Deer-check stations, Sunday hunting still desired by hunters in Pennsylvania

Actions taken in other states in recent weeks have stoked the fires of controversy in Pennsylvania.

First, legislation that will legalize Sunday hunting on private property in Virginia was approved last week by that state’s Senate.

It had already been approved by the Virginia House of Delegates and a spokesman for Gov. Terry McAuliffe said he plans to sign it into law.

The legislation will allow hunting on private property during designated seasons by hunters who have a landowner’s written permission.

That makes one less state that widely probibits Sunday hunting. Including Pennsylvania, the list has now been reduced to just 10.

And while what happens in Virginia, obviously,  does not have a direct bearing on the Keystone State, it does cast a spotlight on the lawsuit filed against the Game Commisson and the state seeking to overturn the Sunday-hunting ban.

That legal action seems to be languishing. An update on its status is expected in the next issue of Pennsylvania Outdoor News.

The second out-of-state action of great interest to Pennsylvania sportsman took place in Wisconsin, where wildlife officials agreed in January to eliminate in-person deer-check stations by next year, doing away with a cornerstone of hunting tradition to save money and process data faster.

The provision was part of a sweeping rules package implementing Texas researcher James Kroll’s recommendations on how to improve hunting in Wisconsin.

Gov. Scott Walker’s administration hired Kroll in 2011 to review the Badger State’s Department of Natural Resources’ deer policies. Officials of that agency – known as the DNR – have been working to meld his suggestions into their regulations for months. Former Pennsylvania Game Commission deer biologist Gary Alt was part of Kroll’s team.

Wisconsin's deer hunters have been hauling carcasses to hundreds of bars and convenience stores across the state to be counted for decades, showing off the deer to other hunters, buying snacks and beer, and swapping stories.

The DNR has relied on in-person registration as a means of gathering detailed information on kill totals, deer sex, age and health, and collecting tissue samples for chronic wasting disease tests.

Kroll argued remote registration would expedite kill tallies. The rules eliminate all check stations in favor of a mix of phone and online registration by 2015. DNR officials say such a move could save the agency as much as $182,000 a year.

Opponents have warned – and this will sound familiar to Pennsylvania hunters – that remote registration will lead to underreporting and less data for the DNR.

One complaint we have heard regularly in Pennsylvania over the years from critics of the Game Commission’s deer-management program is that the agency doesn’t have a handle on deer numbers because it does not have in-person deer-check stations to track the hunter harvest.

Even though the commission’s method of estimating the deer harvest – that involves comparing deer at butcher shops with reported killed animals – is scientically sound and peer reviewed, critics say it is not accurate and insist check stations would yield better numbers.

But news that the one “deer-hunting state” most like Pennsylvania in terms of tradition, harvest, hunter numbers and even the presence of chronic wasting disease and deer-management controversy is dropping its check stations takes the wind out of critics’ sails.

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