Pennsylvania hunters could get OK to use semiautomatic rifles

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 today 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.

Prior to a 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.

Commissioners said they welcome any and all public comments regarding the proposed changes, and that those comments will aid the board in making its decision. Comments are accepted by mail, by email to pgccomments@pa.gov or can be made firsthand by those who register to speak at the start of the board’s March 28 meeting.

Semiautomatic rifles in .22 caliber or less that propel single-projectile ammunition and semiautomatic shotguns 10 gauge or smaller propelling ammunition not larger than No. 4 lead – also No. 2 steel or No. 4 composition or alloy – would be legal firearms arms for small-game seasons under a regulation preliminarily approved by the Board of Game Commissioners.

Semiautomatic firearms that propel single-projectile ammunition also would be legal sporting arms for woodchucks and furbearers. There is no caliber restriction for woodchucks or furbearers.

For big game, semiautomatic centerfire rifles and shotguns would be legal sporting arms.

Full-metal-jacket ammunition would continue to be prohibited for deer, bear and elk hunting.

All semiautomatic firearms would be limited to six rounds’ ammunition capacity – magazines can hold no more than five rounds.

Semiautomatics would be legal in seasons in which modern firearms can be used to take deer, black bears, elk and fall turkeys.

Air-guns would be legal for small game in calibers from .177 to .22 that propel single-projectile pellets or bullets, under the regulatory changes preliminarily approved by the Board of Game Commissioners.

For woodchucks and furbearers, air-guns must be at least .22 caliber and propel a single-projectile pellet or bullet. BB ammunition is not authorized for small game, furbearers or woodchucks.

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