Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Pennsylvania: Sunday Hunting Legislation Introduced to Legislature

“Sunday Hunting” legislation, House Bill 1374, has been officially introduced this week and will be making its way through the General Assembly.  As introduced, HB 1374 would give discretion to the Pennsylvania Game Commission to implement Sunday hunting relative to seasons and bag limits in the Keystone state.  Just as they are trusted to make science-based decisions Monday through Saturday, the management of hunting seasons, harvest limits and times on Sundays should rest with the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the wildlife experts who advise it.
The prohibition on Sunday hunting is an old blue law left on the books in just a handful of states.  Although Pennsylvania allows some private landowners to hunt and some varmint hunting on Sundays, a large sector of the hunting population and the benefits they bring to the economy are being ignored.  This prohibition denies hunters access one day per week despite the fact that each year, hunters provide millions of dollars to habitat restoration and conservation through Pittman-Robertson funds and are primarily responsible for healthy ecosystems throughout Pennsylvania.
Furthermore, current law gives a select group of private landowners, whose property is enrolled as a noncommercial regulated hunting ground, the privilege to hunt on Sundays.  This law amounts to tens of thousands of acres being hunted on Sundays by landowners who can afford to own and enroll their 100+ acre plots as a noncommercial regulated hunting ground.  This exemption, which became law more than a decade ago, only allows those who own large tracts of land the pleasure of hunting on Sundays, while continuing to deny the majority of Pennsylvania hunters the same freedom.
Many hunters are prohibited from introducing their children or friends to hunting because they are competing with organized sports and other activities on Saturday, which is currently their only opportunity to hunt outside of the work week.  Countless hunters stop hunting because of the lack of opportunity, time restrictions and accessible land.  The addition of an extra day in the field, especially on the weekend, increases the opportunity for those individuals to experience hunting.  Allowing hunting on Sundays would undoubtedly invigorate essential hunter recruitment and retention efforts -- key factors in preserving Pennsylvania’s hunting heritage for future generations to come.  
Please continue to contact your state Representative and politely urge him or her to support this important legislation.
Also, please take a moment to thank the state Representatives who are co-sponsoring HB 1374.  Co-sponsors are listed below: 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Lawmakers Debate Use Of Semiautomatic Rifles For Hunting In Pennsylvania

There's only one state left in the nation that does not permit hunters to use semiautomatic rifles in the field: Pennsylvania.
There was talk Monday of changing that.
The House of Representatives game and fisheries committee held a hearing in Harrisburg on two bills that would legalize that style of gun.
One, House Bill 233, sponsored by Rep. Curtis Sonney of Erie County, would legalize semiautomatic rifles of .223 or smaller caliber, with a six-shot capacity, for hunting coyotes, foxes and groundhogs. The other, House Bill 366, sponsored by Allegheny County lawmaker Rick Saccone, would limit centerfire semiautomatics to containing five rounds but makes no mention of caliber or species.
“That's the beauty of it,” Saccone told fellow lawmakers.
Under his bill, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, which makes the rules regarding firearm type, seasons and species for all other weapons, would make those same decisions in regards to semiautomatics, he said.
It has the support of the National Rifle Association and others.
Matt Hough, executive director of the commission, told lawmakers the commission supports legalizing semiautomatics. It doesn't necessarily prefer one bill to the other, he added.
It does want a say, though. The commission would like the authority to decide which species could be hunted with semiautomatics and when, limit the guns to having six rounds in the magazine and chamber, combined, and prohibit their use for any species during overlaps with deer, bear, turkey or elk seasons.
“As long as we can regulate, we're fine,” Hough said.
Representatives of sportsmen's groups were split.
Kim Stolfer, of McDonald, a certified firearms instructor representing the Allegheny County Sportsmen's League and other organizations, said he prefers Saccone's bill, as did Randy Santucci of McKees Rocks, president of the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania.
Stolfer said semiautomatics are becoming “more and more accepted in hunting camps” across the country, for multiple reasons. They are no more or less dangerous than any other type of firearm, he said, but do reduce felt recoil and muzzle jump and allow a hunter to remain on target when making follow-up shots at game. That has been recognized elsewhere for decades, he added.
“It's just been a long tradition in many other states,” Stolfer said.
Santucci pointed out that semiautomatics are not new to Pennsylvania. Hunters in special- regulations areas — the most heavily-populated parts of the state, surrounding Pittsburgh and Philadelphia — can use semiautomatic shotguns to hunt deer, while hunters statewide can use them to hunt turkeys, waterfowl and small game, he said.
Legalizing their use would give hunters the same “rights and respect” their counterparts get nationally, Santucci added.
John Kline, representing the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, said that group's delegates debated the semiauto issue at their spring convention and found no evidence they are unsafe or lead to inappropriate uses by sportsmen, Kline said. They didn't all agree on which particular bill to support, though.
A majority favored Bill 233 because it represents an “incremental approach,” Kline said, but others preferred Bill 366, while still others didn't like either, feeling they intruded on the Game Commission's sole authority to make the rules regarding calibers, magazine capacities and seasons, he said.
If any bill passes, there will be “perceptions” to overcome, Hough said, such as the safety concerns that have prompted some landowners to suggest they'll post their property against hunting before allowing semiautomatic rifles on it.
“We have to educate them,” Rep. Dan Moul of Adams County told him. “That's your job.”
Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Number Of Co-op Nurseries Climbing In Pennsylvania

By Bob Frye

Last year, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission set a goal of increasing the number of cooperative nurseries around the state. 
It has made some progress.
Co-ops are hatcheries run by sportsmen. The commission supplies them with fingerlings; sportsmen raise the fish at their own expense and stock them in waters open to public fishing.
Most raise trout, though a few that do steelhead and even warmwater species.
Last year, 145 organizations ran 160 nurseries around the state, said Brian McHail, the commission's co-op nursery program manager. 
Five more have come on since, and three others are close, and preliminary talks are ongoing with five more, he said. Some of the “new” co-ops are additions to existing facilities, but others are totally new. The commission is glad to get both, commissioner Ed Mascharka of Erie County said. 
“To me, even adding a new raceway that holds 500 more fish, that's a new co-op. That's 500 fish that we didn't have,” he said. 
Mascharka added while the commission continues to seek out new partners, it also needs to figure out how to restore its co-op grant program — which provides money to volunteers raising fish — to full funding. It once offered $60,000 in grants a year, but has been cut to $30,000.
Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Pennsylvania Hunting Licenses On Sale Now

Sales for 2015-16 hunting and furtaker licenses going on now.

          Hunting and furtaker licenses for Pennsylvania’s 2015-16 seasons are on sale now.

New licenses are effective July 1, and are valid through June 30, 2016. All license fees remain unchanged.

Licenses can be purchased online through the Pennsylvania Automated License System (PALS) website,

Licenses also can be purchased over the counter at all Game Commission region offices and the Harrisburg headquarters, as well as through more than 600 in-state and out-of-state issuing agents. 

A list of issuing agents is available at the Game Commission’s website,

The beginning of license sales for the upcoming seasons also serves as a reminder for Pennsylvania hunters who hold senior lifetime hunting or furtaker licenses, or combinations of those licenses. While those hunters need not pay a license or transaction fee, they must pick up new licenses and harvest tags.

Additionally, those who hold range permits that allow them to use shooting ranges at state game lands are reminded that now-valid permits expire on June 30, and that new permits will need to be purchased for range use on and after July 1. 

The permits, which are required for range users not possessing a valid hunting or furtaker license, are $30 and must be purchased by credit card through The Outdoor Shop on the Game Commission’s website, or at any of the Game Commission’s region offices or the Harrisburg headquarters.

Licenses purchased through PALS are subject to a 70-cent transaction fee for each license or permit, and that fee is paid directly to the Nashville-based company that runs PALS.

Through PALS, hunters can purchase not only their general hunting and furtaker licenses, but add-on licenses needed for archery or muzzleloader hunting, specialty licenses to hunt bears or set out after a second spring gobbler, permits to trap fishers and otters, and more.

In short, what can be purchased from an issuing agent, can be purchased online.
Hunters also can use PALS to apply for the elk-license drawing or purchase Deer Management Assistance Program permits. 

Elk licenses are awarded by lottery and the deadline to submit an application is July 31. It costs $10.70 to apply and application fees are nonrefundable. 

Antlerless deer permits issued through the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) also are available to purchase online for $10.70, and DMA 2 Antlerless Deer Permits are available for $6.70.

County treasurers statewide on July 13 will begin accepting applications for antlerless licenses. Pennsylvania residents can apply beginning July 13. Nonresidents can apply starting July 27. Beginning Aug. 3, treasurers will begin selling the remaining unsold licenses for any wildlife-management unit for which licenses remain available. A second round of unsold license sales will begin Aug. 17.

Except in Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) 2B, 5C and 5D, hunters may only apply for one license during each application period. In those WMUs, hunters may apply for an unlimited number of licenses. Only one license for WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D can be purchased during the initial round of sales, then beginning Aug. 3, up to three applications may be sent per envelope and licenses will continue to be sold until the allocation is expended.

Over-the-counter antlerless license sales in WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D begin Aug. 24.

A bear license is required to hunt bears, and bear-hunting opportunities in some areas of the state begin as early as Sept. 19.

The deadline to purchase a bobcat or fisher permit is Dec. 19, and otter permits must be purchased before Feb. 21. And those wishing to purchase a second spring gobbler license must do so by April 29, 2016. 

Hunters purchasing their licenses early also might not be able to immediately get a copy of the 2015-16 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest regulations booklet. Some issuing agents won’t receive the booklets until late June. A complete version of the publication is posted on the agency’s website.  And hunters who don’t receive a printed copy of the booklet initially may return to the issuing agent and pick one up after the booklets are delivered.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Rabies, coyotes and ticks, oh my! Perils abound in the backyard this summer

By Linda Wilson Fuoco / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Heidi Meyers watched in horror as a coyote near her rural Washington County home chased her 14-pound miniature dachshund, Rusty, who ran as fast as he could with his tail between his legs.

“The coyote got within 3 feet of Rusty and seemed to hesitate because I was screaming,” Ms. Meyers said. “I ran toward the coyote before it backed off ” and ran away. 

Coyotes, deer, hawks, raccoons and other wildlife are out there, along with insects and other creatures large and small. In spring and summer, people and their pets are outdoors more, increasing the chance of close and sometimes dangerous encounters.

In suburban and urban settings, wildlife is bountiful and becoming increasingly accustomed to living near humans and domesticated animals. Wild animals lose their fear of people and have begun to encroach on backyards. 

Tips for a safe summer outdoors
Here are tips from experts on how you and your pets can deal with wild animals, insect diseases and other outdoor summertime dangers:
Coyotes: Yell, stomp your feet, shake a jacket or noisemaker, pop an umbrella, flash a flashlight or toss a rock;
Rabid animals: When picking up a dead animal for testing, wear gloves, use a shovel to pick it up, put it in a box and double bag it. For testing: 412-687-2243.
Fawns: Keep pets and children away from young deer because does are aggressively protective.
Ticks, fleas on pets: Pet owners should consult their veterinarian about the wide array of products and prescriptions. DEET is a recommended insect repellent.
Lyme disease: Many vets recommend a yearly blood test to check for Lyme disease because it can be difficult to see tiny ticks.
No pets unattended: This rule is a good protection against deer and hawks and also is a safeguard against raccoons and groundhogs that can be aggressive when sick with distemper.
Deer feces: It’s smelly and unattractive but generally not lethal if eaten by pets.
Ticks on people: Remove ticks immediately, check clothing and skin, take a shower and wash and dry clothing. Wear light-colored clothes to more easily see the blacklegged ticks. Wear a hat to keep ticks out of hair. Tuck socks into shoes or boots. Outdoor clothing should be treated with permethrin, a synthetic chemical that repels insects.
The attraction is the food humans provide, such as plants in gardens and yards, leftovers tossed into garbage cans and bowls of pet food left outdoors and feeder stations.

Deer have kicked and stomped dogs. They pose danger by jumping through glass windows of homes, businesses and offices and they leave piles of feces that often are eaten by pets.

Hawks have attacked small dogs; coyotes kill and eat small mammals, and they’re a threat to cats and small pets.

But perhaps the most dangerous outdoor threat is posed by the blacklegged tick, suggests Tom Fazi, education supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission southwest region.
Ticks, which are classified as arachnids, along with spiders and scorpions, have four pairs of legs and carry the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria that cause Lyme disease in humans and dogs.

The ticks start at the size of a pencil point, said Bill Todaro, entomologist at the Allegheny County Health Department. As adults engorged with blood, they grow to the size of a sesame seed.

“Blacklegged ticks are in every county in Pennsylvania,” Mr. Todaro said. “Twenty years ago that was not true. Thirty to 60 percent of the ticks are now infected with the borrelia bacteria.”

The tiny creatures are sometimes called “deer ticks,” but that’s a bit of a misnomer. In the course of their lives, blacklegged ticks live and feed off a number of animals, including mice. They move on to larger animals, including deer, in the later stages of their lives.

A blood test confirmed that Mr. Fazi’s English setter had Lyme disease, though the dog had not shown any symptoms. Mr. Fazi’s dog was treated with antibiotics.

Ms. Meyers has three miniature dachshunds and she never lets them off leash on her 20-acre homestead. She has a good reason.

About three years after the scare with Rusty, she heard a growl in her yard where her three dogs were playing. About 20 yards from the house, she spotted a coyote a few feet away from Sydney, a 9-pound miniature dachshund. Once again, she screamed and the coyote ran.
Rusty’s coyote encounter was in the spring and Sydney’s was in late summer. Both were during the day, which caught Ms. Meyers off guard because her research showed that coyotes are most likely to hunt at dawn and dusk.

While the dachshund incidents were in a rural setting, Deborah Miller-Gurchak, who lives in a suburban Peters neighborhood, has seen two coyotes regularly in her yard and driveway.

“One ran right at me. It was frightening,” she said. “I’ve seen them very close to the house, staring at the windows.”

Ms. Miller-Gurchak has changed the way she cares for her four Shetland sheepdogs, each weighing 20-35 pounds. They’re never unattended in the yard. A professional dog trainer, she advises friends and clients to adopt the same policy.

Her family and neighbors scare coyotes away from their houses with loud noises such as those made by fog horns and by banging pots and pans together.

Coyotes are thought to be in every county in Pennsylvania, according to the game commission, including cities and densely populated suburbs.

In southwest Pennsylvania, there are occasional reports of coyotes killing small calves and young lambs, but Mr. Fazi says his office has no reports of pets being killed. However, as Ms. Meyers noted, there is no central reporting center that collects data on pets that are chased, attacked, injured or killed.

In Pennsylvania, coyotes can be hunted and trapped all year, but a state license is required to do so. Many local communities have laws that would prohibit discharging firearms. 

“Coyotes are smart and you really have to know your stuff” to shoot or trap one, Mr. Fazi said.
Deer and hawks also can pose dangers.

In the spring, does bed down their fawns and often leave them alone in yards for hours while they forage for food, said Paul D. Curtis, a wildlife biologist/ecologist and professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

“Last summer I had a fawn 15 feet from my door,” he said.

Several years ago, three dogs were chased and kicked or stomped by does in the Bethel Park and Mt. Lebanon areas, according to the emergency room staff at VCA Castle Shannon Animal Hospital.

In January, a 4-pound Yorkshire terrier in its backyard was picked up by a red-tailed hawk. When the owner screamed, the hawk dropped the dog some 15 feet to the ground. 

Does sometimes attack dogs that they think are threatening their fawns, Mr. Curtis said.

Deer running through windows are another matter. They’re usually bucks, Mr. Curtis said. “We think they see their reflection, think it’s another buck, so they attack.” Sometimes they’re just confused, like a buck that recently wandered close to a building on the Cornell University campus in Ithaca, N.Y.

“It ran into a bunch of people and it turned and bolted,” Mr. Curtis said. “Their eyesight isn’t that good and it ran through a window.”

It happens once or twice a year, on the campus that is home to about 100 wild deer. Mr. Curtis is called because he has a rifle with tranquilizer darts and he knows how to use them.

What deer leave behind also can be a hazard. Feces is smelly and is an unattractive nuisance, but whether it is harmful if eaten by dogs and other pets remains to be determined. Justin Brown, who has a doctorate in veterinary pathology, said more research is needed. Mr. Brown is a wildlife veterinarian for the state game commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Management.

Deer and other wildlife often have intestinal parasites or what some would call “worms.” The worms and their larvae can be excreted in feces, but dogs, cats and people will not get worms from the feces of deer and other wildlife, he said. 

Another common summer concern is rabies.

The Allegheny County Health Department tested 819 dead animals for rabies in 2014 and found 14 that had the disease.  Of the 217 animals checked for rabies so far this year, three tested positive, said Sharon Silvestri, chief of the health department’s infectious disease program.

It “varies widely” whether local police departments or animal control agencies are willing and able to help with a potentially rabid animal, she said, especially if the animal is alive and acting aggressively.

Linda Wilson Fuoco is  the Post-Gazette’s Pet Tales columnist. or 412-263-1953.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Love Spring Weather? Ticks Do, Too

Game Commission urges outdoors enthusiasts to take precautions to prevent Lyme disease.

           A gorgeous spring day simply shouldn't be wasted indoors.

But enjoying the state’s scenic beauty and plethora of outdoor recreational opportunities comes with its risks.
Pennsylvania leads the nation in confirmed cases of Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness that poses a serious human health risk that is heightened for those who spend more time outdoors.|
So when heading outside to enjoy those perfect days, outdoors enthusiasts should remember that taking a few simple precautions can greatly reduce the risk of picking up ticks that might carry Lyme disease.
About Lyme disease          
Lyme disease is a chronic illness transmitted through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick, also known as a deer tick. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, muscle aches and joint pain, and in about 85 percent of cases, a bull’s-eye rash will appear around the bite.
When detected early, Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics. Left untreated, the disease can spread to the joints, heart and nervous system.
Early diagnosis is important in preventing late-stage complications. Classic signs of untreated cases can include migratory pain or arthritis, impaired motor and sensory skills and an enlarged heart.
Pennsylvania has led the nation in confirmed cases of Lyme disease for three straight years. While Lyme disease has been found in each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, the highest incidence of the disease is in the southeastern part of the state.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 4,981 cases of Lyme disease in Pennsylvania in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available. That’s an increase from the 4,146 cases confirmed in the Commonwealth in 2012, but still lower than the 4,739 confirmed cases in 2011.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health recently launched “Don’t Let a Tick Make You Sick,” a campaign aimed at raising Lyme-disease awareness in the Commonwealth.

 Avoiding ticks

Hunters, hikers, anglers and others spending time outdoors are among the most likely to pick up the ticks that carry Lyme disease because they spend hours upon hours in the state’s fields and forest.

Most pick up ticks by brushing against vegetation, or by sitting in one position for lengthy periods.

Hunters and trappers who handle game also are susceptible.

People can reduce their risk of contracting Lyme disease by using insect repellent, preferably one containing DEET, and using it as directed by the manufacturer. Tick repellent or repelling collars also are important for pets. Dogs can contract Lyme disease, and all pets can carry ticks indoors where they might come in contact with you.

Tucking in your shirt, tucking your pants legs into your socks, or wearing pants with leg tie-offs improve the chances a tick won’t be able to make it onto your body in the first place.

Long pants and long-sleeved shirts do a better job of sealing out ticks, and ticks can be spotted more easily on light-colored clothing.

Another strategy is to avoid contact with the dense bushes and tall grass that are among the places where ticks live.


Checking for and removing ticks

Because ticks can live just about anywhere, and like to latch onto people and pets, everyone who spends time outdoors should check themselves for ticks once back inside. Children who have been playing outside should be checked for ticks by their parents or guardians.

Store clothes worn outdoors in a container until they can be washed to reduce the chances a tick will get loose in the house. Use a mirror in inspecting yourself for ticks. Ticks like tight places, and often are found in the armpits and along the beltline.

Taking a hot shower within two hours of returning from the field also can have a big impact on decreasing Lyme disease risk, and could even prevent transmission.

If you find a tick on your body, or on a child or pet, it’s recommended the tick be removed carefully with a set of fine-tipped tweezers. Removing ticks with your bare hands should be avoided, and when using tweezers, you can protect your fingers with a tissue, paper towel, or medical gloves.

Grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible and pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don't twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin.

If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.

After removing the tick, thoroughly disinfect the bite and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.

Avoid folklore remedies such as "painting" the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible – not waiting for it to detach.

Anyone bitten by a tick should watch the area where the tick was attached for the next month or so. If a rash develops at the site from which the tick was removed, or elsewhere on the body, consult a physician.


Deer and deer ticks

While the blacklegged tick also is called the deer tick, and adult female blacklegged ticks feed preferentially on deer in autumn to build up energy to lay eggs, deer are dead-end hosts for the Lyme disease bacteria.

They do not infect ticks with the bacteria that cause Lyme disease nor do they contract the disease when an infected tick feeds on them. They play no direct role in the transmission cycle.

White-footed mice and chipmunks are the primary reservoirs for Lyme disease transmission, and many wild birds and mammals in North America have been found with the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Domestic animals including dogs, cats, cattle and horses also can become infected.

The blacklegged tick is the primary vector for Lyme disease, but other tick species and biting insects such as mosquitoes, deer flies and horse flies also can carry the bacteria, though it remains unclear how readily they transmit the bacteria to new hosts.

While deer do not transmit the disease, they still might carry infected ticks, and landowners can take a few precautions to help keep deer and ticks away from homes.

Ticks can be discouraged through yardwork to maintain vegetation around homes, and homeowners can help keep deer from their yards by not feeding them, constructing physical barriers to discourage them or putting in deer-resistant plants.

Bait boxes that treat wild rodents with acaricide, an insecticide that kills ticks, also are available for home use. Properly used, these boxes have been shown to reduce ticks around homes by more than 50 percent. The treatment is similar to control fleas and ticks on pets.


How the Game Commission is helping

Each year, the Game Commission uses controlled burns to improve wildlife habitat on state game lands throughout Pennsylvania. More than 5,000 acres under the Game Commission’s control were treated with this method in 2014.

While fire is prescribed to regenerate grasses and restore young forests, another benefit is the effective immediate removal of ticks from the areas that are burned.

A study by the Game Commission on one tract of state game lands showed an 88 percent reduction in the blacklegged tick population following prescribed fire, and the population remained lower there in the few years following the burn.

Because prescribed fire is a productive and cost-effective tool for managing wildlife habitat, the Game Commission will continue with burns at additional tracts each year. 

“Springtime in Pennsylvania is a thing of beauty, and there are plenty of chances to get out there and enjoy it in any number of ways,” said Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough. “Our nearly 1.5 million-acre system of state game lands and the about 2.2 million acres of private land managed by the Game Commission offer some of the best hunting, fishing and hiking opportunities available in the Commonwealth. But it’s important those who enjoy the beauty of Penn’s Woods also remain aware of the Lyme-disease risks associated with spending time outdoors.

“Take the time to take precautions that prevent ticks from hitching a ride home, and always thoroughly check for ticks when you return from the outdoors,” Hough said. “By following these few simple steps, you can help to ensure that the rest of your days afield will be enjoyable.”