Update, 11/8/2019: Game Commissioners did in fact ease the requirements regarding how much orange hunters have to wear and when. They are in effect for the 2019-20 seasons and moving forward.
Namely, archers no longer have to wear orange at any time – even during the overlap with a firearms season — when hunting deer, elk or bear. Fall turkey hunters are exempt from wearing orange, too.
Still, the commission “highly recommends” hunters wear orange even when it’s not required.
The previous rules for orange for all other big and small game seasons remain in effect.
Original post, 6/13/2018: Maybe you think Pennsylvania’s rules for how much fluorescent orange hunters have to wear while in the field, and when, are complicated.
Game Commission officials don’t disagree.
In fact, just recently, they labeled them “the most complex and restrictive” in the nation.
But does that mean they need simplified?
There’s less agreement there.
So, for the third or fourth time in the last half dozen years, the commission is looking at its fluorescent orange regulations with an eye toward figuring out how it might make them simpler.
It’s the idea of commissioner Charlie Fox of Bradford County.
The number of hunters cited for orange violations doubled over the last five years, he noted. Most of the additional violations fall into one of three categories: archers walking into and out of the woods before and after daylight without wearing 250 square inches of orange; hunters failing to post 100 square inches of orange within 15 feet of their ground blind during big game firearms seasons; and hunters failing to wear 250 square inches of orange when hunting big game with a firearm.
It’s possible, he said, some of those hunters just don’t understand what’s required. The rules even sometimes confuse the agency’s own game wardens, after all, he added.
“We may not be able to improve on it. But I thought it was something worthwhile taking a look at.”
Pennsylvania can’t just copy what other states are doing, it seems. There’s no real standard when it comes to orange around the country, said Steve Smith, chief of the commission’s bureau of information and education.
Eleven states don’t require hunters to wear orange at all, ever. Ten require it only in big game seasons, and 20 more only in big game seasons open to firearms use. Others mandate it all the time.
Still, only Rhode Island has as many rules as does Pennsylvania, Smith said.
There’s no real easy way either, Smith said, to correlate orange use with hunter safety.
All states track hunting-related shooting incidents, as accidents are called. But not all relate them to whether someone was wearing orange, he noted.
And not all accidents are clear cut.
A hunter who shoots himself, for example, can skew the orange statistics, since the color of his clothing had nothing to do with his accident.
“It’s not that easy to make a straight comparison,” Smith said.
So commission staff spent some time in recent week looking at ways to simplify things. They came up with no easy, or unanimous, answers, he said.
The problem is related to “overlap.”
In many states, Smith said, seasons are distinct. Archery hunting comes in – and ends – before hunters are allowed in the woods with firearms.
In Pennsylvania, though, seasons overlap. A prime example is that in mid-October, right in the middle of archery season, there’s an early firearms doe season. Seniors and juniors can use centerfire rifles, and anyone can hunt with a muzzleloader.
That adds a real “confusion factor” to things, said Randy Shoup, chief of the bureau of wildlife protection.
“We expect the archery hunters to know what they’re doing on a daily basis. But we also expect them to know what other seasons are coming in at the same time. And they may not participate in those seasons, so it’s not something that’s really on their radar screen,” Shoup said.
“So a very high number of prosecutions occur with archery hunters during that week overlap.”
The commission is aware of that, but has always erred on the side of caution, Smith said. The rules requiring archers that week to wear 250 inches of orange when moving, and have 100 inches of orange within 15 feet of their stand when stationary, are for their benefit.
“The orange requirement is for the individual who’s moving and may be mistaken for game. We want to make sure that individual is safe at all times,” Smith said.
That pays dividends it seems, said commissioner Jim Daley of Butler County.
In decades past, hunting accidents were common, he said. That’s not the case now.
“We may have complex regulations, but we also have an outstanding safety record over the last several years. And so what is the trade-off if we reduce fluorescent orange?” he asked.
“What I say is, it may be complex but effective.”
The rules may also be irrelevant.
Commissioner Brian Hoover of Chester County said there are places in the southeast corner of the state – and likely in other urban areas – where landowners strictly control hunting. Archers in tree stands access parks and neighborhoods like those around Valley Forge National Historic Park that prohibit firearms, for example. In other cases, they hunt housing developments literally within sight of playgrounds, bus stops and the like.
By rule, even though there never is and will never be firearms hunting in those locations, and neither the hunters nor the landowners want attention drawn to the fact hunting is occurring, they’re required to wear orange at times.
Most – himself included — don’t, though, he said. And never will.
“So we do make hunters do illegal things with some of our regulations,” Hoover said.
That’s what makes simplifying the rules so tough, Shoup said. The commission needs a broad rule that works for all hunters, in all seasons, statewide.
But that’s hard to come up with.
“It seems like whenever we try to boil this down, and make it simple, there’s always a faction or splinter group that has its own opinion on what should be,” Shoup said.
So the search for answers continues.
Commission president Tim Layton of Somerset County asked that staff come back, perhaps at the board’s September meeting, with some recommendations. The overlap of seasons should be the focus, he added.
“I think maybe what we ought to look at is during these overlaps, doing either just a straight-up orange hat when you’re moving or something voluntary. Let’s look at that and see what we can do,” he said.
From fluorescent orange to hunting licenses
Here’s another potentially confusing issue that could affect Pennsylvania hunters.
This one is out of the commission’s hands, though.
You know how credit cards these days use chip technology? Well, starting June 30, anyone wanting to buy a hunting license – or anything really – online will need a computer new enough to do so because of an internet security update.
“It’s pretty much the same thing there,” said Travis Lau, communications coordinator for the commission.
The update affects all purchasing websites. Newer computers largely won’t be affected, but users might need to install updated versions of operating systems and web browsers, said the commission in a press release.
The easiest way to determine whether your computer will be capable of making Internet purchases once the update is complete is by going to https://tls1test.salesforce.com/s/. If your machine passes the test, it should be good to go in making future online purchases, including buying a hunting license.
“I’m not aware of anybody who regularly uses their computer having these problems when they went and did the test,” Lau said.
But licenses for 018-19 go on sale June 18, so it pays to check, and soon.