Outdoors notebook: House bill would legalize use of semi-automatic rifles for hunting

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Hunting with semi-automatic rifles is legal in 48 states. Last week state Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Washington-Allegheny) introduced legislation that would make those sporting arms legal in Pennsylvania.

Semi-automatics are not "machine guns," which continue to fire with a single sustained pull of the trigger. One pull of the trigger fires one round in semi-automatics, but the sporting arm automatically reloads the next. Semi-automatic shotguns plugged to three rounds are legal for waterfowl hunting. House Bill 2333 would authorize the use of semi-automatic centerfire rifles for hunting, which is legal in every state but Pennsylvania and Delaware.

"Even in very liberal states like Hawaii, New York and Illinois, citizens are permitted to use semi-automatic rifles when hunting. There's nothing frightening or extreme about this proposal," Saccone said in a written statement. "Pennsylvania is one of America's leading states for hunting with more than 1.4 million acres designated as state game lands. There is no reason why our hunters shouldn't have the same rights as those in almost every other state."

The legislature originally banned semi-automatic rifles with the support of the Game Commission for the sake of hunting ethics.

"In my bill, gun magazines would be limited to 10 rounds," Saccone said. "The advantage of a semi-automatic rifle to a hunter is that it becomes unnecessary to stop and reload if one fires and misses, allowing for a greater chance of harvesting game."

Economic impact of hunting

Members of Hunting Works For Pennsylvania, a partnership of more than 100 small businesses and tourism bureaus, converged on Harrisburg last week to remind legislators of the impact of hunting on the state's economy. According to the group, nearly 1 million hunters spend an average of $1,260 per year on hunting-related expenses and generate more than $529 million annually in salaries and wages.

"Hunting is vitally important to tourism and to small businesses all over the commonwealth," group co-chair Rob Fulton said in a written statement. "We enjoyed meeting with key legislators to make sure they fully understand the impact hunting has on our economy, including supporting jobs and wages for thousands of Pennsylvanians."

Camp rosters

Last week Game Commissioners moved to end an archaic and bureaucratic hunting camp requirement that forced members of permanent camps with five or more participants to fill out paper rosters in duplicate and post one copy at the camp for at least 30 days following the close of deer, bear or elk seasons. The change is expected to be approved in September. The rule would be unchanged, however, for big game parties of more than 25 hunters.

Oil, gas leases

Game Commissioners approved a lease agreement with Canonsburg-based Range Resources-Appalachia LLC for oil and gas rights under State Game Lands 303 in Jefferson Township, Washington County. The company plans to use horizontal drilling technology to tap the oil and gas reserves with no surface disturbance to the game lands.

Hunters Sharing the Harvest

The Game Commission donated $20,000 to the non-profit group Hunters Sharing the Harvest, which encourages hunters to donate venison to the poor and coordinates efforts with deer processing centers and food banks. Hunters donating to the program were previously required to pay a fee to offset processing costs. The Game Commission donation was intended to cover those costs, making it free for hunters to donate. Hunters Sharing the Harvest has a goal of providing 100,000 pounds of donated venison to those in need this year.

Officer of the year

Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer Brian Singer, who patrols Westmoreland County, was named Wildlife Officer of the Year, and also tapped as Officer of the Year by the North East Conservation Law Enforcement Chiefs Association.

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