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Time to consider hunting with air rifles in Pennsylvania?

July 3, 2014

A recent issue of Pennsylvania Outdoor News had an excellent feature covering Pennsylvania’s .22 ammo shortage. Whether the blame falls on hoarders, slow manufacturing, military buyouts or government plots to destroy the lives of gun owners, one clear truth remains ­ .22 shells are hard to find, and when shipments do finally arrive, retailers are having a difficult time keeping them in stock.

The story explained that firing a .22 rifle is a common rite of passage for introducing youngsters and new shooters to the sport. It is also an incredibly popular caliber among rabbit, squirrel and groundhog hunters in a state rich with small-game hunting enthusiasts.

The article got me thinking. The lead projectile on a .22 caliber bullet is not much larger than the hourglass-shaped Gamo pellets I use when plinking cans out behind my barn with a .177 caliber air rifle.

The Crosman break-barrel air rifle I have shoots faster than 1,000 FPS. It is quiet, accurate and doesn’t kick. It does damage on tin cans; and could surely handle a quick, clean kill on a squirrel or other small-bodied animal.

Yet at present, hunting with “air- or gas-operated rifles and handguns” in Pennsylvania is unlawful, according to page 17 of the 2014-15 PA Hunting and Trapping Digest. Truth is, it has never been lawful in the state. Why?

After visiting Crosman’s website, I found that air rifles come in many different speeds and calibers. More interestingly, though, I discovered that Pennsylvania and New Hampshire are the only two states in the country not allowing at least limited use of air rifles for hunting purposes. The other 48 states allow them with varying degrees of regulations.

For example, most states permit general use for small game and varmints without restriction, but some states allow air rifle hunting for big game with requirements of a certain caliber or shooting speed measured by FPS.

Currently, Alabama, Arizona, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia all allow the use of air rifles for white-tailed deer.

I understand it’s a far cry to expect our Game Commission to support the use of air rifles for big game in Pennsylvania; In fact, I doubt many hunters would even be in favor of that.

But is the thought of using a high-speed air rifle to shoot squirrels in the back woodlot really that outrageous? Forty-eight other states, including all six bordering us say, “No it’s not outrageous. It makes sense.”

This could be the solution to our .22 ammo shortage problem.

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