Dave Putnam wants to be ready.
The state Legislature is considering bills that would legalize air rifles and semiautomatic firearms for hunting in Pennsylvania.
The air rifle bill would remove the prohibition on such weapsons' use. It would leave it up to the commission to decide the seasons and species for which they would be legal and what minimum calibers might be required.
The bills regarding semiautomatics — there are several — would do anything from remove the prohibition on their use to specify what they could be used to hunt and how many shells could be in a magazine at any time.
Putnam, president of the Pennsylvania Game Commission board, expects to hear more about them from lawmakers and sportsmen. So he asked commission staff to provide recommendations where it might go if any bills become law.
This past week, Tom Grohol, director of the bureau of wildlife protection, the agency's law enforcement arm, provided some answers.
In short — to his own surprise — he sees potential in the case of air rifles.
“At first glance, I thought no way,” Grohol said. “But after I looked at it a little bit, there are some opportunities there, I think.”
Only two states, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, prohibit their use for hunting. Most allow them to be used for small game, though some permit big-game hunting with air rifles, too, he added.
He doesn't see a big demand there. Big-game air rifles can cost $1,000 or more and have to be filled by the same kind of compressor that scuba divers use on their tanks, he said.
That likely would keep a lot of people from wanting to use those, he said, but air rifles capable of taking small game might be more popular.
If there's one oddity about air rifles, Grohol said, it's that while they're classified as “firearms” by Title 34 regulation, the wildlife code, they're not considered that way under state law.
The one thing that means is that a convicted felon who's not allowed to hunt with a firearm could hunt with an air rifle, he said.
No matter what, Putnam said, the commission should have a plan in mind should lawmakers act.
“If the Legislature authorizes this, we need to be ready to react,” Putnam said.
Grohol was less enthusiastic about the possibilities for semiautomatic rifles. He's not familiar with the various bills that would legalize them, he said.
“But my first impression is, I'd be a little hesitant about (them),” he said.
There might be some interest among sportsmen, though. At their recent convention, members of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs voted to support a bill that would allow semiautomatics to be used for hunting groundhogs and coyotes.
Pennsylvania again is one of just two states — Delaware is the other — that prohibits hunting with semiautomatic rifles.
Grohol said he'd have to do some more investigation before he could give commissioners a recommendation on those kinds of bills.
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