buck in velvet

Feeding deer will be banned in most of Lancaster County next year when new CWD rules are expanded here.

Sunday hunting, chronic wasting disease and muzzleloader bears all were on the minds and tongues of Pennsylvania hunters this past week.

By a vote of 21-4, the House Game and Fisheries Committee approved Senate Bill 147, which seeks to expand Sunday hunting opportunities in Pennsylvania by adding three Sundays to the annual hunting calendar.

This is yet another historic step in the efforts to make Sunday just like any other day of the week when it comes to hunting in Pennsylvania.

Currently, state law prohibits hunting on Sundays here, except for the hunting of crows, foxes and coyotes.

S.B. 147 would allow hunting on one Sunday during the firearms deer season, one Sunday during the archery deer season and one Sunday to be determined by the state Game Commission.

The Game Commission currently has no say over Sunday hunting in Pennsylvania, since it’s a state law that governs it.

In moving S.B. 147 out of committee, the House lawmakers tacked on an amendment sought by the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau which would require hunters to get written permission to hunt private property they do not own on those three specified Sundays.

No legislation to advance Sunday hunting has advanced this far in the past two decades in Pennsylvania.

But there’s still a long way to go.

The bill now must go to the full House for a vote. That vote reportedly is scheduled to take place on Monday, Oct. 28.

Then, because the written permission amendment was added, the bill – assuming it’s approved by the full House - must go back to the Senate for ratification, before it would go to the governor for signing.

The question that’s popping up all over social media surrounding this issue is, “Will this law take effect for the 2019-20 season?”

That issue is unclear, although it seems unlikely, with the two-week firearms deer season set to open a month from now on Nov. 30.

The Game Commission declined to comment on what it might have to do to add these Sundays to this year’s hunting calendar because, “we cannot answer notice requirements or implementation questions without seeing the final product developed by the Legislature,” said spokesman Joe Kosack.

Basically, agency officials don’t know what they would be required or able to do, since there’s still a chance the current legislation could be changed. They need to see a finished, approved law before setting a course of action.

The window to add a Sunday to this year’s firearms deer season is rapidly closing.

CWD IN LANCASTER COUNTY

So yet another captive deer in Lancaster County has tested positive for CWD. That makes four on two different farms within the past year.

The Game Commission hasn’t yet identified where the new CWD deer was being kept, other than to say “north of Lancaster city.”

But agency officials did say that, in 2020, the CWD Disease Management Area 4 that encompasses a swath of the northeast section of the county will be expanded to encompass “most of Lancaster County.”

DMA 4 was created last year surrounding a farm in the Denver area, where three captive deer tested positive for CWD. All of the deer on that farm were euthanized.

This latest CWD discovery stands to affect a lot more people.

Hunters within DMA 4 cannot remove from the zone heads or backbones from deer they shoot. They also can’t use urine-based deer lures while hunting.

And all recreational feeding of deer is outlawed.

These rules pertain to interactions with wild deer, even though all of the deer found with CWD in Lancaster County have been captive.

In the coming months, the Game Commission will set exact boundaries for the new, bigger DMA 4.

MUZZLELOADER BEARS

It seems the newly-created, early muzzleloader bear season that just closed Saturday was a big hit, according to Game Commission officials.

The season opened Oct. 19 and ran through Oct. 26, which coincided with the state’s early muzzleloader, antlerless deer season.

Over the first three days of the season, Game Commission bear check stations had turned in preliminary reports of 519 bears being shot across the state.

“The new muzzleloader season appears to be popular based on trends in bear license sales, the number of bears harvested so far, and hunter inquiries handled by our regional offices in the days leading up to the season,” said agency black bear biologist Mark Ternent.

“Hunters have also been fortunate to have good weather on the first two days of the season.”

Pennsylvania bear hunters typically kill more than 2,500 bears each year. Kills were down the past two years, however, Ternent said, mostly because of bad weather on key hunting days.

“To avoid bear populations further increasing, changes were made to the 2019 seasons, including a new muzzleloader season and a longer archery season,” he said.

“How these earlier hunting opportunities will affect participation in the rifle bear season is unknown.”

Bear hunters can only tag one bear per year.

One aspect of the new muzzleloader season this year that caused some confusion was the fact that archery equipment was not legal for bears, even though it was legal for deer during the same period.

So archers could shoot any deer this past week, but not a bear, while muzzleloader hunters could shoot bears and antlerless deer.

Though confusing, Ternent said the split was intentional, but could be erased next year.

“We intended for the new muzzleloader season and archery bear season to be separate this year,” he said.

“This was due, in part, to uncertainty about how these new seasons would increase harvest, and concern from bowhunting organizations that preferred a stand-alone season.

“The decision to expand archery bear hunting into the muzzleloader season will be discussed by the Board of Commissioners in January, and may depend on the harvest outcome of the current seasons, which won’t be known until all seasons are complete in December.” 

Pennsylvania’s expanded archery bear season opens Monday and runs through Nov. 9.

“The bear season changes adopted for 2019 are the largest suite of changes ever approved in a single year…and they have more than doubled the number of days available for bear hunting over a large part of the bear range,” Ternent said.

“As a result, we are expecting an increase in the number of licensed bear hunters this year. Current bear license sales are considerably higher than at the same point last year, but it is unclear if these sales are all new bear hunters or experienced bear hunters purchasing their license earlier. This question should become clearer as we near the start of the rifle bear season” on Nov. 23.