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PGC ponders spotlighting prohibition

Posted on June 20, 2013

“Spotting” is something Pennsylvania hunters – and their kids, families and others – have enjoyed for decades.

But is it time to restrict it, or ban it altogether?

Some are wondering if the answer might not be yes.

Right now, recreational spotlighting is legal until 11 p.m. year-round except for those times when the two-week firearms deer season is open, and when extended firearms deer seasons are open in certain wildlife management units.

You can’t have a firearm or bow in your vehicle when you’re spotting at any time, and it’s always illegal to shine your light on livestock, houses and other buildings and photoelectric cell.

But other than that, hunters can use a light to look for wildlife after dark.

The problem is poachers use lights after dark to look for game, too. They’re especially tempted by large-racked bucks, which are in bigger supply these days because of antler restrictions, said Rich Palmer, director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Protection.

Whether there are more poachers now than before, it’s hard to say, he added. But certainly the extra large-racked deer are attractive to a certain element,” he said.

Conservation officers in the field obviously try to limit that activity, said commission Executive Director Carl Roe. But it’s hard to determine at first glance whether someone shining a spotlight is legitimately looking for wildlife as a hobby or searching for game to kill.

A ban on spotlighting would eliminate that, he said.

“As soon as you saw a light you’d know what was going on,” he said.

Game Commissioners can’t eliminate spotlighting on their own. That’s a legislative issue; only lawmakers can change the rules.

But some members of the commission board would like to see lawmakers act.

Game Commissioner Charlie Fox, of Bradford County, said at a recent work group meeting of the board that he’d like spotlighting to be illegal during any deer season. His fear, he said, based on anecdotal reports he’d heard from the field, is that poachers have been using crossbows to shoot deer illegally at night early in fall, when spotlighting is legal.

A ban on spotlighting then might ease that problem, he said.

Commissioner Jay Delaney, of Luzerne County, agreed and even said he’d support a move to be more restrictive. He’d favor a ban on spotlighting in “any big game seasons,” including those for black bears and elk, he said.

Whether lawmakers might be willing to take this issue on is unknown.

State Rep. Marc Gergely, an Allegheny County Democrat, talked about it a few years ago. Back in 2009 he floated the idea of introducing a bill to ban spotlighting outright.

His reasons then were to not only curb poaching, but improve safety, especially in urban areas. He noted that hunters are limited to hunting deer with bows and shotguns in places like those where he lives, he said. Yet poachers use high-caliber rifles after dark.

Gergely also said then that eliminating spotlighting, and limiting poaching, might also give a public relations boost to sportsmen.

He did not introduce a spotlighting bill then, though, and could not be reached for comment now.