Commissioners Reach Preliminary Approval for 2004-2005 Season

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The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to hunting and trapping seasons and bag limits for 2004-2005, including expansion of when crossbows may be used; extended antlerless deer hunting opportunity in the urbanized area of Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) 5D; expanded landowner eligibility for the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP); more bear hunting opportunities in several WMUs; increased bobcat and elk hunting opportunities; and extended youth squirrel hunt.

The public may offer comment on these proposals between now and the next meeting of the Board of Game Commissioners, April 19-20, at which time the Board will set final seasons and bag limits for 2004-2005.

Following are several articles on meeting highlights.

BOARD PROPOSES TO EXPAND USE OF CROSSBOWS

To offer hunters additional deer hunting opportunities, especially in urbanized areas, the Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to a measure to further expand the use of crossbows for hunting in Pennsylvania.

Under the measure, which must be approved in April before taking effect for the 2004-2005 seasons, crossbows could be used statewide for bear and elk and during any of the firearms deer seasons, including the regular two-week concurrent deer season, the early muzzleloader season and the late flintlock season. In addition, hunters in Wildlife Management Units 2B, 5C and 5D - the most urbanized areas in the state - crossbows would be legal during any established deer season.

Statewide, hunters using crossbows during the early muzzleloader season or late flintlock season would need to have a muzzleloader stamp in addition to their general hunting license and appropriate WMU antlerless deer license. However, late-season flintlock hunters using a crossbow would be permitted to take an antlered deer or an antlerless deer anywhere in the state with their unused antlered deer tag, just like other late-season flintlock hunters.

In WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D, hunters using a crossbow during the archery seasons would need to purchase an archery stamp in addition to their general hunting license and appropriate WMU antlerless deer license.

Disabled hunters would still need to obtain a permanent or temporary disabled hunter permit to use a crossbow during the statewide early archery season outside of WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D.

Prior to 2001, the crossbow was on the list of prohibited hunting devices, as established by the General Assembly. At that time, only hunters with permanent disabilities that prevented them from pulling back a bow were allowed to apply for a special permit to use a crossbow in place of a bow during archery seasons.

In 2001, the General Assembly enacted a law that not only removed the crossbow from the list of prohibited hunting devices, but it also established a temporary disabled category for hunters to apply for a permit to use a crossbow in place of archery equipment if they suffered a temporary disability that prevents them from pulling back a bow. Temporary permits are only good for the hunting license year in which they are issued.

DEER SEASONS TO REMAIN LARGELY UNCHANGED FOR 2004-2005

The Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to the 2004-2005 deer seasons that will nearly mirror those of the previous two years. The only changes that may impact deer hunting are a proposal to expand hunters' opportunity to use crossbows for deer and an extended antlerless deer season in the state's most urbanized Wildlife Management Unit - WMU 5D, which is comprised of all of Philadelphia, and portions of Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties.

(For an explanation of the proposal to expand the use of crossbows, please see the previous article.)

"We are adding additional weeks for antlerless deer hunting in WMU 5D to provide hunters more opportunities to take deer so we can continue to work to get the deer herd under control in this highly developed area," said Vern Ross, Game Commission executive director. "Managing deer in this area presents two major challenges: it is difficult for hunters to gain access to huntable lands; and what little land remains open to hunting continues to be threatened by development and safety zone encroachment. However, we must continue to utilize all of the available tools to get this area's deer herd under control."

Antler restrictions are scheduled to continue for the 2004-2005 seasons. Specifically:

-- In WMUs 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B and 2D, hunters will be required to abide by the four points on one side antler restriction;

-- In all other WMUs, hunters will be required to abide by a three points on one side antler restriction; and

-- Statewide, all junior license holders, disabled hunters with a permit to use a vehicle and active duty U.S. Armed Services personnel will be able to abide by the old antler restrictions of one antler of three or more inches in length or one antler with at least two points.

The deer seasons and bag limits for 2004-2005 are similar to last year's, with the exception of the addition of three weeks of antlerless deer hunting in WMU 5D. Following is an overview of the preliminarily approved seasons.

* A concurrent antlered/antlerless rifle deer season from Nov. 29-Dec. 11. In order to harvest a doe during the concurrent seasons, all hunters must possess a valid, WMU-specific antlerless deer license for the unit in which they are hunting.

* A firearms antlerless deer season from Oct. 21-23, for junior and senior license holders, Disabled Person Permit (to use a vehicle) holders, or Pennsylvania residents serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Services, who possess the appropriate WMU-specific antlerless deer license. Also included are persons who have reached or will reach age 65 in the year of the application for a license and hold a valid adult license, or qualify for license and fee exemptions under section 2706.

* A muzzleloader season for antlerless deer from Oct.16-23. The flintlock muzzleloader season, which is set for Dec. 27-Jan. 15, continues to be an antlered or antlerless season for hunters with primitive flintlock ignition firearms, provided the hunter possesses the appropriate license(s).

* Archery seasons will be Oct. 2-Nov. 13, and Dec. 27-Jan. 15.

* Antlerless deer hunting in the WMU 2B and 5C will be Dec. 27-Jan.15.

* Antlerless deer hunting in WMU 5D will be Dec. 13-18 and Dec. 27-Jan. 29.

The deadline for hunters to purchase a muzzleloader stamp for 2004-2005 will be Nov. 13.

Antlerless deer license allocations will be set at the Board meeting on April 19-20. The allocation proposals will begin to be formulated after the agency is able to review the final deer harvests for the 2003-2004 seasons, which will be available in mid-March.

DMAP TO FOCUS DEER HUNTER PRESSURE ON AREAS MOST IN NEED

The Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to an expanded form of the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) that is designed to address specific deer management objectives within the Wildlife Management Units (WMUs).

"DMAP is designed to help build a better relationship between hunters and landowners so that we can get the right number of antlerless deer harvested in the right areas," said Dr. Gary Alt, Game Commission Deer Management Section supervisor. "By doing so, we hope to lessen deer impacts for the landowner and the habitat."

Under the proposal given preliminary approval, eligible lands for DMAP are: publicly-owned lands; private land owners or lessees were no fee is charged for hunting; and private land hunting clubs established prior to Jan. 1, 2000, that own 1,000 or more contiguous acres. Completed DMAP landowner applications must be submitted to the appropriate regional office by July 1.

Upon approval of the application, landowners must post signs stating that the land is enrolled in DMAP. Landowners will receive one coupon for each DMAP permit allocated for their property, and the DMAP permits will be allocated based on one for every five cultivated acres and one for every 50 forested acres. As in the past, landowners may receive more DMAP coupons that the standard rate if they present a deer management plan that is approve by the Game Commission.

Landowners may not give more than one DMAP coupon to a licensed hunter, who will then apply for the DMAP permit. Hunters may possess only one DMAP permit for a specific DMAP area in any given license year.

DMAP permit allocations will be made separate from the general antlerless deer license allocations, but will follow the same fee schedule as the general antlerless deer licenses ($6 for residents and $26 for non residents).

BEAR SEASON EXTENSION EXPANDED TO ADDITIONAL WMUS

The Board of Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to a three-day, statewide bear season the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (Nov. 22-24) before Thanksgiving that has become traditional with Pennsylvania bruin hunters. At the same time, the Board expanded areas where bear hunting will run concurrent with the first week of the firearms deer season (Nov. 29-Dec. 4) as a means of addressing the growing problem of human-bear conflicts.

In portions of the northeastern and northcentral area of the state, the extended bear season will reopen Monday, Nov. 29 and run through Saturday, Dec. 4, in Wildlife Management Units 3D, 4C and that portion of WMU 4E, east of Rt. 487; that portion of WMU 3B east of Rt. 487 and south of Rt. 87 and that portion of WMU 3C, east of Interstate 1-81.

A portion of Lycoming County generally east of Williamsport also will be open to bear hunting Nov. 29-Dec. 4. Specifically, that area includes a portion of WMUs 2G and 3B that lie north of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River from the Rt. 405 bridge, west to the Rt. 220 bridge, east of Rt. 220 to Rt. 44 and east of Rt. 44 to Rt. 973, south of Rt. 973 to Rt. 87, west of Rt. 87 to Rt. 864, south of Rt. 864 to Rt. 220 and West or Rt. 220 to Rt. 405 and west of Rt. 405 to the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.

"Expanding bear hunting opportunities in these WMUs is intended to address the growing number of conflicts between humans and bears," said Vern Ross, Game Commission executive director. "In recent years, with the state's bear population at or exceeding 15,000, we have been experiencing a considerable growth in the number of complaints we are receiving from residents about bears."

Extended modern-day bear hunting first started in 2002 when bear hunters were given the opportunity to fill their tags the first week of the firearms deer season in Carbon, Monroe and Pike counties.

With the advent of the state's new Wildlife Management Units, the extended season in 2003 included all of WMU 3D.

Hunters tagged 149 bear in the extended hunt in WMU 3D in 2003. In all of Lycoming County, hunters harvested 202 bears during the regular three-day 2003 season and led all other counties in the number of bears legally harvested.

BOARD PROPOSES EXPANDING ELK AND BOBCAT SEASONS

The Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to hold Pennsylvania's fourth elk season by adding an extra opportunity for hunters to take part in a late-September at the request of farmers around St. Marys, Elk County.

"Farmers are suffering severe crop damage, and rather than shoot the elk for crop damage, they would like to allow hunters an opportunity to harvest the animals," said Vern Ross, Game Commission executive director. "The farmers must sign agreements before the hunt can take place, and we will issue a very small number of licenses for this early season.

"Farmers have told us that the elk remain in their fields through the fall and do extensive damage to their crops. Only after farmers harvest their crops do the elk leave the area, which is before the regular elk season. This early season will help alleviate the damage elk are doing to these farmers' crops, and provide a unique hunting opportunity when bull elk are bugling. This is a win-win situation for farmers and hunters."

The first of the two elk seasons would be held Sept. 20-25, and the second elk season would be held Nov. 8-13.

Both antlered and antlerless elk will be legal game in both seasons. The number of elk licenses available for the 2004 seasons will be determined by the Board at its meeting on April 19-20. Successful applicants will be determined through public drawings scheduled at a later date.

To accommodate hunter interest in the two elk seasons, the Board also gave preliminary approval to allow hunters to apply for an elk license in each season. However, it still will be unlawful to apply for more than one license in each season.

Interested hunters will be able to make application for the elk seasons through the mail or by going to the agency's webpage (www.pgc.state.pa.us) later this year. All applications must be accompanied by a nonrefundable $10 application fee.

In addition, the Board gave preliminary approval to a regulatory change that would create a 150-yard safety zone for elk along Route 555 from Weedville to Houston Hill Road during any elk hunting season. This no hunting zone will extend 150 yards from the highway's center line on both sides of the road.

The Board also gave preliminary approval to permit the agency's Executive Director to establish elk management units and to define what type of orientation program qualified elk license applicants and alternates must take before becoming eligible to receive a license. In previous years, applicants attended a mandatory briefing. To be more customer-friendly, the agency is investigating the possibility of providing the same information in a video or DVD presentation.

Finally, the Board gave preliminary approval to a measure to ensure that any hunter awarded an elk license for a given year whose military obligation prevents him or her from hunting the elk season for which the license was issued will be eligible to hunt in the next available elk season. During the 2003 elk season, one of the 100 hunters awarded an elk license was called to active military duty and sent overseas. It was decided at that time that the serviceman would be guaranteed an elk license in the next elk season he would be able to hunt, and the Board decided to proactively address any other such instances that may arise in the future.

In giving preliminary approval to the state's fifth consecutive bobcat hunting and trapping season, the Board added two Wildlife Management Units in the southwestern portion of the state - WMUs 2C and 2E. Sportsmen and sportswomen who are awarded one of a limited number of bobcat hunting and trapping permits may harvest one bobcat in WMUs 2C, 2E, 2F, 2G, 3A, 3B, 3C and 3D. The bobcat hunting season will take place Oct. 16- Feb. 19. The trapping portion of the season will be Oct. 17- Feb. 19.

"Southwestern Pennsylvania has had a thriving population of bobcats for many years," said Dr. Matthew Lovallo, Game Commission furbearer biologist. "This expansion in the size of the territory open to bobcat hunting and trapping will not alter the Game Commission's conservative harvest objective of 175 animals."

Successful permit holders will be determined through a public drawing with the number of permits to be determined at a later date. Applications will be accepted through the mail and over the Game Commission's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us).

Preference systems were established last year for those who applied for either the elk or bobcat seasons. The 2004-2005 season is the first time in which the preference systems will be utilized. Last year's unsuccessful applicants for the bobcat or elk drawings who apply this year will be entered twice if they apply this year. Preference points are carried forward until an applicant is successfully drawn, and there is no requirement that applications be made in consecutive years in order to maintain preference points. However, applicants must apply in order to have their preference points used for a given license year.

YOUTH SQUIRREL SEASON EXPANDED

The Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to an expanded youth squirrel season for 2004. In the past, the youth squirrel season was a two-day event. Under the package given preliminary approval today, the Board established the 2004 youth squirrel season as Oct. 9-15.

"The youth season takes into account that most students are off school on Saturday, Oct. 9, as well as on Monday, Oct. 11, the Columbus Day holiday," said Vern Ross, Game Commission executive director. "The remainder of this youth season - Oct. 12-15, takes place before the change of daylight savings time - which gives the students an opportunity to go home after school and have two hours or so to hunt, which is a long-standing tradition in many rural parts of the state.

"Part of the Game Commission's overall vision is to promote our state's rich hunting and trapping heritage. The future of hunting and trapping is directly related to the continuing participation of young Pennsylvanians in our hunting and furtaking seasons. The challenge is to successfully compete with all the other activities and recreational opportunities that vie for a teenager's time. It's truly a challenge for the Game Commission, as well as Pennsylvania's more than a million hunters."

Under the youth squirrel hunt, participants are not required to purchase a junior hunting license, but they must pass a Hunter-Trapped Education couse. As with all junior hunting, those participants between 12 and14 years old must be accompanied by a parent, guardian or other family member 18 years or older, and those between 14 and 16 years old must be accompanied by a person 18 years or older.

Other recent Game Commission initiatives to promote youth hunting opportunities include: a youth spring gobbler season that will be held in 2004 for the first time; a youth pheasant hunt that began in 2002; a youth waterfowl hunt initiated in 1996; special antlerless deer harvesting opportunities initiated in 1998, and expanded in 2000; and youth field days implemented in the early 1990s. Also, as part of the license fee increase approved in 1998, the General Assembly created a junior combination license that packages regular license privileges with archery, flintlock and furtaking opportunities for $9, compared to the regular junior license price of $6.

PROPOSED 2004-2005 HUNTING SEASONS AND BAG LIMITS

SQUIRRELS, Red, Gray, Black and Fox (Combined): Special season for eligible junior hunters, with or without required license - Oct. 9-15 (6 daily, 12 in possession limit after first day).

SQUIRRELS, Red, Gray, Black and Fox (Combined): Fall Season - Oct. 16-Nov. 27; Late Seasons - Dec. 13-23, and Dec. 27-Feb. 5 (6 daily, 12 in possession limit after first day).

RUFFED GROUSE: Oct. 16-Nov. 27, Dec. 13-23 and Dec. 27-Jan. 15 (2 daily, 4 possession). There is no open season for taking ruffed grouse in that portion of State Game Lands No. 176 in Centre County which is posted "RESEARCH AREA - NO GROUSE HUNTING."

RABBIT (Cottontail): Oct. 23-Nov. 27, Dec. 13-23 and Dec. 27-Feb. 5 (4 daily, 8 possession).

PHEASANT: Special season for eligible junior hunters, with or without required license - Oct. 9-11 (2 daily, 4 in possession). Male pheasants only in WMUs 2A, 2B, 2C, 4B, 4C, 4E, 5A, 5B, 5C and 5D. Male and female pheasants may be taken in all other WMUs.

PHEASANT: Male only in WMUs 2A, 2B, 2C, 4B, 4C, 4E, 5A, 5B, 5C and 5D - Oct. 23-Nov. 27. Male and female in WMUs 1A, 1B, 2D, 2E, 2F, 2G, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4A and 4D - Oct. 23- Nov. 27, Dec. 13-23 and Dec. 27-Feb. 5 (2 daily, 4 in possession).

BOBWHITE QUAIL: Oct. 23-Nov. 27 (4 daily, 8 possession). (Closed in WMUs 4A, 4B, 5A, 5B, 5C and 5D.)

HARES (SNOWSHOE RABBITS) OR VARYING HARES: Dec. 27-Jan. 1 (1 daily, 2 possession).

WOODCHUCKS (GROUNDHOGS): No closed season, except Sundays and during the antlered and antlerless deer seasons and until noon daily during the spring gobbler turkey season.

CROWS: July 2-Nov. 28, and Dec. 26-April 3, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday only. No limit.

STARLINGS AND ENGLISH SPARROWS: No closed season, except during the antlered and antlerless deer seasons and until noon daily during the spring gobbler turkey season. No limit.

WILD TURKEY (Male or Female): Wildlife Management Units 1A, 2A and 2B (Shotgun and bow and arrow)- Oct. 30-Nov. 20; WMU 1B (Shotgun and bow and arrow) - Oct. 30-Nov. 13; WMUs 2C, 2E, 4A, 4B, and 4D - Oct. 30-Nov. 13; WMUs 2D, 2F, 2G, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4C and 4E - Oct. 30-Nov. 20; WMUs 5A and 5B - CLOSED TO FALL TURKEY HUNTING; and WMUs 5C and 5D (Shotgun and bow and arrow) - Oct. 30-Nov. 6. (1 bird limit, either sex).

SPRING GOBBLER (Bearded bird only): April 30-May 28, 2005. Only 1 spring gobbler may be taken during the license year.

SPRING GOBBLER (Bearded bird only): Special season for eligible junior hunters, with or without required license - April 23, 2005. Only 1 spring gobbler may be taken during the license year.

BLACK BEAR (Statewide): Nov. 22-24. Only 1 bear may be taken during the license year.

BLACK BEAR (all of WMUs 3D and 4C; a portion of WMUs 4E, east of Route 487; a portion of 3B, east of Route 487 and south of Route 87; and a portion of 3C, east of I-81): Nov. 29-Dec. 4. Only 1 bear may be taken during the license year.

BLACK BEAR (Portion of WMUs 2G and 3B in Lycoming County that lie north of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River from the Route 405 bridge, west to the Route 220 Bridge, east of Route 220 to Route 44 and east of Route 44 to Route 973, south of Route 973 to Route 87, west of Route 87 to Route 864 to Route 220 and west of Route 220 to Route 405 and west of Route 405 to the West Branch of the Susquehanna River): Nov. 29-Dec. 4. Only 1 bear may be taken during the license year.

ELK (Antlered or Antlerless): Sept. 20-25. Only one elk may be taken during the license year.

ELK (Antlered or Antlerless): Nov. 8-13. Only one elk may be taken during the license year.

DEER, ARCHERY (Antlered and Antlerless) Statewide: Oct.2-Nov. 13 and Dec. 27-Jan. 15. One antlered deer per hunting license year. One antlerless deer with each required antlerless license.

DEER (Antlered and Antlerless) Statewide: Nov. 29-Dec. 11. One antlered deer per hunting license year. An antlerless deer with each required antlerless license.

ANTLERLESS DEER (Statewide): Oct. 21-23. Junior and Senior License Holders, Disabled Person Permit (to use a vehicle) Holders, and Pennsylvania residents serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Services or in the U.S. Coast Guard only, with required antlerless license. Also included are persons who have reached or will reach their 65th birthday in the year of the application for a license and hold a valid adult license, or qualify for license and fee exemptions under section 2706. One antlerless deer with each required antlerless license.

DEER, ANTLERLESS MUZZLELOADER (Statewide): Oct. 16-23. An antlerless deer with each required antlerless license.

DEER, ANTLERED OR ANTLERLESS FLINTLOCK (Statewide): Dec. 27-Jan. 15. One antlered per hunting license year, or one antlerless deer and an additional antlerless deer with each required antlerless license.

DEER, Antlerless (WMUs 2B and 5C): Dec. 27-Jan. 15. An antlerless deer with each required antlerless license.

DEER, Antlerless (WMU 5D): Dec. 13-18 and Dec. 27-Jan. 29. An antlerless deer with each required antlerless license.

DEER, ANTLERLESS (Military Bases): Hunting permitted on days established by the U.S. Department of the Army at Letterkenny Army Depot, Franklin County; New Cumberland Army Depot, York County; and Fort Detrick, Raven Rock Site, Adams County. An antlerless deer with each required antlerless license.

PROPOSED 2004-2005 FURBEARER HUNTING SEASONS

RACCOON & FOXES: Oct. 16-Feb. 19, unlimited.

COYOTE, OPOSSUM, SKUNKS & WEASELS: No closed season, with certain exceptions during deer and spring turkey seasons. No limits.

BOBCAT (WMUs 2C, 2E, 2F, 2G, 3A, 3B, 3C and 3D): Oct. 16-Feb. 19. One per permit. (Bobcats may only be taken by furtakers in possession of a Bobcat Hunting-Trapping permit.)

PROPOSED 2004-2005 TRAPPING SEASONS

MINK & MUSKRAT: Nov. 20-Jan. 8. Unlimited.

COYOTE, FOXES, OPOSSUM, RACCOON, SKUNKS, WEASELS: Oct. 17-Feb. 19. No limit.

BEAVER (Statewide): Dec. 26-March 31, 2004 (Limits vary depending on WMU).

BOBCAT (WMUs 2C, 2E, 2F, 2G, 3A, 3B, 3C and 3D): Oct. 17-Feb. 19. One per permit. (Bobcats may only be taken by furtakers in possession of a Bobcat Hunting-Trapping permit.)

PROPOSED 2004-2005 FALCONRY SEASONS

SQUIRRELS (combined), QUAIL, RUFFED GROUSE, COTTONTAIL RABBITS, SNOWSHOE OR VARYING HARE, RINGNECK PHEASANT (Male or Female combined): Sept. 1-March 31. Daily and Field Possession limits vary.

No open season on other wild birds or mammals. Waterfowl and Migratory Game Bird seasons will be established in accordance with Federal Regulations this summer.