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Board of Game Commissioners give preliminary approval for concurrent antlered and antlerless rifle deer seasons

The Board of Game Commissioners gave preliminary approval to a slate of deer seasons for the 2021-22 license year that will allow for concurrent hunting for antlered and antlerless deer through the duration of the firearms deer season in all Wildlife Management Units (WMUs). The board had authorized concurrent seasons in 10 WMUs in the 2020-21 seasons, mainly in WMUs in which Chronic Wasting Disease had been detected in free-ranging deer.

By expanding the number of WMUs with a concurrent season, the board responded to hunters who requested this change in order to be provided with more opportunities to harvest antlerless deer, and to reduce confusion regarding which WMUs are open for concurrent seasons.

A change to a concurrent season is not intended to increase the antlerless harvest, as the antlerless allocation is the primary tool for managing deer populations. If the proposal for concurrent seasons is approved by the board at the April meeting, the antlerless license allocation will be reduced accordingly to reflect the additional five days of hunting opportunities. The antlerless allocation is based on the estimated number of tags required for hunters to harvest the number of deer necessary to meet the population objectives within a WMU. If the season is extended an additional five days, fewer tags will be required to meet the population objectives than would have been required in a shorter season.

Providing for the concurrent antlerless and antlered season would provide hunters with additional time to meet the deer-management objectives in each WMU and take into account the potential for inclement weather to negatively affect hunting opportunities during the firearm deer season.

Here’s a roundup of some of the news which came from the Board of Game Commissioners meeting.

THREE-LICENSE LIMIT FOR ANTLERLESS DEER HUNTERS COULD BE LIFTED

Hunters statewide could get the opportunity to apply for and receive additional antlerless deer licenses, as long as licenses remain available, and provided that a hunter holds no more than four unfilled antlerless deer licenses at a time.

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to a measure that would remove the three-license limit for antlerless deer hunters statewide.

If the measure is adopted, hunters will continue to mail antlerless license applications to county treasurers, as required by law. Application would follow the same schedule where residents, and later nonresidents, are permitted to apply for a license in the opening round, and in each of two successive rounds for any Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) where licenses remain. Then in early September, over-the-counter sales would begin, and hunters could pick up a fourth antlerless license in any WMU where licenses remain, either by going to a county treasurer’s office to purchase the license or sending an application by mail.

Once a hunter obtains four licenses, the hunter could not purchase additional licenses without first harvesting deer and reporting them. At no time would a hunter be able to possess more than four unfilled antlerless licenses.

But there would be no limit on the total number of licenses a hunter could obtain in a license year. As long as licenses remain available, and a hunter holds fewer than four unfilled antlerless licenses, the hunter can purchase another. A hunter without an antlerless deer license could purchase four licenses at a time over the counter; a hunter with two unfilled licenses could purchase two at a time.

During the discussion on this proposal, Commissioner Kristen Schnepp-Giger commented that, for the vast majority of hunters, this change will not have direct impact, as they already are able to purchase antlerless licenses within the initial rounds of the antlerless application process, prior to the WMU of their choice selling out. But under the proposed change, those who hunt in WMUs that have leftover licenses available will have the opportunity to buy up to four licenses, instead of the previous limit of three.

The proposal to remove the three-license limit for antlerless deer hunters statewide is intended to ensure the licenses allocated within a WMU are issued to the fullest extent possible. For instance, in WMUs 2A and 4A in the 2020-21 license year, well over 16,000 antlerless licenses remained available in mid-November, and hunters in these and other areas have questioned whether the three-license limit continues to make sense.

The new process would be simpler, since the same distribution rules would apply to all WMUs, while maintaining fair and equitable distribution. There’s potential the proposed changes would make more antlerless licenses available deeper into hunting season, perhaps giving hunters who purchase their licenses later a chance to get one. And if implemented, the proposal likely would result in the collateral benefit of increased harvest reporting.

The proposal will be brought back to the April meeting for a final vote.

ELIMINATING RIFLE USE FOR FALL TURKEY HUNTING COULD SPARE ADDITIONAL SEASON REDUCTIONS

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to a measure that could provide the Game Commission an additional tool to respond to declining turkey populations without reducing fall-turkey season length.

The commissioners voted preliminarily to eliminate the use of manually operated centerfire and rimfire rifles for fall-turkey hunting.

Recent survey data indicate only 14 percent of Pennsylvania fall-turkey hunters primarily use rifles, but rifles are responsible for 33 percent of the fall-turkey harvest. That’s because many who harvest fall turkeys with rifles do so opportunistically while hunting other game. By eliminating rifle use in fall turkey season, it’s estimated the statewide harvest could be reduced by 20 percent, while most turkey hunters would be unaffected by the change in requirements.

Reducing fall-turkey season length currently is the primary method to help out declining populations. Season-length adjustments are based on standards set forth in the Game Commission’s Wild Turkey Management Plan.

At present, turkey populations are declining in 15 of 23 Wildlife Management Units, and shorter season lengths have been proposed in response. Depending on the actual impact of removing rifles from fall turkey seasons, recent fall turkey season length reductions could eventually be reversed and more hunting opportunities added.

“I applaud the Board of Commissioners for proposing this additional step to decrease the fall harvest,” said Mary Jo Casalena, Game Commission wild turkey biologist. “With declining population trends in most Wildlife Management Units the proposal to remove rifles for fall turkey season may help turn the tide more quickly and eliminate the need for additional fall season reductions in the following years.”

The preliminarily approved measure will be brought back to the April meeting for a final vote, and it will not take effect unless it’s adopted.

BOARD TAKES STEPS TO ALLOW DIGITAL LICENSES

Pennsylvania’s new hunting and furtaker licensing system, HuntFishPA, is expected to provide hunters and trappers electronic versions of the licenses they buy, and the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today started the process of allowing hunting and furtaking eLicenses to be carried afield as an alternative to carrying certain paper licenses.

Harvest tags would continue to be issued in physical form on durable stock. No electronic versions of these documents would be issued or authorized for use, and durable-stock harvest tags would need to be carried in the field when hunting in big-game seasons or trapping in seasons where harvest tags are used.

But for other hunting and trapping opportunities, eLicenses would be a permitted substitute for hunters and trappers to carry in the field, based on the measure preliminarily approved by the board. The proposal will be brought back to the April meeting for a final vote.

If adopted, hunters and trappers buying licenses online would continue to be mailed all durable-stock license panels, including harvest tags, and would also be given access to eLicenses. Those buying licenses from an issuing agent would be issued harvest tags at the time of purchase and would have the opportunity to have digital licenses provided through email.

“We’re always looking to improve our customer’s experience, and with the launch of our new HuntFishPA online system, we’re able to provide the additional convenience of a digital license, which provides hunters and trappers access to their license documents on any mobile device “ said Deana Vance, director of the Game Commission’s Bureau of Automated Technology Services. “It’s an option many might prefer.”

There would be no additional fee to retrieve eLicense products from HuntFishPA, but regular fees still would apply for the replacement of harvest tags, or where the customer opts for a physical reprint of the license.

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