The Pennsylvania Game Commission last week officially proposed a series of changes aimed at the 2021-22 hunting season.
Before becoming final, these proposals must be voted on again at the Board of Game Commissioners’ next meeting in April.
Between now and then, the agency will take public comment on the proposals. You can offer comments by going to the agency’s website, pgc.pa.gov.
Among the changes on the table are:
• Allowing small game and furbearers to also be hunted on the three Sundays that will be open to deer and/or bear hunting.
• Banning the use of rifles for fall turkey hunting statewide.
• Allowing concurrent buck and doe hunting statewide for the full, 14-day firearms deer season.
• Allowing antlerless deer hunters throughout Wildlife Management Units 2B, 5C and 5D to use firearms in the extended late season after Christmas. Currently, only hunters in the Chester, Montgomery, Bucks, Delaware and Allegheny county portions of those units can use firearms to hunt does after Christmas.
The Game Commission also gave preliminary approval to a proposal that would change the antlerless deer tag limits for individual hunters.
This is the issue I’d like to discuss at length, because this could have some interesting ramifications for local hunters.
Currently, an individual hunter outside WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D can get no more than three doe tags per season.
Hunters can also buy unlimited 2B, 5C and 5D tags – so long as the unit allocations last - and those tags don’t count against an individual’s three-tag limit outside those units.
So I could have one tag for WMU 2G, two tags for WMU 5B and as many tags as I can get hold of for WMUs 5C and 5D.
That last part is critical for the many Lancaster County hunters who hunt in WMUs 5C and 5D.
Under the new proposal, there would be no tag limit for hunters statewide, but an individual hunter can have no more than four tags at any one time.
If you have four tags and you fill one, then you can get another to replace it, provided there are still tags available.
This four-tags-per-hunter limit would include tags for WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D.
And here’s where that could create a problem.
Currently, local hunters who chase deer in the mountains and/or in Lancaster County probably focus on getting doe tags for those areas, since competition for them is higher. They can then get as many tags as they want for 5C and/or 5D once the second round of sales starts.
Going forward, hunters will have to prioritize where they want to hunt.
Here’s an example.
I have a friend who has a lease in WMU 5B, so during the three rounds of tag sales each summer, he tries to get three 5B tags.
Once the second round of tag sales start, he mails in for eight WMU 5C tags and eight WMU 5D tags, since he also has access to land in those units.
He might not fill all those tags, but before the season starts, he has all the tags he needs to get him through the season.
Some people might question why a hunter would need to shoot that many deer. But the whole purpose of the high tag allocations, extended seasons and unlimited individual tag quotas in WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D has been to allow the limited number of hunters with access to land in those suburban areas to be able to take as many deer as possible. These units have areas with serious deer overpopulation problems.
Under the proposed new system, my friend could get his three 5B tags, but then only one for 5C or 5D before the season starts. So he won’t be able to shoot any does in one of those two units until he fills a tag, and then buys another.
But to replace that fourth tag, he will either have to take time during a weekday to travel to a courthouse to buy it, or mail an application for one and then wait for it to come back via mail.
That last scenario could take two weeks or more, and this will occur during hunting season. Hunting season days will come and go before he can get that fourth tag, unless he can take time off from work to travel to a courthouse to buy one over the counter.
This new proposal seems to negate the very reason tags for WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D were unlimited in the first place.
The hunters with access to deer in these areas won’t be able to readily get multiple tags, unless they prioritize those tags over tags in other parts of the state. My friend, for example, would have to forego one of his 5B tags, if he wants to have at least one tag each for 5C and 5D before the season opens.
The Game Commission says that 97 percent of hunters in WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D currently report harvesting four or fewer deer.
But that leaves three percent who shoot more. Allowing unlimited tags in WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D was never about making tags widely available to a large number of hunters. It was about getting multiple tags into the hands of the few with land access who could use them.
And among all the hunters in those three units, how many of them also held tags for other parts of the state, which will now hamper their ability before the season opens to secure multiple tags for local hunting?
If my friend maintains his current priorities, he will go from having eight tags each for 5C and 5D before the season opens, to one tag between the two.
He’s the only one with access to the properties he hunts. That’s not likely to change, given the nature of access in suburban areas. It takes a lot to convince landowners there to grant hunting access to people they don’t know.
Which means the likely outcome is the number of deer my buddy was shooting each year in 5C and 5D will drop.
If that scenario plays out for hunters across the landscape, what might that mean for deer numbers in those units?
What I know about hunters and hunting in those two units is many local hunters love their mountain camps above all else. They hunt locally because it gives them the chance to hunt before and after work, on weekends when they’re not at camp and during the special extended periods when deer season is open in 2B, 5C and 5D, but nowhere else.
For years, they have been able to freely do both. Under the proposed system, they could be faced with tag-supply issues in one form or another.
The Game Commission says hunters in those units technically can still get as many tags as they want, so long as they’re available. But it would seem to be far less convenient going forward, since a hunter either will have to take time during the season to go buy tags – if their work schedule allows that - or mail in an application and waste even more hunting days.
Travis Lau, the Game Commission spokesman, said no one mentioned these potential concerns at the Board of Game Commissioners meeting Jan. 23.
So maybe I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill?
What do you think, local hunters who hunt WMUs 5C and 5D? Will this new proposal adversely affect your tag-buying strategies?
What do you think about having to take time during the season to secure more tags, as opposed to buying what you need before the season starts?
Let me know at PREILLY@LNPNEWS.COM