Pennsylvania’s 2021-22 hunting season kicks off in earnest Wednesday, with the opening of the seasons for doves and Canada geese.
There are lots of changes for hunters to keep track of this year. Following are some of the most prominent.
SUNDAY HUNTING EXPANSIONS
Once again, three Sundays will be open to general hunting this fall. What’s added is small game.
The three Sundays open to hunting will be Nov. 14, Nov. 21 and Nov. 28. Small game and archery deer will be open to hunting Nov. 14; small game, archery deer and bear will be open to hunting Nov. 21; and firearms deer will be open for hunting Nov. 28.
Turkeys and migratory birds are not open to Sunday hunting.
Both antlered and antlerless deer will be legal game during the entire, statewide, two-week firearms deer season, Nov. 27-Dec. 11.
Also, the extended, firearms antlerless deer season after Christmas will be open in all of Wildlife Management Units 2B, 5C and 5D, from Dec. 27-Jan. 29.
Previously, that late-season firearms hunt was only open in Special Regulations Area counties within those WMUs. This year, the hunt will be open across those three WMUs.
As we’ve discussed before on this page, every hunter across the state this fall now allowed to carry up to six antlerless licenses at one time.
And as long as allocations hold out, a hunter can replace those tags as they are filled.
So let’s say I have six tags and I shoot two does. If there are tags left anywhere in the state, I can then go buy two more.
Pennsylvania began the third round of doe-tag sales on Aug. 16. Any hunter who has three tags can go buy three more over the counter at any county treasurer’s office beginning Sept. 13. (You can also apply by mail.)
As of early last week, WMUs 1B, 2F, 2G, 2H, 3A, 3B, 3C, 4B, 4C and 4E had sold all of their tags.
WMU 5B, which covers Lancaster and surrounding counties, still had 6,900 remaining.
WMUs with more than 20,000 tags left are WMU 2B, with 42,366; WMU 5C, with 31,391; WMU 4A, with 28,385; and WMU 2A, with 23,522.
Centerfire and rimfire rifles and handguns will no longer be allowed for fall turkey hunting anywhere in Pennsylvania.
The Game Commission notes this change is not being made in the name of safety, but rather to limit the fall turkey take, which includes hens.
Turkey populations have been struggling across many parts of Pennsylvania, and the agency believes eliminating rifles and handguns will help cut down on the number of turkeys hunters harvest.
Also, the use of straight-walled centerfire cartridges is allowed within Special Regulations Areas.
This rule is not in the Hunting & Trapping Digest because it was approved in late July, but the new rule will apply to the 2021-22 firearms deer seasons.
Popular straight-walled cartridges used by deer hunters include 350 Winchester Legend, .444 Marlin, .450 Bushmaster and .45-70 Government.
Basically, these are guns with a maximum effective range of 200 yards, much like modern slug guns.
NIGHT VISION OPTICS
Night-vision and thermal optics are legal for use when hunting furbearers except porcupines.
This rule change was actually made last year, following a change in state law, but it is only making it into the Hunting & Trapping Digest this year for the first time.
These optics are very popular across the country for hunting foxes and coyotes at night.
CHRONIC WASTING DISEASE
Hunters here have been dealing with CWD rules for the last several years. The Game Commission has expanded those rules for the 2021-22 season.
Most notable is the new prohibition on bringing “high-risk” parts from deer, elk and other cervids into Pennsylvania from anywhere else in the world.
Previously, the prohibition only applied to places outside Pennsylvania where CWD was known to exist. Now it applies to the whole world.
The banned high-risk parts are the head, skull plate with antlers attached if brain matter is present, cape if brain matter or spinal cord tissue is present, spinal cord, spleen, upper canine teeth if roots or other soft tissue is present, unfinished taxidermy mounts and brain-tanned hides.
Another rule change this year forbids moving high-risk parts out of the CWD Established Area, which is a swath of southcentral Pennsylvania including and surrounding Bedford and Fulton counties.
A large part of Lancaster County, stretching from West Cocalico Township to Drumore Township, is within Disease Management Area 4, following the discovery of CWD among captive deer on a farm in the Denver area in 2018.
Among the special rules there is a prohibition on moving high-risk parts outside the DMA.
So how do hunters deal with these bans if they shoot deer outside Pennsylvania and want to bring them home, or if they want to take a dead deer outside a DMA?
Butchered meat is okay to move around, so long as there’s no brain or spine matter and no spleen. Cleaned hides and skulls also are okay to move, including finished taxidermy mounts.