Delmont, Pa. — Howard Myers had a serious message for the Pennsylvania Game Commission: Handicapped hunters are customers, too!
Although the Clearfield man – who walks with a cane and sometimes needs a wheelchair – good naturedly delivered his demand for a handicapped hunter permit to the board of commissioners at their recent quarterly meeting here, there was an edge to his delivery.
Because he had asked the commissioners for the permit for disabled sportsmen to use gated game land roads before.
“I am here again because I haven’t seen any movement on the handicapped hunter permit proposal that I first submitted to the board of commissioners in 2012,” he said.
“My proposal is similar to the one approved by your sister agency, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which created its own handicapped hunter permit in September 2012.”
The permit he proposes, Myers reminded commissioners, would allow hobbled hunters with state-issued handicapped parking placards or license plates on their vehicles to acquire a tag that allows them to hunt on normally locked state game lands roads.
The permit would give them extra access to areas they would not normally be able to get into.
“If you have one of these,” Myers told commissioners, holding a handicapped parking placard, “you get one of those,” he said referring to the handicapped hunter permit he is advocating.
Myers emphasized that he and other hobbled hunters deserve the Game Commission’s loyalty and consideration.
“We are the forgotten many,” he said of handicapped hunters. “And now I will say we are the forgotten many – customers.”
A lack of public access is a reason hunters most often list on surveys for not buying hunting licenses.
Myers pointed out that recent Game Commission presentations show that the median age of Pennsylvania hunters is 52 years, which indicates that there are many, many older hunters these days.
“Commissioners, your customer base is getting older each year,” he said. “Many hunters hunt within 100 yards of roads, according to studies done using GPS technology to track their movements.
“Studies shows that not many hunters travel far back from roads and that many acres of state game lands are well under hunted – believe me, they are under hunted.”
On a personal level, as he has become less mobile, Myers has become increasingly frustrated by so many state game lands roads being closed to all motorized vehicles.
“I am handicapped and can’t walk, I can no longer travel down these closed roads to hunt,” he said. “As your customer, I am being denied access to those parts of the game lands due to my handicap.
“My customer dollars paid for hunting licenses, helped pay for some of the 1.4 million acres of state game lands, and my access to many of them is being denied. It is not right.”
Myers’ proposal calls for the Game Commission to open one gated road for every 1,000 acres of game lands (where roads exist).
Under DCNR’s system for hunter’s getting a handicapped permit to use their vehicles for hunting on state forest lands and roads, hunters must make an appointment and meet with the district forester in the region they want to hunt.
“I would like to see a similar arrangement used by the Game Commission to allow handicapped hunters to use locked roads on state game lands for better access,” he said.
Myers noted that a number of large Pennsylvania organizations representing hunters, such as the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Mosquito Creek Sportsmen’s Association, are solidly behind his proposal.
A past president of the NWTF, Rick Maroni, emphasized the need for the handicapped hunter permit in testimony to the commission after Myers spoke.
What had Myers annoyed at the recent meeting was his discovery that despite twice before bringing the handicapped hunter permit to the commissioners, agency staff had no knowledge of the plan.
“In doing research for this meeting, I found out that none of my previous proposals has reached the staff – you never did anything with it,” he said.
“That’s disappointing because with this handicapped hunter permit proposal I am trying to keep hunters hunting longer – to keep us customers longer.”
However, Commissioner Dave Putnam, of Centre County, disputed that contention.
“The commissioners have discussed it with staff and we will give the idea serious consideration,” he said.