Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Final approval of seasons, antlerless license allocations, to occur in April.

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to hunting and trapping seasons and bag limits for the 2015-16 license year.
Modifications proposed for the 2015-16 seasons include: opening the bobwhite quail season in all but one of the state’s Wildlife Management Units; expanding the crow hunting season to include an additional weekend; decreasing the length of the fall turkey season in WMUs 2E, 3D, 4A, 4B and 4D  to create a two-week fall season, plus a three-day Thanksgiving season; running the archery deer season from Sept. 19 through Nov. 28 in WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D; and implementing a conservative-harvest river otter season in WMUs 3C and 3D.
The public may offer comments on all proposed 2015-16 seasons and bag limits, as well as other board actions, between now and the board’s next meeting, April 9 and 10, at which time the board is scheduled to finalize seasons and bag limits for 2015-16.
Also, the board will receive at its April meeting staff recommendations for antlerless deer license allocations for each of the 23 WMUs. Deer harvest estimates for the 2014-15 seasons will be available in mid-March.
Following are several articles on meeting highlights.


The Board of Game Commissioners adopted a slate of deer seasons for 2015-16, proposing a split, five-day antlered deer season (Nov. 30-Dec. 4) and seven-day concurrent season (Dec. 5-12) in 18 Wildlife Management Units. The list includes (WMUs) 1A, 1B, 2A, 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 2H, 3A, 3B, 3D 3C, 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D and 4E. The package also retains the two-week (Nov. 30-Dec. 12) concurrent, antlered and antlerless deer season in WMUs 2B, 5A, 5B, 5C and 5D.
Hunters with Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) antlerless deer permits may use the permits on the lands for which they were issued during any established deer season, and will continue to be permitted to harvest antlerless deer from Nov. 30- Dec. 12 in 1A, 1B, 2A, 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 2H, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D and 4E. Fees for DMAP permits are $10.70 for residents and $35.70 for nonresidents.
DMAP permits also may be transferred to Mentored Hunting Program participants.
The board retained antler restrictions in place for adult and senior license holders since the 2011-12 seasons. It remains the “three-up” on one side, not counting a brow tine, provision for the western Wildlife Management Units of 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B and 2D, and the three points on one side in all other WMUs. Those exempt from these antler restrictions are mentored youth hunters, junior license holders, disabled hunters with a permit to use a vehicle as a blind and resident active duty military on leave.
Another deer-season change to gain preliminary approval applies to Wildlife Management Units 2B, 5C and 5D, where the archery season has traditionally opened early, with the first weeks being open to antlerless deer hunting only.
The commissioners gave tentative approval to concurrent hunting of antlered and antlerless deer in WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D during all seasons, with the first segment of the archery season to run from Sept. 19 to Nov. 28 in those WMUs.


The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to a limited otter trapping season that, if adopted, would allow for a conservative harvest of otters for the first time in Pennsylvania in more than a half-century.
If the proposal gains final approval in April, otters could be harvested by licensed furtakers who also obtain a separate otter permit.
The otter season would be three days long – from Feb. 21, 2016 to Feb. 23, 2016 – with an option for the Game Commission to extend the season by an additional five days. Those with a valid permit each would be able to harvest, by trapping only, one otter during the season. The season would be open only in WMUs 3C and 3D, in the northeastern part of the state.
Otter trapping regulations largely would follow those for beavers, based on the proposal. It would be unlawful to place, or make use of, materials or products except raw native wood or stone to direct the travel of otters. Man-made materials may be used only to support traps or snares.  
It also would be unlawful to check, set, reset or otherwise maintain otter traps or snares, or remove otters from a traps or snares, unless the person is identified by the attached name tag as the owner.
Tagging requirements for those harvesting otters would be identical to the requirements for tagging bobcats and fishers. Before removing an otter from the location where it was caught, the trapper must fully complete and attach to the animal a tag furnished with the permit. The tag would need to remain attached until a Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) tag is attached, if applicable, or the animal is mounted, tanned, made into a commercial fur or prepared for consumption.  
Those harvesting otters would be required to report harvests within 24 hours, which is less time compared to the 48 hours allotted to those harvesting fishers and bobcats.
The creation of an otter season also would have an impact on beaver trappers within the WMUs where an otter season is open.
Within any WMU with an open otter trapping season, beaver trappers would be able to use no more than five traps or snares, and no more than two traps could be body-gripping traps. This limitation would be applicable during periods when the open beaver trapping season overlaps by calendar date with the open otter trapping season, and it would extend for five additional, consecutive days after the close of the otter season.
Ordinarily, beaver trappers are limited to 10 traps, two of which may be body-gripping.
There has been no season for harvest of river otters in Pennsylvania since 1952. But most other states that now have sustainable otter populations have implemented a season. In fact, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island are the only eastern states without a season for river-otter harvest, and Indiana is in the process of starting a regulated otter harvest.
In Pennsylvania, river otters continue to thrive and are among the many great success stories in wildlife conservation.
It is estimated that as much as 75 percent of America’s otter population had been lost by the start of the 20th century, due to factors including habitat destruction, water pollution and unregulated harvest.
Otters never were completely extirpated in Pennsylvania, though their numbers were reduced vastly. The Pocono region, particularly the counties of Wayne, Pike and Monroe, continued to sustain otters.
With a cleaner environment and otter populations restored through reintroduction programs and natural dispersal, otter populations are increasing across their range in Pennsylvania.
Today, they are present in almost every county and, in a lot of areas, they’re becoming as common as beavers.
If given final approval, an otter permit would cost $6.70.


The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to fall turkey seasons for 2015 and spring gobbler dates for 2016.
The slate of turkey seasons tentatively approved reduces the length of the fall seasons three weeks to two weeks in five Wildlife Management Units – WMUs 2E, 3D, 4A, 4B and 4D.
In addition to a two-week fall season, the three-day Thanksgiving season would continue to be held in those WMUs.
Game Commission staff said both the spring harvest density and the summer sighting index have declined in those WMUs and, in accordance with the Wild Turkey Management Plan, a decrease in season length is recommended.
The tentative fall season dates for 2015, as approved by the board Tuesday, are: WMU 1B, Oct. 31-Nov.7 and Nov. 26-28; WMU 2B (shotgun and bow only), Oct. 31-Nov. 20, and Nov. 26-28; WMUs 1A, 2A, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 2H, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4A, 4B and 4D; Oct. 31-Nov. 14, and Nov. 26-28; WMUs 2C, 4C and 4E, Oct. 31-Nov. 20, and Nov. 26-28; and WMU 5A, Nov. 5-7. WMUs 5B, 5C and 5D will remain closed for the fall seasons.
For the 2016 spring gobbler season, which is proposed to run from April 30-May 31, the board continued the change in legal hunting hours to reflect the following: from April 30-May 14, legal shooting hours will be one-half hour before sunrise until noon timeframe; and from May 16-31, hunters may hunt all day, from one-half hour before sunrise until one-half hour after sunset.
The board proposed holding the one-day Spring Gobbler Youth Hunt on April 23, 2016, which will run from one-half hour before sunrise until noon. All junior license holders and Mentored Youth Hunting Program permit holders can participate in this special one-day hunt, as well as the other spring season dates.


SQUIRRELS, Red, Gray, Black and Fox (Combined): Special season for eligible junior hunters, with or without required license, and mentored youth – Oct. 10-16 (6 daily, 18 in possession limit after first day).

SQUIRRELS, Red, Gray, Black and Fox (Combined): Oct. 17-Nov. 28; Dec. 14-24 and Dec. 26-Feb. 20 (6 daily, 18 possession).

RUFFED GROUSE: Oct. 17–Nov. 28, Dec. 14-24 and Dec. 26-Jan. 23 (2 daily, 6 possession).

RABBIT (Cottontail) Special season for eligible junior hunters, with or without required license: Oct. 10-17 (4 daily, 12 possession).

RABBIT (Cottontail): Oct. 24-Nov. 28, Dec. 14-24 and Dec. 26-Feb. 20 (4 daily, 12 possession).

PHEASANT: Special season for eligible junior hunters, with or without required license – Oct. 10-17 (2 daily, 6 in possession). Male pheasants only in WMUs 2A, 2C, 4C, 4E, 5A and 5B. Male and female pheasants may be taken in all other WMUs. There is no open season for the taking of pheasants in any Wild Pheasant Recovery Areas in any WMU.

PHEASANT: Male only in WMUs 2A, 2C, 4C, 4E, 5A and 5B. Male and female may be taken in all other WMUs – Oct. 24-Nov. 28, Dec. 14-24 and Dec. 26-Feb. 20 (2 daily, 6 in possession). There is no open season for the taking of pheasants in any Wild Pheasant Recovery Areas in any WMU.

BOBWHITE QUAIL: Oct. 24-Nov. 28 (4 daily, 12 possession). (Closed in 5A, Open in all other WMUs.)

HARES (SNOWSHOE RABBITS) OR VARYING HARES: Dec. 26–Jan.1, in all WMUs except WMUs 3B, 3C and 3D, where season will run from Dec. 26-29 (1 daily, 3 possession).

WOODCHUCKS (GROUNDHOGS): No closed season, except on Sundays and during the regular firearms deer seasons. No limit.

PORCUPINES: Sept. 1-March 31, except during overlap with the regular firearms deer season. (3 daily, season limit of 10).

CROWS: July 3-April 10, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday only. No limit.

STARLINGS AND ENGLISH SPARROWS: No closed season, except during the antlered and antlerless deer season. No limit.

WILD TURKEY (Male or Female): WMU 1B – Oct. 31-Nov. 7 and Nov. 26-28; WMU 2B (Shotgun and bow and arrow) – Oct. 31-Nov. 20 and Nov. 26-28; WMUs 1A, 2A, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 2H, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4A, 4B and 4D– Oct. 31-Nov. 14 and Nov. 26-28; WMUs 2C, 4C and 4E– Oct. 31-Nov. 20  and Nov. 26-28; WMU 5A – Nov. 5-7; WMUs 5B, 5C and 5D – CLOSED TO FALL TURKEY HUNTING.

SPRING GOBBLER (Bearded bird only): Special season for eligible junior hunters, with required license, and mentored youth – April 23, 2016. Only 1 spring gobbler may be taken during this hunt.

SPRING GOBBLER (Bearded bird only): April 30-May 31, 2016. Daily limit 1, season limit 2. (Second spring gobbler may be only taken by persons who possess a valid special wild turkey license.) From April 30-May 14, legal hunting hours are one-half hour before sunrise until noon; from May 16-31, legal hunting hours are one-half hour before sunrise until one-half hour after sunset.

BLACK BEAR (Statewide) Archery: Nov. 16-20. Only 1 bear may be taken during the license year.

BLACK BEAR (Statewide): Nov. 21-25. Only 1 bear may be taken during the license year.

BLACK BEAR (WMUs 2C, 4B, 4C, 4D and 4E): Dec. 2-5. Only 1 bear may be taken during the license year.

BLACK BEAR (WMUs 2B, 5B, 5C and 5D): Nov. 30-Dec. 12. Only 1 bear may be taken during the license year.

BLACK BEAR (WMUs 3A, 3B, 3C and 3D): Nov. 30-Dec. 5. Only 1 bear may be taken during the license year.

BLACK BEAR (WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D) archery: Sept. 19-Nov. 14. Only 1 bear may be taken during the license year.

BLACK BEAR (WMU 5B) archery: Oct. 3-Nov. 14. Only 1 bear may be taken during the license year.

BLACK BEAR (WMUs 2B, 5B, 5C and 5D) muzzleloader: Oct. 17-24. Only 1 bear may be taken during the license year.

BLACK BEAR (WMUs 2B, 5B, 5C and 5D) special firearms: Oct. 22-24, for junior and senior license holders, disabled hunters with a permit to use a vehicle as a blind and resident active duty military.

ELK (Antlered or Antlerless): Nov. 2-7. Only one elk may be taken during the license year.

ELK, EXTENDED (Antlered and Antlerless): Nov. 9-14. Only one elk may be taken during the license year. Eligible elk license recipients who haven’t harvested an elk by Nov. 8, in designated areas.

DEER, ARCHERY (Antlered and Antlerless) WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D: Sept. 19- Nov. 28 and Dec. 26-Jan. 23, 2016. One antlerless deer with each required antlerless license. One antlered deer per hunting license year.

DEER, ARCHERY (Antlered and Antlerless) Statewide: Oct. 3-Nov. 14 and Dec. 26-Jan. 9. One antlered deer per hunting license year. One antlerless deer with each required antlerless license.

DEER (Antlered and Antlerless) WMUs 2B, 5A, 5B, 5C and 5D: Nov. 30-Dec. 12. One antlered deer per hunting license year. An antlerless deer with each required antlerless license.

DEER (Antlered Only) WMUs 1A, 1B, 2A, 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 2H, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D and 4E: Nov. 30-Dec. 4. One antlered deer per hunting license year. (Holders of valid DMAP antlerless deer permits may harvest antlerless deer on DMAP properties during this period.)

DEER (Antlered and Antlerless) WMUs 2A, 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 2H, 3C, 3D, 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D and 4E:  Dec. 5-12. One antlered deer per hunting license year. An antlerless deer with each required antlerless license.

DEER, ANTLERLESS (Statewide): Oct. 22-24. Junior and Senior License Holders, Mentored Youth Permit Holders, Disabled Person Permit (to use a vehicle) Holders, and Pennsylvania residents serving on active duty in U.S. Armed Services or in the U.S. Coast Guard only, with required antlerless license. Also included are persons who have reached or will reach their 65th birthday in the year of the application for a license and hold a valid adult license, or qualify for license and fee exemptions under section 2706. One antlerless deer with each required antlerless license.

DEER, ANTLERLESS MUZZLELOADER (Statewide): Oct. 17-24. An antlerless deer with each required antlerless license.

DEER, ANTLERED OR ANTLERLESS FLINTLOCK (Statewide): Dec. 26-Jan. 9. One antlered deer per hunting license year, or one antlerless deer and an additional antlerless deer with each required antlerless license.

DEER, ANTLERED OR ANTLERLESS FLINTLOCK (WMUs 2B, 5C, 5D): Dec. 26-Jan. 23. One antlered deer per hunting license year, or one antlerless deer and an additional antlerless deer with each required antlerless license.

DEER, ANTLERLESS EXTENDED REGULAR FIREARMS: (Allegheny, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties): Dec. 26-Jan. 23. An antlerless deer with each required antlerless license.

DEER, ANTLERLESS (Military Bases): Hunting permitted on days established by the U.S. Department of the Army at Letterkenny Army Depot, Franklin County; New Cumberland Army Depot, York County; and Fort Detrick, Raven Rock Site, Adams County. An antlerless deer with each required antlerless license.


COYOTES: No closed season. Unlimited. Outside of any big game season (deer, bear, elk and turkey), coyotes may be taken with a hunting license or a furtaker license, and without wearing orange. During any big game season, coyotes may be taken while lawfully hunting big game or with a furtaker license.

RACCOONS and FOXES: Oct. 24–Feb. 20, unlimited.

OPOSSUM, STRIPED SKUNKS and WEASELS: No closed season, except Sundays. No limits.

BOBCAT (WMUs 2A, 2C, 2E, 2F, 2G, 2H, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4A, 4C, 4D and 4E): Jan. 16-Feb. 9. One bobcat per license year. Licensed furtakers may obtain one permit each.


MINKS and MUSKRATS: Nov. 21–Jan. 10. Unlimited.


COYOTES and FOXES (Statewide) Cable Restraints: Dec. 26-Feb. 21. No limit. Participants must pass cable restraint certification course.

BEAVERS (Statewide): Dec. 26–March 31 (Limits vary depending on WMU).

BOBCATS (WMUs 2A, 2C, 2E, 2F, 2G, 2H, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4A, 4C, 4D and 4E): Dec. 19-Jan. 10.
One bobcat per license year. Licensed furtakers may obtain one permit each.

FISHERS (WMUs 1B, 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 2H, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4D and 4E): Dec. 19-24. One fisher per license year. Licensed furtakers may obtain one permit each.

RIVER OTTERS (WMUs 3C and 3D): Feb. 21-23, 2016. One river otter per license year. Licensed furtakers may obtain one permit each.



SNOWSHOE OR VARYING HARES, RINGNECK PHEASANTS (Male or Female combined): Sept. 1-March 31. Daily and Field Possession limits vary. (Migratory game bird seasons and bag limits for falconers will be set in accordance with federal regulations in August.) 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Bull Creek member Greg Levish highlighted (along with his turtle soup) in Tribune - Review article!!

By Ed Phillipps Pittsburgh Tribune Review

It was about 30 years ago when Greg Levish and his then-9-year-old son, Jason, set out on a simple mission to catch a turtle. All it was, Levish says, was a little adventure for the two to get up close and personal with the reptile.

Nowadays, Levish is still trapping turtles, and anyone who wants to check out his catch can take it home in a Tupperware container.

Levish and a slew of other vendors will be at the Tri-County Trout Club Sport Show and Flea Market on Jan. 24 at the Arnold No. 2 Volunteer Fire Department social hall.

Items new and old — encompassing hunting, fishing, camping and trapping — will be on hand. Firearms are not available.

One of the most popular vendors is Levish, whose homemade turtle soup is something of a delicacy at the show. Levish spends countless hours trapping and cleaning about 40 turtles before cooking, freezing and packaging the soup — made with vegetables grown in his garden — in quart containers that are sold for $6 apiece.

“It's a lot of work making the soup,” says the 65-year-old Sarver resident, who keeps his secret-spice recipe closely guarded. “I don't claim to have the best of all, but the way I make it is the way people around here are accustomed to eating it.”

Treasures that are hard to find elsewhere, like Levish's soup, are what make the event unique.

“It is nostalgia that drives some of it, like holding a bamboo rod like your grandad used, or collecting old, wooden lures you used to see in your dad or uncle's tackle box when you were a little kid,” says the Lower Burrell club's president, Steve Hegedus. “But there are also people that live right in this area that make quality fishing tackle and really beautiful, unique and effective turkey calls. This show gives them a chance to promote and sell their handiwork.”

Larry Boland is one of those vendors who produces his own product. He uses different methods to sell his wing-bone turkey calls, but for him, nothing beats a sports show.
“They get to see exactly what they're getting and how to use it,” says the 66-year-old Franklin Park resident. “On the Internet, you can't do that. It's a little easier if they stop out and see it done.”

Classic items are also a big hit. Vintage magazines, books, lanterns and other camping supplies dating back as far as the 1950s are expected to be for sale.

This is the club's 11th annual event and the second at its current location. An influx of vendors and customer interest have not only kept the show going, but helped it grow.
“From the early days, where it was just club members, we had maybe 20 to 30 people attend,” Hegedus says. “Last year, we were up near 300 people attending.”

The event still has a club atmosphere to it, as many of the vendors enjoy chatting and seeing what everyone else has to offer.

“I don't do it for the money; I just do it for the fun,” Boland says. “I usually end up buying more stuff than I sell.”

Ed Phillipps is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

Hunters turning to manual loading for several reasons,but saving money is No. 1

By John Hayes / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

 For six years, concerns about the possibility of restrictive gun legislation has sparked unprecedented spikes in gun and ammunition sales. State wildlife agencies, partially funded through Pittman--Robertson excise taxes, are still raking it in.

But high demand for some popular ammunition caused huge manufacturer backlogs that led to sharp increases in wholesale and retail prices, and left some shelves empty. The crunch has begun to ease, but the problem remains.

Some shooters have turned to hand loading. In a recent poll of recreational shooters and hunters, 85 percent of those who reload said the primary reason was "to save money."
"With shortages of some types of ammunition in recent years, as well as the corresponding higher costs that arise when demand increases, it is no surprise cost savings are the primary reason many shooters choose to reload," said Rob Southwick, president of Southwick Associates, a Florida-based polling firm that gathers data for the outdoor equipment industry, government agencies and conservation organizations.

But there's more to the story than money.

"Marketing efforts by smart reloading companies will acknowledge the other reasons why people reload," said Southwick, in a written statement.

The poll, which permitted multiple answers, found that 67 percent of reloaders said the main reason they pack their own shells was to improve accuracy. Forty-four percent said they reload to get calibers or loads that are hard to find in stores. Thirty percent do it to reduce waste, and 15 percent cited other unspecified reasons.

In Pittsburgh, hand loaders generally conform with the national trend, said Bill Schiff, who services reloading customers at Braverman Arms in Wilkinsburg.

But despite the recent interest in the cost benefits of reloading, Schiff said overall participation is trending down and young shooters are turning off.

"I don't think the interest is as high as it once was," said Schiff, who's been reloading for 40 years. "The core group of reloaders are mostly older guys who don't do it to save money. They do it to get more accuracy than they can get from a factory load. I do it because I want to put five rounds in a circle the size of a dime at 100 yards. It's about precision."

Rifle deer hunters who night fire a few rounds a year at a sighting target -- and might get a shot at a kill zone the size of a pie pan -- are less likely to see cost benefits in reloading. It makes more sense for rifle hunters who need better accuracy on extreme shots, perhaps at mountain goats, big horn sheep and other trophy game.

"Shotgun reloaders are doing it to save money, but now you can get 100-round boxes [of shotgun shells] and it doesn't really pay," Schiff said. "Unless your gun shoots ammunition that's still hard to find, it may not be worth it."

Weekend target shooters -- Schiff calls them "plinkers" -- generally don't reload, despite the quantity of shots and high cost or unavailability of rounds. The most common caliber, .22 Long Rifle, remains among the most difficult ammunition for retailers to keep in stock, but rim-fire cartridges aren't reloadable. High performance military-style semi-automatics can be expensive to shoot -- some calibers are priced from $1 to $6 per round or more, Schiff said -- but most plinkers don't reload.

"It's more casual shooting," he said. "It's about getting out and shooting, not necessarily the quality of the shot."

But in a complex science of powder granule geometries, burn rates, seating depths and ballistic coefficients, assembly line mass production of ammunition is too imprecise for the needs of competitive shooters and bench-rest perfectionists.

"I enjoy going for accuracy," said 30-year veteran reloader Edward Olsakovsky of Pitcairn, better known in the reloading community as Eddie O. "I prefer to strive for that tight grouping -- to put 10 shots in the same hole. To do precision work with cases and bullets and powder charges and seating depths until you can hit a quarter at 200 yards."

High-end hand loading can be expensive, but Olsakovsky said a functional starter kit can be had for less than $400. Schiff said some powders are still hard to find.

Ultimately, despite the recent spike in interest, Schiff suggested that hand loading is not being passed on to the next generation.

"Truth is, what I see at the store every day, young people want to buy a new gun every year for hunting, they want a scope on it and they want it to cost under $300," Schiff said.

"It's rare that I see a reloading customer in his 20s."

John Hayes: jhayes@post-gazette.com.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

PA Game Commissioners To Discuss 2015-16 Hunting, Trapping Seasons

Board to meet in Harrisburg Jan. 25 to 27; public has two opportunities to comment.

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners will hold its first quarterly meeting of 2015, from Jan. 25 to 27 at the agency’s Harrisburg headquarters.

On Sunday, Jan. 25, beginning at 1 p.m., the commissioners will hear public comments on topics including the 2015-16 hunting and furtaking seasons and bag limits. Doors will open at noon. Individuals interested in offering public testimony – limited to five minutes – may register beginning at noon on a first-come, first-to-speak basis.

On Monday, Jan. 26, the board will gather any additional public comments and hear Game Commission staff reports beginning at 8:30 a.m. Doors open at 7:45 a.m. Registration for those interested in offering public testimony – limited to five minutes – also will begin at that time.

On Tuesday, Jan. 27, beginning at 8:30 a.m., the board will take up its prepared agenda to give preliminary approval to hunting and trapping seasons and bag limits for 2015-16, and establish other meeting dates for the coming year, among other things.  Doors open at 7:45 a.m. 

Antlerless deer license allocations for the 2015-16 seasons will be presented for the board to consider at its meeting in April. Harvest results from the 2014-15 deer seasons are expected be announced in mid-March.

The agenda for the January meeting is available at the Game Commission’s website, www.pgc.state.pa.us. From the “Quick Clicks” box running down the right side of the homepage, select “Meetings of the Board & Other Special Events.” A link to the agenda is provided on the page that opens.

The Game Commission’s headquarters is located at 2001 Elmerton Ave., just off the Progress Avenue exit of Interstate 81 in Harrisburg, Dauphin County.

Those unable to attend the meeting can watch much of it from home. The meeting will be live-streamed on the Game Commission’s website beginning Monday morning, immediately following the conclusion of public comments. In addition, the full Board meeting on Tuesday will be live-streamed beginning at 8:30 a.m.

An icon will be posted on the agency’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us) on Monday and Tuesday to access the webcasts.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Frye: PA Mentored Youth Proposal A Hot-Button Issue

By Bob Frye 

Consider the hornet's nest officially — and violently — stirred.

Pennsylvania Game Commissioners are scheduled to meet next Sunday through Tuesday. They will give preliminary approval to seasons and bag limits for the 2015-16 hunting and trapping seasons.

That, alone, would make the meeting controversial. There's always someone unhappy with deer seasons.

But it's something else on the agenda that's really got people worked up.

Commissioners will consider a change to the mentored youth hunting program, which allows children, regardless of age, to hunt squirrels, groundhogs, coyotes, turkeys and deer with an adult mentor.

The proposal before the board would maintain the rules for those age 9 and older, but prohibit kids age 8 and younger from hunting turkeys and deer.

The intent, according to the agenda, is to address “concern over the appropriateness of young children's abilities to utilize high-powered firearms to harvest big game, as well as allegations of adults utilizing the harvest tags of mentored youth unlawfully.”

That's where things get murky.

According to commission figures, mentored youths took 2.5 percent of the total deer killed in 2012-13, with only four-tenths of 1 percent killed by kids ages 6 to 8. None younger harvested a deer.

Anecdotal evidence suggests some of those deer likely were killed not by a child, but by an adult.

“What we're running into mostly is the kid not even being there and the adult being in possession of that tag,” said Tom Fazi, spokesman in the commission's southwest region office.

But no one can say precisely how often that's occurring.

Fazi could not quantify how many such violations are being encountered, nor could Michael Reeder, a spokesman in the commission's law enforcement headquarters.

Given that lack of evidence — and all the good mentored hunting has achieved — there's no way the commission should be looking to change it, said Rob Sexton, spokesman for the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance.

Pennsylvania was the first state in the nation to adopt “Families Afield” legislation doing away with a minimum hunting age in 2006.

Thirty-four states have since followed suit, putting 1.2 million new people in the woods,
While it's almost assuredly true some adults are illegally taking advantage of the program, there's nothing to suggest it's happening often enough to make a change that would impact nearly one-third of the 34,000 mentored youth in Pennsylvania, he added.

“In our world we arrest the violators and treat everyone else with respect,” he said. “We don't treat the law-abiding with the same meat clever we use on those who break the law.”
The Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, National Rifle Association, National Wild Turkey Federation and National Shooting Sports Foundation are in agreement.
Sexton said he hopes commissioners will remove the proposal from their agenda before next week's meeting.

Game commissioner Ron Weaner of Adams County said board members have become well aware of how passionately people feel about this issue. The reaction has been unexpectedly loud, he said. But he wants to hear from more next week.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

New Breed In Gun Clubs' Sights As Shooting Ranges Go Stylish

Customers line up to spend a morning on the shooting ranges
at Elite Shooting Sports in Manassas, Virginia.
 Illustrates GUN-CLUB, by Michael S. Rosenwald (c) 2014,
Washington Post photo by Marvin Joseph)
By The Washington Post 

Blake Vaught and Alex Williamson, buddies in their late 20s, were having a cognitive dissonance moment.

“This place is like a country club,” Vaught said, looking at a concierge desk, granite countertops and sleek black couches.

“Or like a really nice steakhouse,” Williamson said.

They were not at a country club. They were not at a steakhouse. They were at Elite Shooting Sports, a new gun range in Manassas, Va., that, like a wave of other ranges across the country, is targeting a new breed of shooter — younger, more affluent, style-focused, increasingly female and even environmentally conscious.

The gun industry's term for these shooting retreats: “guntry clubs.”

In Miami's arts district, a new high-end club attracts celebrities such as LeBron James, shooting fully automatic machine guns, then chilling in VIP lounges. A Texas range features gun valets. A Colorado club offers custom fitted earplugs, apps to reserve shooting lanes and chess sets. Membership fees at these ranges are sometimes hundreds, even thousands of dollars. Cigar lounges — yes. WiFi — of course. There is lots of leather.

The high-end ranges are popping up as the $15 billion gun industry's sales have more than doubled since 2005. Fears of regulations with a Democrat in the Oval Office have juiced much of that growth, which is leveling out. But experts say an industry shift away from hunting culture has helped spawn a generation of firearms enthusiasts buying up sleekly designed handguns and AR-15 rifles for tactical shooting practice.

‘A comfortable image'

The average age of new target shooters is 33, while 47 percent live in urban or suburban areas, and 37 percent are female, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association for the firearms industry. Shooters spend $10 billion a year on target shooting, including the cost of firearms, ammunition and range fees.

Those demographics and economics are attracting investors without firearms industry backgrounds, who see ranges as a new place to employ their cash. Elite Shooting Sports, a nearly $14 million project, has investors from the electronics industry. Real estate, finance, hotel and auto industry executives have backed other new ranges.

“A lot of savvy investors have seen the surge in sales within the firearms industry, see that it's a quality industry to invest in and are smartly doing so,” said Zach Snow, a range expert at the sports foundation. “These ranges are trying to project a comfortable image to the largest contingent of people possible.”

Families welcome

Gone are the folding chairs, stale coffee and drab settings of some old mom-and-pop gun ranges. The idea now is to compete for entertainment dollars with golf and country clubs, nightclubs and movie theaters, which have also gone high-end with leather chairs and mixed drinks.

Miami's Lock & Load, which offers themed machine gun packages, including one with Israeli special forces weapons, is the No. 1 ranked activity in the city on TripAdvisor. Ranges are even becoming a new place to take clients for lunch — and squeeze off a few rounds.
Standing in the lobby of Elite Shooting Sports, near the concierge desk where shooters check in and sign forms on iPads, Greg Wodack, the range's founder and managing partner, said: “We wanted to be more open and inviting for families, to appeal to everyone. This is not your stereotypical range. “

Wodack, a former professional shooter, used to run the National Rifle Association's shooting range and consult on other ranges around the country. Seeing where the business was going, he went off on his own but differentiated by putting a more utilitarian spin on the trend — creating a shooter's version of affordable luxury. Membership fees are just $34.95 a month; hourly rates start at $20.

The range is colossal — more than 65,000 square feet, with 42 shooting lanes featuring booths wider than industry standards. A local millworker made the counters and dark wooden sales kiosks. Shooting booth tables have oak frames. In the 100-yard range, shooters can monitor where their rounds hit on an overhead screen.

There is a cafe serving pastries. Local restaurants cater lunches. There are enormous flat-screen TVs in the mammoth lounge area. And then there is the air. It is always a crisp 71 degrees. A special filtering system pushes gun smoke away from the shooter, cleaning the air so expertly that Wodack said it leaves the building cleaner than it entered.

Since opening in November, the club is averaging a thousand new customers a week.

“This is absolutely beautiful,” said Cheryl Serrano, 39, who lives in Bristow, Va. “It's amazing.”

Wearing a hot pink vest, Serrano stopped in this month with her family — her husband and sons, decked out head-to-toe in Under Armour gear, and her sister visiting from California. Serrano was there to shoot her Christmas present and a couple of other guns. She had shot at an outdoor gun club where her father was a member.

“This is nice, and now we can establish ourselves here,” she said.

They all took turns shooting. Serrano and her sister commemorated the moment with a selfie.

Novices and experts

Owners of older local gun ranges said they are not concerned about Elite Shooting Sports or other high-end ranges, but they do grumble a bit about them in class-like tones.

“It's for the people who have money that the rest of us don't have,” said Carl Roy, the president of the Maryland Small Arms Range in Upper Marlboro, Md. “Is it bad? Is a country club bad for golf? You might not be able to afford to golf there, but it doesn't hurt the game.”
Wodack and other high-end gun range owners think their efforts are good for the industry, attracting people who might be hesitant to try shooting at an old-school club, fearing they'll use the wrong lingo or be privately mocked because they're a newbie.

Everyone who comes to Elite Shooting Sports — expert or novice — has to watch an orientation video about range etiquette and rules. Wodack preaches exceptional customer service to his staff.

In Houston, the Athena Gun Club — its amenities page on its website has a picture of a Starbucks-like takeout cup surrounded by coffee beans — promotes a surround-sound simulator for “first time shooters apprehensive of handling a live firearm.” In its retail store, firearms are displayed not in glass cases but on tables like iPhones at an Apple Store. (The guns are disabled.)

“We wanted to build a business so people right off the bat would feel comfortable and not like they are doing something wrong,” said Steve Bishop, Athena's marketing manager. “None of us started as an expert shooter.”

Shooters won't find much political talk at these new ranges either.

“We are not going to push super pro-gun ideologies in people's faces,” said Javier Lopez, a partner at Miami's Lock & Load. “We avoid that stuff at all costs. Our staff will not initiate any political discussions with any of our guests.”

Which is not to say that these ranges are trying to avoid old-school shooters. Not at all. But, as Wodack put it, “with the Tactical Teddy group, if you go too far off in that direction, you're not appealing to everyone.”

There has been debate about the new ranges in online forums.

Shooters who used to shoot at the NRA range and other old-school ranges are showing up at Elite Shooting Sports.

“So far, I love it,” said John Lehman, 48, who was getting ready to shoot for the first time at the new range. “This is state of the art. This is awesome.”

PA Anglers, Commissioners Debate Stocking Over Native Trout, Protecting Clean Waters From Industrial Impacts

The presence of wild trout generally indicates clean water.
This wild brown trout was released on Yellow Creek,
Bedford County, which is currently being considered for a
Class A Wild Trout designation
The Fish and Boat Commission's intent to act on two related items at its meeting Wednesday and Thursday in Harrisburg has alarmed, disappointed and confused anglers on opposing sides of the issues. But a less apparent fact could trump that unease in the end.

Among a slate of other fisheries-related matters, the commission's 10-member board will vote on a proposal to designate 10 stream sections as Class A Wild Trout waters, removing them from the trout-stocking schedule and adding them to an existing list of about 600 Class A streams around the state that have wild trout populations.

None of the 10 streams under consideration flow in southwestern Pennsylvania. Streams pending for the Class A rating are parts of Fishing Creek (Clinton County), Yellow Creek (two sections in Bedford County), Little Lehigh Creek (two sections in Lehigh County), Monocacy Creek (two sections in Northampton County), Martins Creek (Northampton), Penns Creek (Centre) and Pohopoco Creek (Carbon).

Some trout anglers were initially dismayed, while others were elated, at the prospect of those Class A designations. An established PFBC policy has been to ban the stocking of hatchery-bred trout on Class A waters, relying on naturally reproducing trout to provide angling recreation. All of the 10 stream sections in question had been stocked by the PFBC, some as recently as 2014.

But PFBC surveys confirmed the streams also supported wild populations. When the agency began considering the change last year, many anglers felt that ending the stocking would hurt the quality of fishing there.

"The Little Lehigh and Monocacy are heavily fished creeks. My customers fish there and were not happy when they heard [the Fish and Boat Commission] might stop stocking," said Willie Marx, owner of Willie Marx's Bait and Tackle just outside Allentown, Lehigh County. "How many of these guys are going to fish around here if they designate for wild trout only? They should keep stocking, for one thing because a lot of kids fish there and you've got to keep kids interested."

Some of Marx's customers took up a pen or struck a keyboard and confirmed his observations. When PFBC sought public comments on its Class A no-stocking policy before its September 2014 meeting at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington, Fayette County, the agency got 95 letters and emails opposing any reduction in stocking the streams being considered for Class A designation -- more than four times the number of responses supporting the standing Class A no-stocking policy.

As a result, in September, the PFBC board considered allowing stocking on Class A streams if certain considerations were met. Those include high angler use, the absence of wild brook trout and streams to be stocked were not on the agency's original list of Class A waters. The board eventually discarded all of those criteria and voted to amend its policy to say that Class A streams would not be stocked except, "with rare exceptions," provided that the sitting commissioners consented to the stocking. That consent could come later this week after the decision to add the 10 streams to the Class A list.

The policy change to allow Class A stocking in "rare" instances pleased Marx and his customers in the Lehigh Valley, at least temporarily. But it disappointed other anglers who maintain that artificial stocking degrades existing wild trout populations.

"Although our organization liked the Class A designation concept, we did not like the idea of stocking Class A. But we did not oppose it, provided the criteria initially considered were in place," said Ken Undercoffer of Clearfield and cochair of the Trout Management Committee for the Pennsylvania State Council of Trout Unlimited. "Then [PFBC] started backing up and changing the rules. Apparently rules and past policy mean nothing.

"Hatchery trout can be a valuable recreational resource when used intelligently, but it makes no sense to take those expensive fish and plant them in streams perfectly capable of supporting fine trout fisheries on their own. Montana figured that out 40 years ago."

Undercoffer's reference was to a decision made in 1974 by the Montana Fish, Parks and Wildlife agency to cease nearly all stocking of trout streams. Montana continues to stock lakes and some urban waters but allows its internationally famed trout streams to develop their own wild fisheries.

"Wild trout numbers increased, just as our studies said they would," said Dick Vincent, the fisheries biologist who advocated Montana's no-stocking policy, as quoted in an interview published in Montana Outdoors magazine. "I think the biggest [impact] was that people began to see wild trout as a valuable, limited resource, and that the state needs to protect habitat to conserve that resource."

Vincent's observation may manifest one aspect of these administrative shifts that all anglers, regardless of their views on stocked versus wild trout, can agree on.
But there's another consideration.

Streams recognized as Class A Wild Trout waters qualify automatically as High Quality waters under state Department of Environmental Protection regulations. Developers and resource extraction activities must comply with stricter regulations to gain DEP permits and continue operating within High Quality watersheds.

At least three of the 10 streams PFBC is considering for Class A designation lie outside the perimeter of the Marcellus Shale formation in central and northern Pennsylvania, a fact that may have made PFBC willing to absorb the criticism it attracted in the no-stocking turmoil that accompanied the proposed Class A designations.

"Since the inception of shale gas development, we've seen activity with the potential to impact wild trout resources in remote areas and on a scale we'd never seen before," said John Arway, Fish and Boat Commission executive director. "The Marcellus industry has advocated that we assess trout streams where they might operate and know what's there so they can design their activities around what we need to protect."

Arway said his agency had always been more than willing to undertake those trout searches, but that it would take 125 years for agency staff alone to examine all the state's stream miles.

"So we got creative, and with funding from the Mellon Foundation and manpower from colleges and universities around the state we launched our Unassessed Waters Initiative," Arway said.

Cooperating university teams have documented wild trout populations in numerous stream sections where they had not been known to exist.

"Because of the regulatory implications of Class A, whenever our partners find a qualifying Class A wild trout population, our own biologists go back out and confirm," Arway said. "It provides an extra level of science for these decisions and the regulatory requirements that follow."

A spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition was unavailable for comment, but the group has previously stated its approval of the Unassessed Waters Initiative.

"There are actually two parts to this whole situation, and [PFBC commissioners] hope that anglers will see that," said Len Lichvar, Fish and Boat commissioner representing Region 2 in Southcentral Pennsylvania. "The first is whether or not to designate Class A. The next issue is how to manage those streams as recreational fisheries. We may have different opinions on the stocking issue, but our data shows these 10 streams and many others deserve the additional level of protection brought with Class A."

Lichvar also said his understanding was that the upcoming vote on whether to stock applied only to the 10 streams proposed for Class A designation, and that the original 600 waters would not receive hatchery trout.

"But that's something that any future board could change at any time," he said