What do semi-automatic rifles mean for hunting in Pennsylvania?

While walking into a Maryland public land deer stand this past November, two hunting partners of mine crossed paths with a hunter carrying a semi-automatic hunting rifle. There was no mistaking it, especially to a pair of down-home Pennsylvania boys; this rifle looked like an alien in the deer woods. 

When my curious friends asked the hunter about his weapon of choice, he explained that Maryland law permits eight cartridges to a rifle, but he only carries a magazine of five. “Shouldn’t need more than that anyway,” he said before wishing them luck and parting ways. 

 It was a rare but interesting encounter at the time, though it may become a little more common in our home state in the near future.  

 Coincidentally, the very same week, Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law a bill that legalized semi-automatic and air rifles and giving the Pennsylvania Game Commission authority to regulate their use in hunting situations. In doing so, Pennsylvania became the final state legislature in the union to authorize semis for hunting. 

 At the January Game Commission board meeting, commissioners gave these modern weapons preliminary approval, but did not set any specific regulations on which seasons they might be permitted, nor gave any magazine capacity or caliber restrictions. The finalized approval vote will only take place at the next board meeting at the end of March.

 Needless to say, this news has roused quite a stir in the hunting community, with some enthusiastically in favor and others completely opposed to allowing semis. The supporters view it as a gun rights victory, knowing it should boost sales and allow greater flexibility in weapon choice. Those against worry about deer being killed too easily and the threat of safety concerns.

 As a person who has never shot, owned, or even had a desire to own an AR, I am somewhere in the middle, perhaps with many others who don’t have a real opinion either way. Some might claim apathy is taking the easy way out, but I honestly don’t care if we have semis for hunting or not. 

 Though I’m in no position to speculate, it is my guess that the Game Commission will slowly phase ARs into the mix, maybe for predators, and then add more opportunities as they see fit. It’s up to them to listen to those they serve, find a happy medium and make a fair decision. 

 Regardless, I don’t think it is going to have a drastic effect one way or the other. Those who are into ARs may see them as a modern tool and a fun new way to pursue game. If legal, go for it and hunt safely. I’ll probably stick with my bolt-action rifle, because that’s what I like and that’s what I’m comfortable shooting. 

 As for the safety concerns or claims of an unfair advantage, I didn’t recall hearing the Maryland man’s semi blitzing away over the ridge last November. He may or may not have shot his five rounds, but if he did, I didn’t notice anything different from just another opening day in the deer woods. I certainly wasn’t dodging any bullets- that’s for sure.

 Just like the never ending traditional vs. compound vs. crossbow archery debate, some will be happy and some will be disgruntled no matter the decision, and everyone has his or her own preference. The bigger picture is that we’re all in this together, and we all love hunting with our own methods. 

 Supporting each other’s legal right to hunt wild game with a weapon of their choosing is the way to go, whether it be by stick and string, patch and ball, lead or steel, blued barrel or vented muzzle, it doesn’t matter. The simple right to hunt is what’s really important. 

Let’s not forget that.


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