Pennsylvania’s senior pheasant hunters may soon be exempt from fees

Harrisburg — The days of senior lifetime hunting license holders having to buy a $25 permit to hunt pheasants in Pennsylvania may soon be over.

So, too, might the days of fewer birds.

Last September, state Rep. Bryan Cutler, a Lancaster County Republican, introduced House Bill 1764. He did so at the urging of a senior hunter in his district upset with having to buy a pheasant permit.

“This legislation will allow any hunter who had purchased a lifetime resident hunting license prior to July 1, 2017, to continue hunting pheasants, or any other species that may require a permit, previously included under their current license without incurring the additional fee, as they had expected upon purchasing their license,” he wrote in a memo explaining the bill.

It was referred to the House of Representatives game and fisheries committee. But that group never voted on it or advanced the bill.

It’s gotten life in a new form, however.

Last May, state Rep. Parke Wentling, a Crawford County Republican, introduced House Bill 1409. It would reduce the cost of hunting licenses for non-resident disabled veterans.

It has moved. It passed the Senate on March 12, in fact, and is now before the House of Representatives game and fisheries committee.

What’s noteworthy is that the language of Cutler’s bill, about exempting senior lifetime holders from needing a pheasant permit, is now a part of Wentling’s bill. It was added as an amendment before it passed the Senate.

Insiders say the amended bill has a good chance of passing the full House before the year is over.

Whether that will be in time for senior lifetime license holders to need a pheasant permit this year or not is uncertain.

What is clear is that the Game Commission expects to provide more pheasants this fall than last.

Prior to 2017, the commission was stocking 220,000 birds a year. That dipped to 170,000 last year, after the commission closed two of its four pheasant farms and switched to buying day-old chicks from a commercial propagator.

This year it expects to go back to 220,000.

“One of the promises that I personally made was that we will be back to 220,000 in a couple years. We got there early,” said commission board President Tim Layton, of Somerset County.

He credited the quick return to two things.

Closing two pheasant farms and going to the day-old chicks, together with other efficiencies, cut the cost of the pheasant program almost in half, he said. Money generated by the sale of pheasant permits helped, too, he added.

All of that combined is allowing the commission to “take necessary steps to increase production,” he added.

At the same time, the commission is seeking outside support for the pheasant program, he said.

Layton said the commission is applying for a federal grant through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offering money for projects connected with youth hunter recruitment and retention. The pheasant program qualifies, he said.

Supporting it is part of a larger commission emphasis on small game hunting. There’s no denying its importance, said commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans.

Lots of hunters, as adults, focus on white-tailed deer and turkeys, he said. But most, including himself, start out on small game.

“It’s what brought me to the dance,” Burhans said.

The commission wants to foster small-game hunting as a way to get and keep people hunting, Layton said.

“​One of our goals this year is to make small-game hunting opportunities better,” Layton said.