Game agency: Pymatuning deer hunting may be about to change

Staff Report

Harrisburg — One change is immediate. The other? It’s likely to follow.

For years, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has allowed flintlock deer hunters to chase whitetails on the grounds of Pymatuning Wildlife Management Area in Crawford County after Christmas. They were allowed to access duck hunting areas J and L.

That won’t happen this year.

According to Regis Senko, information and education supervisor in the commission’s Northwest Region office, those areas are closed this year.

That’s in anticipation of bigger changes to come, if Game Commissioners agree, he noted.

And what are those?

It might involve creating an exclusive opportunity to hunt on prime public land for some hunters.

Jerry Bish, management supervisor in the commission’s Northwest Region office, outlined what the agency would like to do at the board’s work group meeting in December. He told commissioners that the idea is to take a hunt that’s become more circus than outdoor experience and improve it.

Up until now, the commission has awarded tags to 90 people each year to hunt the wildlife management area. They’re chosen by lottery; about 1,300 people apply, Bish said.

Those selected get one day to hunt.

That may not seem like much, he said, but the permits – awarded since the 1970s – have traditionally been highly sought after. That’s because the area was a refuge for deer. Hunters could expect to see 80 to 100 deer a day, some of them trophy bucks at a time when they were even rarer than today, Bish said.

There have been two problems, however.

One’s remained constant, Bish said. The hunt can be seen to strain the tenets of fair chase, as hunters enter the area largely from one area and essentially drive the deer to the lake’s edge, where they’re shot.

The other problem has grown over time.

Because the hunters and deer are so visible, he said, crowds of onlookers have started showing up to watch all the action. Bish said people literally park across the road from the management area, sitting on lawn chairs in pickup truck beds with binoculars and spotting scopes.

Those crowd grow bigger all the time, he added.

The hunt was canceled once, in 2012, following an outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease. That has had commission staff thinking ever since, he said, about how to make things better.

“So this is a chance to adjust,” Bish said.

He outlined his plan to commissioners in December.

Bish said that he and staff in the region office would like to allow fewer hunters on the management area, and spread them out over a longer period of time, to make the hunting better starting this year.

Specifically, the idea would be to establish seven hunt zones on Pymatuning’s 614 acres. One pair of hunters would be granted exclusive right to that zone for a week, from Monday through Saturday.

Hunting would be allowed over six weeks, and hunters could use whatever weapon was legal at that particular time. Some might be able to use archery gear, for example, he said; others inline muzzleloaders and juniors and seniors even rifles.

All hunting would be from 12:30 to dark daily.

Hunters would continue to apply for a spot and be chosen by lottery, as now. If each slot was filed each week, 84 hunters would be allowed on the grounds, only slightly less than now, Bish said.

But their experience might be far better, he added.

“It would be a pretty neat thing for someone to have 50 to 100 acres to hunt to themselves and a buddy,” Bish said.

Commissioners who heard the plan largely said they liked it.

“It would be a very quality hunt,” said Commissioner Jim Daley, of Cranberry Township.

If they raised one caution, it was the administrative cost to run the program.

Applying for the chance to hunt Pymatuning in the past cost hunters nothing, said Rich Cramer, director of the Northwest Region office. The commission ate those expenses.

Commissioners – noting that the commission is facing tough financial times – don’t want to continue doing that in the future. Instead, they suggested that hunters applying for a spot at Pymatuning should perhaps have to pay a $10 non-refundable application fee.

Hunters who want to get in on the elk license drawing do the same, noted commission President Brian Hoover, of Delaware County. This is no different, he added.

“We’re looking to cover our costs. We need to think outside of the box to fix our funding issues and that’s one of the ways to do it,” he said.

Commissioner Tim Layton, of Somerset County, seconded that idea. He also suggested hunters would go along with the idea for what would be the right to hunt public land as if it were private, for one week anyway.

“I think hunters would be willing to pay something,” he said.

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