What do hunters — average hunters — think about the idea of using semiautomatics for hunting in Pennsylvania? We’ll know soon.
Photo by Falkor Defense / from Facebook
The Pennsylvania Game Commission asked for public comment. It got it, too.
It’s just not sure whether to trust it.
In January, Game Commissioners gave preliminary approval to regulations that would allow hunters – for the first time ever – to hunt with semiautomatic rifles and shotguns this coming fall. The firearms would be OK for chasing all kinds of game, including big game like deer, bear and elk.
The rules aren’t official yet. The board has to vote on them again at its next meeting on March 27 and 28.
They may adopt some changes.
The rules as as written right now, for example, would limit semiautos being used for big game to containing six rounds, one in the chamber and five in the magazine.
Agency staff has since determined that five-round magazines are difficult to come by. Manufacturers just don’t make many, said commission spokesman Travis Lau.
“The commissioners could opt to amend the language to allow larger-capacity magazines to be plugged to five rounds. I’m not sure if this will happen or not,” Lau said.
The bigger question, though, has been whether to allow semiautos for big game – and white-tailed deer in particular – at all.
Some have suggested that might be a safety issue, given the density of deer hunters on the landscape.
So far, people with those worries seem to be in the minority. As of Feb. 27, the commission had received 778 comments in support of allowing semiautomatic rifles for all species compared to 163 against.
“So it seems like we’ve got a pretty fair majority that are interested in it,” said commission president Brian Hoover of Delaware County.
There’s one concern, said Steve Smith, chief of the commission’s bureau of information and education.
The National Rifle Association put out a “call to action” urging its members to support the use of semiautomatics. That kind of thing is common, Smith said. Lots of groups do it on lots of issues.
But, the worry, he said, is that it produces a bias in the comments.
To account for that possibility, the commission is conducting its own survey. Coren Jagnow, the agency’s research and education division chief, sent surveys to 4,000 adult and senior hunters, residents and non-residents, chosen at random.
“That will give us a scientific sample, instead of one that is a self-selected sample,” she said.
They were asked a number of questions, including whether they support the use of semiautomatics for furbearers, groundhogs, small game and big game.
Hunters were also asked if they owned a semiautomatic rifle – something most declined to answer – what species they hunted in the last five years and whether they support the legalization of Sunday hunting.
As of Feb. 16, the commission had heard back from 1,286 people. That 32.4 percent response rate is pretty good, Jagnow said. Even if the commission gets no more back, she said it can be confident in the results.
She promised to present the results of he survey to the board at its March meeting.
“In the next four weeks we have a lot of data entry and data analysis to do,” Jagnow said.