HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Game Commission board unanimously approved allowing the use of semi-automatic rifles for hunting, including deer and bear, during Tuesday’s quarterly meeting.
The move comes a little more than two months after Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law legislation that gives the agency the ability to implement the use of semi-automatic rifles. It was originally believed that the Game Commission would allow semi-automatic rifles for small game and varmints, such as coyotes, to start.
But on Tuesday the board expanded the implementation to include the fall turkey season as well as bear, elk and deer.
Several of the commissioners said they were initially skeptical of allowing semi-automatic rifles for big game from a safety aspect but changed their minds after reviewing research conducted by staff.
“It’s not the way the gun is loaded. That’s not what causes accidents,” said board President Brian Hoover, who represents the southeast region.
For deer and bear, full-metal jacket rounds are not permitted and semi-automatics used for big game are limited to a five-round magazine capacity. The measure also carries a sunset provision that expires on June 30, 2020 to allow for a board review the measure.
The move needs final approval when the board meets again on March 27 and 28.
Board members said the agency received quite a bit of public comment on the matter, and most of the objections were from senior hunters, while there was virtually unanimous support for allowing semi-automatic rifles for varmints and small game.
“There have been concerns about safety issues with semi-automatic weapons for big game,” said commissioner Timothy Layton. “We found no correlation between the way a weapon is loaded and hunting accidents.”