Saturday, March 26, 2016

Bill Would Enable PA Game Commission To Set License Fees

Legislation that would enable the Pennsylvania Game Commission to set fees for hunting and furtaker licenses today was moved forward in the state Senate. 

Senate Bill 1166 was introduced March 18, and today the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee unanimously moved the bill out of committee. It would need to pass by majority votes in the Senate, then the House of Representatives, before it could be signed into law by the governor. 

Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough said Senate Bill 1166 would serve to ensure wildlife conservation in Pennsylvania is adequately funded, both now and in the future. 

“It’s no secret the Game Commission is in financial crisis,” Hough said. “It’s been more than 17 years since there’s been a license-fee increase in Pennsylvania, and in the past year, we’ve laid off staff, ended agreements with several limited-term employees and opted to forego recruitment of a new class of wildlife conservation officers, even though there already are vacant positions waiting to be filled. 

“All of these measures have their consequences,” Hough said. “Simply put, inadequate funding for wildlife conservation means less can be accomplished for Pennsylvanians and wildlife.” 

Hunters and trappers have demonstrated clear support for a license-fee increase, with most of the major sportsmen’s organizations with statewide membership formally supporting an increase. 

Hough said the proposed legislation, which allows for timely and incremental license-fee increases, would put an end to the fiscal roller-coaster rides the Game Commission, hunter and trappers must take when decades pass without an adjustment for inflation. 

“When fees aren’t adjusted to account for rising inflationary expenses, it’s like kicking the can down the road, and you end up with an increase that comes all at once,” Hough said. “Nobody wants that. 

“We are at a point now where our next license-fee increase will need to be large enough to help us catch up, after 17 years without one,” Hough said. “But Senate Bill 1166 would give us the authority to make that stitch in time and, when necessary, approve a smaller increase that allows our operations to continue, and our mission to continue being carried out.
“Those smaller increases are going to be easier to accept for all who pay them – myself included,” Hough said. 

Hough said if the Game Commission is given authority to set license fees, no decision to increase fees will be made without considering the effects higher prices will have on license buyers. When license fees increase, license sales usually see a modest decline. He said the legislation would motivate the agency to set prices that are affordable to the highest number of hunters and trappers. 

“Ultimately, we would be looking to lock-in fees as best as possible,” Hough said. “There still will be a need at times to raise fees to adjust to rising costs, but at the same time, Senate Bill 1166 would enable all of us to avoid the inevitable big spike that has come at the end of a period where fees have been inadequately low for far too long. 

“Senate Bill 1166 is exactly what Pennsylvania needs,” Hough said. “We urge the General Assembly to place this authority in our hands, and we urge hunters and trappers to make their support for this bill known, as well.” 

Unlike many state agencies, the Game Commission does not receive funding from the state’s taxpayers. The agency is funded primarily through three sources – the fees hunters and trappers pay for their licenses, an annual share from a federal excise tax placed on sporting arms and ammunition, and revenue derived from things like energy leases and timber sales on lands owned by the Game Commission. 

License fees always have been an important component of the Game Commission’s revenue. Since the last license-fee increase became effective in 1999, however, the cost of just about everything has gone up without the fee ever once being adjusted for inflation. 

Senate Bill 1166 is sponsored by Sen. Pat Stefano, R-Fayette, Somerset and Westmoreland counties, and cosponsored by Sen. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe and Northampton counties; Sen. Richard Alloway II, R-Adams, Cumberland, Franklin and York counties; Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-Dauphin and Perry counties; Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Beaver, Greene and Washington counties; Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-Allegheny County; Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Dauphin, Lebanon and York counties; Sen. Jim Brewster, D-Allegheny and Westmoreland counties; Sen. Scott R. Wagner, R-York County; Sen Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland County; and Sen. Sean Wiley, D-Erie County.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Game Commissioners Considering Changes To Expired Licenses, Deer Cull

It's sometimes done on purpose by poachers to give the indication of having done something legally when they haven't. It's sometimes done innocently by honest hunters in the excitement of the moment.
But it happens.
Hunters shoot a deer and tag it with their expired license from the year before. Wildlife conservation officers with the Pennsylvania Game Commission see that pretty regularly.
So Game Commissioners likely are making a change.
They've given preliminary approval to a regulation that makes it illegal to carry an expired license while afield. Final approval is expected when the board meets April 4-5.
The digest that hunters get with their license already suggests leaving expired licenses at home, said commissioner Jim Daley of Cranberry.
“This kind of makes it a ‘have to.' I fully support that,” he said.
Some hunters have asked why the commission doesn't change the color of licenses from year to year — they're now always yellow — as it once did, said board member Ron Weaner of Adams County.
The reason is it can't, Weaner said.
Hunting licenses, sold on a fiscal year basis, are printed by the same machines that handle fishing licenses, which are sold on a calendar year. There's no way to change the color of one without impacting the other mid-year, Weaner said.
Still, commissioner Dave Putnam said he's not entirely comfortable with the change. He doesn't want to see hunters who make an honest mistake penalized.
“We're making a violation out of something that might be a crime people are not intending to commit,” he said.
Commission executive director Matt Hough said officers typically are lenient in the first year after a rules change is made. They'll be the same this fall, he said.
Meanwhile, commissioners will consider another change at their meeting.
In January, board members heard complaints about a deer cull occurring in a gated community in the Poconos. The Saw Creek Estates Homeowners Association in Bushkill hired sharpshooters to remove 300 whitetails.
Commissioners subsequently directed staff to draw up regulations saying before a community can get such a permit, it must give hunters a chance to control deer.
“Let's put the sportsmen back in the mix,” said commissioner Brian Hoover of Delaware County at the time.
That's happening.
An agenda item up for preliminary approval says, among other things, that anyone seeking a deer control permit first would have to outline “how licensed public hunting for white-tailed deer has been utilized in the problem area and what results such hunting activities have had on the population and/or damage problem.”
The change also suggests that private lands not open to hunting within a cull area not be used for sharpshooting.
There may be situations in which hunting can't work, Putnam said. But the board wants to pressure communities to “accept hunting as a first line of defense.”
Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

PA Game Commission Releases Deer Harvest Estimates

Harvests increased statewide in 2015-16, report shows.

          The Pennsylvania Game Commission today reported results from the 2015-16 deer seasons, which closed in January.          Hunters harvested an estimated 315,813 deer – an increase of about 4 percent compared to the 2014-15 harvest of 303,973.           Of those, 137,580 were antlered deer – an increase of about 15 percent compared to the previous license year, when an estimated 119,260 bucks were taken. Hunters also harvested an estimated 178,233 antlerless deer in 2015-16, which represents an about 4 percent decrease compared to the 184,713 antlerless deer taken in 2014-15.           The percentage of older bucks in the harvest might well be the most eye-popping number in the report.          A whopping 59 percent of whitetail bucks taken by Pennsylvania hunters during the 2015-16 deer seasons were 2½ years old or older, making for the highest percentage of adult bucks in the harvest in decades.           Game Commission Wildlife Management Director Wayne Laroche pointed out the trend of more adult bucks in the harvest started when antler restrictions were put into place. More yearling bucks are making it through the first hunting season through which they carry a rack. Season after season, a greater proportion of the annual buck harvest has been made of adult bucks.          In 2014-15, 57 percent of the bucks taken by hunters were 2½ or older.          “But to see that number now at nearly 60 percent is remarkable,” Laroche said. “It goes to show what antler restrictions have accomplished – they’ve created a Pennsylvania where every deer hunter in the woods has a real chance of taking the buck of a lifetime.”          While the 137,580 bucks taken in 2015-16 is a sharp increase over 2014-15, it compares to a 2013-14 estimate of 134,280 bucks. In 2014-15, a number of factors including poor weather on key hunting days and limited deer movements due to exceptionally abundant mast contributed to a reduced deer harvest overall.          The decrease in the 2015-16 antlerless harvest was a predictable outcome, given that 33,000 fewer antlerless licenses were allocated statewide in 2015-16, compared to the previous year.          Reducing the allocation within a Wildlife Management Unit allows deer numbers to grow there.  Records show it takes an allocation of about four antlerless licenses to harvest one antlerless deer, and the success rate for antlerless-deer hunters again was consistent at about 25 percent in 2015-16.          Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough congratulated deer hunters on their successes afield during the 2015-16 seasons.          “While the Game Commission again reduced the number of antlerless licenses that were allocated in 2015-16, and the antlerless harvest dropped accordingly, as expected, the overall increase in the harvest – and, in particular, the buck harvest – show this was another outstanding deer season in Pennsylvania,” Hough said. “The pictures I’ve seen of trophy bucks this season came from all over the Commonwealth – including the big woods of the northcentral – and they were jaw-dropping and impressive. And the best news is there are plenty of new memories waiting to be made when deer hunters get back out there in the coming license year.”          Harvest estimates are based on more than 24,000 deer checked by Game Commission personnel and more than 100,000 harvest reports submitted by successful hunters. Because some harvests go unreported, estimates provide a more accurate picture of hunter success. However, in 2015-16 the rate at which successful hunters reported their harvests increased slightly.          The antlerless harvest included about 63 percent adult females, about 20 percent button bucks and about 17 percent doe fawns. The rates are similar to long-term averages.          Agency staff currently is working to develop 2016-17 antlerless deer license allocation recommendations, which will be considered at the April 5 meeting of the Board of Game Commissioners. Wayne Laroche, Game Commission Bureau of Wildlife Management director, said that in addition to harvest data, staff will be looking at deer health measures, forest regeneration and deer-human conflicts for each WMU.

Total deer harvest estimates by WMU for 2015-16 (with 2014-15 figures in parentheses) are as follows:
WMU 1A: 6,000 (5,100) antlered, 9,100 (10,800) antlerless;
WMU 1B: 6,900 (5,800) antlered, 7,700 (8,800) antlerless;
WMU 2A: 6,500 (5,100) antlered, 10,500 (9,600) antlerless;
WMU 2B: 5,200 (4,300) antlered, 15,000 (13,000) antlerless;
WMU 2C: 9,100 (7,000) antlered, 8,490 (9,029) antlerless;
WMU 2D: 12,300 (11,400) antlered, 15,700 (16,400) antlerless;
WMU 2E: 4,700 (4,400) antlered, 5,300 (5,600) antlerless;
WMU 2F: 7,000 (6,000) antlered, 5,400 (5,900) antlerless;
WMU 2G: 6,100 (4,800) antlered, 4,100 (4,700) antlerless;
WMU 2H: 1,400 (1,700) antlered, 1,400 (1,100) antlerless;
WMU 3A: 4,300 (3,300) antlered, 4,000 (4,300) antlerless;
WMU 3B: 6,800 (6,000) antlered, 7,400 (8,100) antlerless;
WMU 3C: 7,600 (6,500) antlered, 10,500 (10,300) antlerless;
WMU 3D: 3,500 (4,200) antlered, 3,700 (5,200) antlerless;
WMU 4A: 5,100 (3,300) antlered, 8,670 (6,805) antlerless;
WMU 4B: 5,700 (4,600) antlered, 7,000 (5,600) antlerless;
WMU 4C: 5,400 (4,800) antlered, 5,000 (5,000) antlerless;
WMU 4D: 7,200 (6,500) antlered, 7,443 (6,848) antlerless;
WMU 4E: 6,200 (5,800) antlered, 6,900 (5,900) antlerless;
WMU 5A: 2,900 (2,400) antlered, 4,600 (3,300) antlerless;
WMU 5B: 8,000 (6,900) antlered, 11,500 (12,400) antlerless;
WMU 5C: 7,400 (8,000) antlered, 13,600 (22,200) antlerless;
WMU 5D: 2,200 (1,300) antlered, 5,200 (3,800) antlerless; and
Unknown WMU: 80 (60) antlered, 30 (31) antlerless. 

Season-specific 2015-16 deer harvest estimates (with 2014-15 harvest estimates in parentheses) are as follows:           WMU 1A: archery, 2,610 (2,320) antlered, 2,480 (2,350) antlerless; and muzzleloader, 90 (80) antlered, 1,120 (1,050) antlerless.
WMU 1B: archery, 2,560 (2,270) antlered, 1,480 (1,340) antlerless; muzzleloader, 40 (30) antlered, 720 (560) antlerless.
WMU 2A: archery, 2,160 (1,940) antlered, 2,110 (2,020) antlerless; muzzleloader, 40 (60) antlered, 1,390 (1,280) antlerless.
WMU 2B: archery, 3,750 (3,060) antlered, 7,880 (6,610) antlerless; muzzleloader, 50 (40) antlered, 920 (890) antlerless.
WMU 2C: archery, 3,130 (2,740) antlered, 1,687 (1,776) antlerless; muzzleloader, 70 (60) antlered, 1,066 (1,040) antlerless.
WMU 2D: archery, 4,780 (4,510) antlered, 2,330 (2,650) antlerless; muzzleloader, 120 (90) antlered, 1,970 (2,150) antlerless.
WMU 2E: archery, 1,460 (1,460) antlered, 800 (780) antlerless; muzzleloader, 40 (40) antlered, 700 (720) antlerless.
WMU 2F: archery, 1,860 (1,730) antlered, 780 (960) antlerless; muzzleloader, 40 (70) antlered, 720 (840) antlerless.
WMU 2G: archery, 1,340 (1,050) antlered, 800 (850) antlerless; muzzleloader, 60 (50) antlered, 700 (850) antlerless.
WMU 2H: archery, 290 (380) antlered, 250 (140) antlerless; muzzleloader, 10 (20) antlered, 250 (160) antlerless.
WMU 3A: archery, 1,180 (870) antlered, 760 (540) antlerless; muzzleloader, 20 (30) antlered, 640 (460) antlerless.
WMU 3B: archery, 2,320 (1,950) antlered, 1,620 (1,500) antlerless; muzzleloader, 80 (50) antlered, 1,180 (1,200) antlerless.
WMU 3C: archery, 2,060 (1,660) antlered, 1,940 (1,780) antlerless; muzzleloader, 40 (40) antlered, 1,460 (1,420) antlerless.
WMU 3D: archery, 1,060 (1,350) antlered, 980 (960) antlerless; muzzleloader, 40 (50) antlered, 520 (440) antlerless.
WMU 4A: archery, 960 (740) antlered, 1,401 (1,057) antlerless; muzzleloader, 40 (60) antlered, 1,285 (1,096) antlerless.
WMU 4B: archery, 1,660 (1,650) antlered, 1,400 (1,190) antlerless; muzzleloader, 40 (50) antlered, 800 (710) antlerless.
WMU 4C: archery, 2,150 (1,840) antlered, 1,380 (1,240) antlerless; muzzleloader, 50 (60) antlered, 620 (660) antlerless.
WMU 4D: archery, 1,840 (1,920) antlered, 1,714 (1,356) antlerless; muzzleloader, 60 (80) antlered, 968 (913) antlerless.
WMU 4E: archery, 2,150 (2,070) antlered, 1,340 (1,070) antlerless; muzzleloader, 50 (30) antlered, 760 (630) antlerless.
WMU 5A: archery, 880 (960) antlered, 1,010 (720) antlerless; muzzleloader, 20 (40) antlered, 590 (380) antlerless.
WMU 5B: archery, 4,430 (3,730) antlered, 3,790 (3,920) antlerless; muzzleloader, 70 (70) antlered, 1,010 (1,180) antlerless.
WMU 5C: archery, 4,880 (4,790) antlered, 6,310 (10,210) antlerless; muzzleloader, 120 (110) antlered, 1,090 (1,490) antlerless.
WMU 5D: archery, 1,770 (990) antlered, 3,440 (2,730) antlerless; muzzleloader, 30 (10) antlered, 160 (70) antlerless.
Unknown WMU: archery, 0 (40) antlered, 10 (0) antlerless; muzzleloader, 0 (0) antlered, 0 (0) antlerless.

For additional information on Pennsylvania’s 2015-16 deer harvest, please go to the agency’s website – and click on “White-Tailed Deer” on the homepage, and then select 2015-16 Deer Harvest Estimates under “Deer Management.”

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Game Commission Report Cards Seem Sure To Fade Away

With apologies to “Sesame Street,” one of these things is not like the other.

Eight-track tapes. Betamax videos. Manual credit-card machines filled with carbon paper. Harvest report cards.

All were born decades ago. Only one survives.

If you're a Pennsylvania sportsman, of course, you know the answer. While the others have come and gone — replaced by better, faster, more innovative options — report cards are hanging on.

But for how long?

Some Pennsylvania Game Commission officials want to get rid of them. They're costly — to the tune of $138,000 a year to print, mail and process — slow to trickle in and labor intensive in terms of the resulting data entry.

“I think we're keeping an antiquated system available, which is hurting the agency,” commissioner Tim Layton of Windber said.

However, they're also a big part of propping up a flawed but important information-gathering process.

That's the rub.

Hunters who shoot a deer or turkey in Pennsylvania are required by law to report it within 10 days. They can do so online, via a toll-free number or by mailing in one of the postage-paid, preprinted post cards.

Relatively few comply. Game Commission officials put the reporting rate for deer at about 33 percent, for example.

Among those who report their deer, the use of cards has declined over the past five years, said Wayne Laroche, head of the commission's bureau of wildlife management. He expects that trend to continue.

Age is the reason. Fifty percent of senior hunters 65 and older — who are 20 percent of the hunting population — use cards when they report. But the hunters coming up to replace them are less likely to do so. Only about 23 percent of hunters ages 18-39 and 33 percent of those 40-59 — together, 54 percent of the population — do.

Still, for now, the data those older hunters provide are a big part of calculating deer harvest estimates, Laroche said. And there's no guarantee the hunters would report their deer another way if cards disappeared, he said.

So while getting rid of them makes sense long term, “we've got to be careful about how we do it,” Laroche said.

The commission may dip its toe in the no-report-card-option waters as early as this fall. Commissioners have asked staff to look into eliminating them for reporting whitetails taken through the deer management assistance program.

The commission's contract with the company that runs its automated licensing system is ending, too. Negotiations on a new deal will begin soon, executive director Matt Hough said.
Plans are for the new system to allow hunters to report a deer or turkey using an app on their smartphone, said Paul Mahon of the bureau of automated technology.

So the days of the harvest report card seem numbered. The likely guess is the commission will bide its time. As older hunters who use the report cards pass on and age out, we'll get to the point where the information gathered via cards is so insignificant that they won't matter.
Then the cards will be relegated to history. 

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

Thursday, March 10, 2016

2016 Valley Trap League Schedule

2016 Valley Trap League
The public is welcome!

Valley League: The Valley League consists of 6 clubs roughly located along the Allegheny River valley north and east of Pittsburgh, PA. It's a 20 week league that starts April 5th, 2016 and ends with a presentation shoot August 27th. You do not have to be a member of a club to shoot in the league for that club.

The clubs involved are Bull Creek Rod and Gun, West View Sportsmen, South Buffalo Sportsmen, Tarentum Sportsmen, Ford City Sportsmen and Frazier Sportsmen. The shoots are every Tuesday evening, with sign-ups from 4:30pm to 8:00pm.

Costs: program - $10.00, Junior (under 18) - $5.00, Practice: - $7.00
Program shoots 50 targets from 16 Yards.
You do not need to be a member of Bull Creek to shoot for Bull Creek!


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

PA Game Commission Applauds Bill To Increase License Fees

Senate bill proposes $10 increase in cost of resident hunting or furtaker license.

          Legislation that would authorize Pennsylvania’s first hunting-license fee increase in more than 17 years – critical funding for the state’s wildlife and the future of hunting and trapping – was introduced Friday in the state Senate. 

Senate Bill 1148 of 2015, which is sponsored by Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks County; and cosponsored by Sen. Jim Brewster, D-Allegheny and Westmoreland counties, Sen. Richard Alloway II, R-Adams, Cumberland, Franklin and York counties; and Sen. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe and Northampton counties, would increase the fee for a resident general hunting or furtaker license by $10, from $19 to $29. 

Resident and nonresident junior and senior license fees would not be increased under the proposal.

But fees for a number of other resident and nonresident licenses, including bear, antlerless deer and archery licenses, also would be increased if the bill becomes law.           Additionally, the bill would create an inclusive combination license called the Ultimate Outdoorsman, for which residents paying the $110 fee would receive their general license, furtaker license, archery license, muzzleloader license, bear license, special wild turkey license and migratory game bird license. 

The Ultimate Outdoorsman would save license buyers $38 compared to the cost of purchasing those licenses individually. Nonresidents would pay $350 for the Ultimate Outdoorsman license, based on the proposal. 

A complete schedule of fees as proposed by the legislation is included at the end of this news release.

Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough thanked the bill‘s sponsor and cosponsors for putting forth a proposal that, if approved in a timely manner, would provide the Game Commission with sustainable funding to enable the agency to meet the goals and objectives outlined by its 2015-2020 Strategic Plan.

“Seventeen years is a long time, and I’m sure almost everyone can relate to how costs have escalated since the last license-fee increase took effect in 1999,” Hough said. “Without a single increase to cover the cost of inflation during that time, it has become increasingly difficult to stretch the same dollar any further, and we are at the point now where we have needed to make some very difficult decisions to cut staff and scale back programs solely for budgetary reasons.

“The license-fee increase proposed by Senators McIlhinney, Brewster, Alloway and Scavello, would put the Game Commission back on solid financial footing, and the sooner this proposal is approved, the better for the state’s wildlife, and its hunters and trappers, and all citizens of the Commonwealth who care about wildlife,” Hough said.

Unlike many state agencies, the Game Commission does not receive tax money from the state’s general fund to help pay for staff and operations. Instead, the Game Commission is funded almost exclusively by the state’s hunters and trappers. 

Today in Pennsylvania, almost 35 percent of the Game Commission’s revenue comes from the sale of hunting and furtaker licenses. Other primary sources of income include federal Pittman-Robertson funds collected from an excise tax on sporting arms and ammunition, and revenue derived from the sale of natural resources like timber, oil and gas on lands owned by the Game Commission.

The state’s hunters and trappers have demonstrated clear support for a license-fee increase. Thirteen of the Pennsylvania’s major sportsmen’s organizations with statewide membership have formally supported a license-fee increase.  

The Game Commission last summer introduced a proposal to increase hunting-license fees, and now that legislation has been introduced, places its full support behind Senate Bill 1148. 
# # # 
Senate Bill 1148 of 2015 proposes increasing license fees by the following amounts:

Adult resident hunting                                               $19 to $29
Bear hunting resident                                                $15 to $20
Bear hunting nonresident                                           $35 to $40
Antlerless deer resident                                             $5  to $10
Antlerless deer nonresident                                       $25 to $40
Archery deer resident                                               $15 to $20
Archery deer nonresident                                          $25 to $40
Muzzleloader deer resident                                       $10 to $20
Muzzleloader deer nonresident                                  $20 to $40
Adult nonresident hunting                                          $100 to $150
Seven-day nonresident small game                            $30 to $50
Adult resident furtaker                                              $19 to $29
Adult nonresident furtaker                                         $80 to $100
Migratory game bird resident                                     $2 to $5
Migratory game bird nonresident                                $5 to $10
Special wild turkey resident                                        $20 to $25
Special wild turkey nonresident                                   $40 to $50
New categories of licenses:

Senior nonresident hunting                                          $100
Senior nonresident furtaker                                         $80
Senior nonresident combo hunting and furtaker            $150

Ultimate outdoor combo
(bear, archery, muzzleloader, furtaker, migratory game bird,
   special wild turkey)
   resident                                                                     $110
   nonresident                                                               $350