Proposal legalizing air rifles
By Bob Frye
Saturday, March 21, 2015, 8:48 p.m.
The field is down to two.
No, not the NCAA Tournament. In this case, it's the number of states that prohibit the use of air rifles for hunting.
New Hampshire is one. The other? Pennsylvania.
According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission's 2014-15 hunting digest, it's illegal to use “air- or gas-operated rifles and handguns” for any species in any season.
A state lawmaker is making a second attempt to change that.
Last fall, Rep. Matt Gabler, an Elk County Republican, introduced a bill that would have amended the state game and wildlife code by removing the prohibition on hunting with air- or gas-powered weapons. It would not have automatically legalized air gun use for hunting. Rather, it would have given the Game Commission the authority to legalize such use for whatever species and seasons it wants.
It unanimously passed the game and fisheries committee but never came up in the full House for a vote before the legislative session ended.
Gabler recently reintroduced the bill as House Bill 263 and has hopes it will move this time.
“Air- and gas-powered weapon technology has advanced in great lengths in recent years, with many such weapons now having equal or greater muzzle energy and stopping power when compared with numerous small-caliber weapons currently allowed under law or regulation of the commission,” Gabler wrote to lawmakers in seeking cosponsors.
“This legislation would enable Pennsylvania to move into the 21st century and allow the (Game Commission) and their experts to use their data and expertise to determine whether the regulated use of these weapons is prudent with today's technology.”
At least one member of the Game Commission board isn't convinced hunters want that.
Ron Weaner of Adams County said the board often hears from people pushing the legalization of one implement or another. He's heard no sportsmen advocating for air rifles, he said.
“I don't know of anyone on the board or on the staff that thinks it's a good idea,” Weaner said. “I'm not interested in addressing it.”
That's not an uncommon stance, at least early in the debate, said Jim Chapman, one of the stars of the TV show “American Airgunner” and the man behind americanairgunhunter.com. Air rifles have been widely used for hunting in Europe for decades. Their acceptance as legitimate hunting tools has been slower coming in America, he said.
That's misguided, he said.
Chapman has taken game all over the world with air rifles, from birds to squirrels to hogs to whitetails to impala. They're as lethal and humane as other firearms, he said.
Their range is more limited, he admitted. He suggested most shots with air rifles must be taken at less than 100 yards. But that's a large part of their appeal, he said.
“If you're the kind of guy who went to hunting with bows or handguns because you wanted more of a challenge, you're probably the kind of guy who would like hunting with airguns,” Chapman said. “It's like bowhunting in terms of the need to get closer to your game and the need to focus on shot placement. You can be a sloppy rifle hunter. You can't be a sloppy airgun hunter.”
Modern air rifles come in two varieties: spring loaded, which work when a hunter “breaks” open the barrel to cock it, and precharged pneumatic models that operate with a built-in or, less often, detachable gas tank. Spring-loaded rifles typically are single shots. Precharged, or PCP models, can hold multiple rounds and fire up to 20 or 30 shots per charge, said Greg Wnek, a sales representative at Pyramyd Air in Solon, Ohio, one of the country's largest distributors of air rifles.
The smallest air rifles shoot .177 caliber pellets. Some, though, can fire .50-caliber pellets, similar in size to a flintlock roundball, and can take big game. Arizona allows hunters to use such firearms for taking mountain lions and black bears.
Precharged models start at $400 to $500 — and run into the thousands — with break-action guns starting at half that or less, Wnek said.
But they have real advantages over firearms that use gunpowder, he added. Ammunition is inexpensive and widely available, there is virtually no recoil, they are almost completely silent, and they often can be used in places where people don't like to see or hear other guns, he said.
“Guys that enjoy shooting, if you give them an airgun, they have as much fun as they do when shooting another firearm,” Wnek said.
The firearms industry is noticing, Chapman said, speaking of the SHOT Show, the firearms industry's annual trade show.
“If you went to the SHOT show a few years ago, air rifles were just a tiny fraction of what you saw” he said. “This year, there were four or five more big bores introduced, and there were airguns all over the place, front and center. They were just everywhere.”
Everywhere but in Pennsylvania's woods. There's precedent for changing that, Chapman said.
“You've got some practical laws to look at for reference,” Chapman said
I support all hunters, regardless of weapon or technique!