Gun legislation, lake news and venison sandwiches

Posted on: October 26, 2016 | Bob Frye | Comments

Donegal LakeThis is how Donegal Lake looked as recently as a month ago. It will soon be empty, however, and volunteers are being sought to save some of its fish.

Fall is always a busy time of year anyway for sportsmen and women. Hunting seasons open one right after the other, and there’s still good fishing available.

But it’s a crazy time for outdoor news right now.

Pennsylvania’s state legislature is in session today — one last time before the election – so the fate of a slew of bills of interest to sportsmen will be decided within hours.

A couple of area lakes, meanwhile, are going to see big changes within days, and a fast food chain with an eye on Pennsylvania’s hunting tradition is reportedly making a menu change in the coming weeks.

Here’s what up.


Last year, two bills were introduced that would change what hunters could carry in the woods.

State Rep. Matt Gabler, a Clearfield County Republican, introduced House Bill 263. It would remove the statutory prohibition on hunting with air rifles.

Sen. Scott Hutchinson, a Butler County Republican, introduced Senate Bill 737, which would likewise remove the prohibition on hunting with semiautomatic rifles.

Neither would make those guns legal right away necessarily. The Pennsylvania Game Commission would have to make rules regarding what species they could be used to take and in what seasons, while specifying things like minimum caliber and muzzle velocity.

Gabler’s bill passed the House last April, Hutchinson’s the Senate last June. Neither moved thereafter, though.

Now they’re going to sink or swim together.

On Tuesday Gabler’s bill was amended to include Hutchinson’s language on semiautos. The House and Senate were expected to vote on the amended bill today.

If it passes – and the National Rifle Association is rallying its members, suggesting they contact their state lawmakers and push for it – both air rifles and semiauto rifles could be legal in the woods going forward. That’s already the case with both types of gun in more than 45 other states.

If it doesn’t, both bills would likely have to be reintroduced next year and start all over.

That’s apparently going to be the fate of some other legislation. Unlikely to be considered today are bills that would legalize hunting with airbows, allow the Game and Fish and Boat commissions to set their own license fees, create a forest and wildlife council to manage deer, allow for using leashed tracking dogs to find wounded big game, reduce the cost of hunting licenses for hunter trapper education instructors to $1, and allow teens to try hunting under the mentoring program.

The House comes back into session for two days after the election, on Nov. 14-15, and the Senate on Nov. 16. But insiders say it’s unlikely much will get done then.

Volunteers sought

The Fish and Boat Commission is looking for volunteers.

It’s scheduled a fish salvage at Donegal Lake for Nov. 1-2 as a final step before the construction project begins to rebuild the facility’s dam. Originally set for Oct. 25-26, it was delayed because of rain.

The work of collecting and moving fish will take place about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day. Fish collected will be moved to Acme Dam, Mammoth Lake and Bridgeport Reservoir in Westmoreland County and Green Lick Reservoir in Fayette.

Not all of the lake’s fish can be salvaged, biologists are warning. Some will die, so volunteers should be prepared to see that.

Volunteers will be tasked with carrying buckets of fish from the lake to waiting stocking trucks.


Another lake is also going to experience a drawdown, though of a different nature.

High Point Lake in Somerset County isn’t going dry. But the commission is lowering its water level significantly over the winter in an attempt to kill off some weeds.

Starting today, the commission will draw the lake down by about 10 feet. Plans are to keep it that low through March, then allow it to refill naturally.

“Drawdowns are used to manage aquatic plant growth and fish population,” said area fisheries manager Rick Lorson. “Aquatic plants provide very good habitat for both young and adult fish. However, too much vegetation, with surface area coverage exceeding 30 percent of a lake, can impact fishing and has the potential to disrupt the balance of fish populations in a lake. Proactively managing the vegetation will help to maintain quality fishing at the lake.”

Drawdowns were used previously at High Point, reducing surface weeds by an average of 78 percent in 2008, 2010 and 2012.

The lake will remain open for fishing during the drawdown period, but anglers fishing from the shore should be prepared for muddy conditions. Boating will be limited to light craft, carry-in boats.


You won’t necessarily have to shoot your own deer to get a taste of venison this fall.

Fast-food chain Arby’s is going to test selling venison sandwiches in select markets – including Pittsburgh — by the end of the month.

In an announcement made on Tuesday, the company said it will market a venison sandwich featuring “a thick-cut venison steak and crispy onions with a berry sauce on a toasted roll.” The venison comes from “free-range farmed deer.” It’s marinated in garlic, salt and pepper and then cooked for three hours.

“We’re a brand that’s not afraid to take risks and while the venison sandwich is probably the biggest stretch for us yet, it’s incredibly delicious and we can’t wait to get it in the hands of our guests,” said Rob Lynch, Arby’s chief marketing officer and brand president.

The sandwich will be offered for a limited time at 17 Arby’s restaurants in states with big deer hunting traditions, including not only Pennsylvania but also in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Tennessee and Georgia.

Locally, the sandwich will be available from Nov. 25-27 at Arby’s at 5205 Library Road in Bethel Park; 4260 Ohio River Blvd. in Bellevue; 16 Towne Center Dr, in Leechburg; and 2539 W State St., 2648 Ellwood Road and 3224 Wilmington Road, all in New Castle.

Bob Frye is the editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at

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