deer hunting

A Pennsylvania deer hunters hauls a buck out of the field.

Normally, there’s not a lot of news that comes out of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s late summer meeting.

That was not the case July 25.

The agency’s Board of Game Commissioners tackled several issues that were extremely important to hunters.

Chief among those was probably rejecting a proposal to set the minimum required caliber for hunting deer and bears at .24.

Commissioner Dennis Fredericks had asked for the proposal to be drafted, noting that the agency has no minimum requirement, other than the rule that rifles must be centerfire. That eliminates any rimfire cartridges.

A check of U.S. and Canada hunting rules by the Game Commission found a mix of requirements. Seven states require the minimum .24 caliber the Game Commission had proposed. One requires .25. The rest either allowed any centerfire caliber or set the minimum below the proposed .24.

The Game Commission called out calibers such as .17, .22 Hornet and .204 Ruger, claiming they are too small for deer and bears.

And the agency listed as “marginal” calibers such as .220 Swift, .222 Remington, .223 Remington, .22-250 Remington and 224 Weatherby.

LNP was the first media outlet to report the agency’s minimum caliber proposal, and when that article was published July 19 it launched a storm of opposition.

Fredericks said the Game Commission – like LNP – heard from many hunters who support the use of smaller calibers, such as .223 and .22-250, for hunting deer. They especially support those smaller calibers for use by young hunters and older hunters, because the recoil is minimal.

As I noted in the July 19 article, I have shot several deer with a .223, and found it to be a very effective caliber.

Instead of setting a minimum caliber, the Game Commission has decided to “work with ammunition manufacturers and experts to establish guidelines for hunters using smaller calibers for big game, and work to inform the public about them,” a news release from the agency states.

NO STATEWIDE BAN ON FEEDING, USING LURES

Perhaps the second-most anticipated decision handed down by the board of commissioners July 25 was approval of a statewide CWD Response Plan.

This is a blueprint for combatting the always-fatal chronic wasting disease across Pennsylvania.

CWD was first detected in the state in a captive deer in 2012, and it has since been found in many wild and captive deer in several areas. Several captive deer kept at two farms in Lancaster County were found to have CWD within the past two years. No wild deer here have been found with it.

Two of the most impactful proposals within the draft version of the plan were a statewide ban on feeding deer and putting out mineral licks, and a statewide ban on hunters using urine-based and synthetic lures.

Both of those measures were dropped by the agency July 25, however.

“Instead, the plan is to educate people about the downside of feeding (deer) in particular so that they might voluntarily turn away from that activity,” said agency spokesman Bob Frye.

Frye said feeding deer and putting out mineral licks, as well as using urine-based deer lures, will only be banned in established CWD Management Areas, as they always have been. Synthetic lures will still be allowed in those disease management areas.

The Game Commission catches a lot of flak from a lot of people for a lot of reasons. I’ve even questioned their practices a time or two in the past.

And so it’s only fair to give them credit when they deserve it. Holding off on these two bans seems sensible to an average person like me.

I understand the biologists’ concerns about feeding and using deer lures causing deer to congregate, and therefore potentially passing CWD from one to another.

But there is no study – I know because I asked – that has found these bans would reduce the instances of CWD transmission.

Yes, the theory is there, but there is no proof. Deer are social animals, which means they naturally congregate for many reasons.

So why bar the non-hunting family from putting out a mineral lick so they can watch deer in their yard as their only form of deer-related recreation?

And why prevent the bowhunter from making a mock scrape with bottled deer lure in a woods that’s full of real scrapes seasoned with fresh urine?

Is the juice worth the squeeze, as the saying goes? The commissioners apparently felt it was not, and I think they got it right.

ADDITIONAL DEER REMOVALS

Something the CWD plan talks about is removing additional deer as a way to keep CWD transmission down.

The plan lays out strategies for focusing removal efforts on areas where CWD is found. We already have the Disease Management Areas. A big swath of Lancaster County is in DMA 4, because of the captive deer found here with CWD.

The CWD plan allows the Game Commission to create smaller Enhanced Surveillance Units within DMAs. Each ESU will be allocated Deer Management Assistance Program – DMAP – permits for taking antlerless deer.

The goal within ESUs would be to reduce deer densities by an average of one extra deer per square mile. That would be a reduction on top of the population goal established for the whole wildlife management unit.

Even smaller still, Containment Zones will be created within 3 square miles surrounding new cases of CWD. In those zones, wildlife professionals would remove deer outside hunting seasons. But that will only happen on private property with landowner approval.

Three miles is considered to be the average range of wild deer, and so it’s the area where CWD transmission would be most likely to occur.

ELECTRONIC BIKES BANNED ON GAME LANDS

The commissioners voted to reject a proposal that had won preliminary approval to allow electronic bikes – e-bikes – on State Game Lands.

Even though page 16 of the 2020-21 digest of Pennsylvania hunting rules sold with hunting licenses says e-bikes are legal for riding on game lands, they are not.

The digest was printed before the final vote on the issue was taken. Only traditional bikes are allowed on game lands.

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