting in September.
No minimum age will be set for mentored youth hunters.
Christmas Day will remain a hunting holiday.
These were the highlights from last week's meeting of the Pennsylvania Game Commission's board of game commissioners.
All but the last two items won preliminary approval from the commissioners, and must be voted on again in April before they take effect.
The last two were proposals that were considered, but failed to advance.
In the name of dividing distinctly separate forest types in WMU 2G, commissioner Dave Putnam won support for cutting about a third of the land mass off the large northcentral unit to create the new WMU 2H.
Besides the differing forest types, general land ownership also differs between the two units, with WMU 2G being nearly all public land and WMU 2H having large chunks of property owned by timber companies.
WMU 2H encompasses about 1,200 square miles of the western end of the old WMU 2G.
The dividing line between the two units basically runs from northeast to southwest, from Coudersport to Dubois, along the following path: Route 872 to Route 607 to Route 155 to Route 120 to Route 555 to Route 255 to Interstate 80.
According to Putnam, the new WMU 2G, which covers about 2,900 square miles, has a less productive forest for deer than the new WMU 2H.
Deer numbers, as a result, tend to be higher in the 2H area versus the 2G area.
Nearly 80 percent of the land in the new WMU 2G is state forest, which is managed by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Putnam said DCNR will now take a greater role in managing the deer herd in that unit.
"Our philosophy is that DCNR will have the ability to manage a good chunk of that land with the (Deer Management Assistance Program)," he said.
How doe-tag allocations by the Game Commission will look for the two units next season has not yet been determined.
They will be established in time for the commission's April meeting, said executive director Carl Roe.
The firearms deer season in both units will include a bucks-only hunt from Dec. 2-6, followed by a concurrent buck-doe hunt from Dec. 7-14.
In an effort to focus more hunting pressure within the state's most urban-suburban counties, the Game Commission has proposed changing from WMUs to counties the area where late firearms doe hunting is allowed after Christmas.
This past season, the late hunt ran from Dec. 26-Jan. 28 in WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D.
Assuming the proposal wins final approval in April, next year the season would run from Dec. 26-Jan. 25 only within Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties.
That means late rifle hunting for does would not be allowed in the WMU 5C areas of Lancaster, Berks, Lehigh and Northampton counties.
Yes, there are two tiny slivers of Lancaster County that are part of WMU 5C. One includes all the land in Brecknock Township north of the PA Turnpike and east of Route 222, and the other covers the ground east of Route 10 in Caernarvon Township.
The commissioners said they were concerned too much pressure was being put on the outer edges of WMUs 5C and 2B, where the land is more rural, and not enough was being applied to the interior, where development is more common.
The interior is where the agency really wants deer numbers thinned.
All of WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D still would continue to have the extended flintlock and archery deer hunting for both bucks and does, from Dec. 26-Jan. 25.
As expected, the commissioners gave preliminary approval to a series of regulations aimed at ridding the wild of hogs in Pennsylvania.
That's the goal.
In reality, the move also will kill fenced boar hunting operations across the state.
There are about 30, including Mohr's Island Exotic Hunts, owned by Conoy Township Supervisor Stephen L. Mohr. The hunts take place on an island Mohr's family owns in the middle of the Susquehanna River off Bainbridge.
The new regulations would remove protection from hogs statewide, opening them up to unimpeded hunting.
They also would outlaw by July 1, 2014, the possession of any member of the pig family with any trace of wild hog in its genetic line.
A couple people who run fenced hunting preserves told the commissioners this week that their new rules would have dire financial consequences.
Commissioner Jay Delaney said one man reported he'd be "put out of business."
But the commissioners said the potential for damage to forests and agricultural lands is too great if the hog situation is left unchecked.
The agency has contended some of the hogs that have lived in the wild in Pennsylvania escaped or were intentionally released from fenced preserves.
Don't be surprised if this move results in a lawsuit or two filed against the Game Commission.
Squirrel season typically has begun in mid October.
This year, it's poised to start in mid September.
Commissioner Ralph Martone said he believes squirrels are perfect for introducing young hunters to the sport.
Squirrels are plentiful, and they're found just about everywhere.
In the past, though, adults would have to choose between going archery deer hunting themselves, or taking a kid out squirrel hunting, since the two seasons ran together.
By moving the start of squirrel season to Sept. 14, the conflict with archery deer season is eliminated for at least two weeks.
And actually, a weeklong youth squirrel season would precede the general season.
The youth hunt is scheduled for Sept. 7-13.
"I think squirrels are one of our most underutilized resources for starting out young hunters," Martone said.
Delaney expressed concern about having hunters -- especially young ones -- out in the woods shooting when the foliage is still thick and green.
"They won't necessarily be able to see what's beyond their targets," he said.
Martone said he considered that, but he's relying on hunters to be safe.
Pennsylvania's mentored youth hunting program allows kids under the age of 12 to hunt certain game under direct supervision of a licensed adult.
There is no minimum age for the program. It's up to parents to decide when their kids are old enough to go.
The commissioners believe the program has been wildly successful since it was implemented, with participation growing by leaps and bounds each year.
This year, the agency issued about 35,000 mentored youth permits.
Commissioner Ron Weaner said he's heard concerns from some hunters about seeing photos of 5-year-old kids sitting next to large bucks, holding rifles that dwarf them.
Hunters are concerned, Weaner said, both that the children didn't actually shoot the deer, and that they believe 4- and 5-year-olds are too young to be hunting big game.
Weaner pitched a proposal to set a minimum age of 8 for the mentored youth program.
Martone said he was "adamantly opposed" to setting any age restriction.
He wants any decision on age to be left to parents.
And, he noted, Game Commission data shows there aren't very many kids under 7 who are getting the mentored youth permits.
Weaner's proposal failed in a vote by the board.
Another proposal that died on the vine was a push by Martone to allow small game hunting on Christmas Day.
The idea had the backing of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs.
Historically, small game season has ended Dec. 24 and resumed Dec. 26, which meant squirrels, rabbits and grouse -- and wildlife conservation officers -- had Christmas Day off.
A couple of the commissioners said they thought it was important for the officers to be able to spend that day with their families, without having to worry about patrolling.
P.J. Reilly is a Sunday News outdoors writer. Email him at email@example.com.