Pennsylvania game agency will make all hunting guides take test

Harrisburg — It was just in July that Pennsylvania Game Commissioners gave preliminary approval to creating a new hunting guide program.

And already, changes to it are coming.

Up until now, all that it’s taken to become a commission-registered hunting guide in Pennsylvania was paying a $25 fee.

In July, though, commissioners said that in addition to paying a fee – which is going to $50 – would-be guides would have to pass a written test focusing on things like species-specific wildlife questions, first aid, orienteering and more. They would also be required to pass a practical skills test that covered things like how to make a firearm safe.

The plan as of then was to allow existing guides to continue operating without having to go through all of that.

“It was to ease implementation of the program, essentially,” said Randy Shoup, director of the commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Protection.

Commissioners backed that then. They’ve since had a change of heart.

Now, they want to make all guides go through testing.

“If you want to be a guide in Pennsylvania, you really just need to take the course and get certified,” said Commissioner Brian Hoover, of Chester County. “Because if we’re going to put our name on you, and say you’re a certified guide, we want to know that you’re not a cook or a turkey hunter guiding elk or whatever.”

Such a rule makes sure everyone is current in their training, said Commissioner Jim Daley, of Butler County. Exempting some guides, for example, might mean passing someone along whose who’s never had first-aid training, or at least not had any recently, he said.

“They could have been a guide and not know any of this stuff. I think removing that exemption for the commercial guides, it just make sense,” Daley said.

At least some guides agree.

Commission President Tim Layton said commission staff and some board members sat in on a meeting with guides. The feeling among some was to not grandfather anyone into the program.

“I think the legitimate ones want everybody to be treated fairly all across the board,” Layton said.

So it appears likely commissioners will require all guides to pass a test to keep operating in the state.

They may, though, try to make it easier to get that testing done.

If there was one concern guides mentioned at their meeting with the commission, it was where testing would occur. Many are worried they’ll have to take time off work and travel to Harrisburg to get it done, Hoover said.

“That was the biggest complaint that everybody had, I thought,” he said.

Tom Grohol, a deputy executive director with the commission, said that in years past, when the commission administered a taxidermist exam, it held those tests in the southcentral region of the state, to put it closer to everyone.

That might be an option, he suggested.

“That’s certainly something we could consider,” Shoup said.

Commissioners are expected to give final approval to the amended guide permit program when they next meet in late September in Somerset County.

In the meantime, one other change is perhaps coming to the guide program, though it’s one not really meant to impact guides at all.

Right now, by law, people participating in any hunting season – whether to actually hunt or just tag along and help spot game or get it out of the woods after it’s harvested – need a valid hunting license.

That’s not a problem in most cases, said David Mitchell, director of the commission’s northcentral region office. If one person goes turkey hunting, for example, and a friend tags along, they’re legal so long as they have a back tag.

The complication comes with elk hunting.

The commission this year allocated 125 elk licenses. Many, if not most of those hunters, will take along family or friends to experience the hunt or help get those elk home.

They can’t buy an elk license, however.

To get around that, the commission has handed out – for $25 – “non-commercial guide licenses” to those people.

Now, though, commissioners want to change the name of that permit.

People holding those permits aren’t really guides, Hoover said. Some in the public may perceive them that way, though.

He wants to avoid that confusion by calling the permit they get something else.

“Just leave it as a special use permit, or as a participation permit. I don’t care. Just don’t label someone as a guide when they’re just participating,” Hoover said.

That’s a change the commission can make, Shoup said.

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