Hunting in PA: A Novice’s Outlook
I think many of us on the TKB team living in PA have at worst, a love-hate relationship with the gun laws here. For the most part we’re miles ahead of other states in terms of 2A rights, and just enough better about taxes than most of our neighbors. But most people know the state from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia“, pictures of Amish country, and a vague confusion on whether or not it counts as part of New England. Please stop calling us New England…
Unfortunately the hunting laws echo the worst of NE fuddery, which does not help differentiate us from the more northern states. I’ll do my best to give you a quick primer on some of the dumbest things about hunting in PA and my take on it from trying to get into the ‘fudd sports’.
The Fuddy-duddy: Muzzleloaders and Mag-Caps
From what I can tell, most states have a muzzleloader season. Black powder rifles really seem to bring a tear of nostalgia to the old timers’ eyes. In places like Virginia, it appears that you can use any muzzleloader that meets caliber regulations. Be that a shotgun, rifle, musket, etc. and any ignition method. Virginia isn’t our neighbor though, so how about we look at Maryland? Well, they’re a bit more restrictive than Virginia as one might guess.
The crab people can use percussion caps and flintlock guns for that season. Not great, but not terrible. PA on the other hand has two different muzzleloader seasons, “muzzleloader” and “flintlock.” While not the most major of complaints this does not allow for anyone who wishes to truly approach primitive hunting from the matchlock or wheellock perspective. See also: me. Although this could possibly be due to pride as the birthplace of the American Long Rifle.
Does this mean firearms season makes sense? Let’s compare to the states we used last time. When we check on Virginia, every game category has a range of caliber options that are good to go. Best I can tell on a quick search, there doesn’t appear to be a mag limit on deer taking. Looking back at Maryland, we see another set of caliber restrictions. To nobody’s surprise, Maryland has a mag limit when hunting deer, and it’s 8 rounds. Too bad I have no idea why that mag limit exists. As far as mag limits in PA go, we talked to another contributor (Nothan) and got the following answer for you:
“for shotgun mag limits in PA: woodchuck, small game other than woodchuck, spring turkey, fall turkey, and furbearers, no magazine capacity may exceed two rounds, and no shotgun may exceed three rounds all-told. If you have a DP-12 or a Taurus judge loaded with more than three shotshells or slugs, you are in violation. It is also unlawful to take Coyote or Crow with a magazine-fed or semi-automatic shotgun with more than a two-round magazine capacity.”
In PA for Deer, the caliber restriction is defined as follows:
“manually operated centerfire rifles, and handguns with an all-lead bullet or ball, or bullet designed to expand on impact; manually operated or semiautomatic centerfire shotguns the propel single-projectile ammunition; muzzleloading long guns of any type, 44 caliber or larger, or a muzzleloading handgun 50 caliber or larger, and..”
This basically means the AR-15 is illegal to take deer in PA unless you remove the gas tube. However, I won’t recommend that, as the Game Wardens will likely harass you anyway. Kinda hard to espouse that “free state” meme here. Until recently, you were not allowed to have more than three rounds in a “firearm” in PA for hunting. What changed is that you can now take a shotgun out for deer without a mag cap (allegedly). As you can see in the following image, not every gun you’d think is okay at a glance will be lawful to use.
Other things you may not know about the PA game commission is that they have a history of harassing people hiking the Appalachian Trail. Why? Well, something about not liking that the trail is federal land that cuts through state game lands in a few places.
You’ll also notice in the pictured section of the “Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest” for July 2019 to June 2020, a misleading point on page 14. In the article, they lie about the scope of the PA LtCF (License to Carry Firearms) in saying that the license to carry doesn’t apply to “most sporting arms.” This is where we’re reminded that PA law is as clear as mud. If you reference 18 P.A. C.S. 6102 then recall the “or” in there for OAL or BBL. Update: see the comment from Noth below for a far better explanation of this.
The LtCF allows you to carry any firearm in a motor vehicle, not just handguns. I will grant them that it is unwise to keep a flintlock loaded in your car. You can do better than that. (ed. note: I’ll do what I want, it’s a free country)
A Silver Lining?
Okay, so that’s a lot of stuff to complain about. However, there is a distinct advantage to getting a hunting license in PA. That silver lining to all of the Elmer Fudd nonsense is that you get to use the state game lands ranges as much as you want, for the year your license is valid; all for $20 a year. This makes the hunting license the most affordable range membership in the state. Say you have a thing against killing animals for any reason and don’t want the hunting license, but still use the ranges. That’s fine, but you’ll be paying $35 for the yearly range fee alone. Dollar wise, it’s just not worth it and nobody said you have to kill deer with the tags they give you with your license.
Another bonus? The old timers complaints fall on deaf ears when they call the game wardens because you’re using a modern rifle at the range within the round-count and shot pacing rules. Better yet if they storm off angry when the game warden asks them why they haven’t signed their own license.
In the end, I really think hunting in PA isn’t something you can easily get into without being brought up with it. If you didn’t have a parent who hunted, don’t have land to hunt on, or care to learn all the ins and outs of hunting laws, then there’s no point entering the convoluted sport. Let madmen like Wirty nail that goat to a tree after bagging it with his Vepr. Besides, the Game Commission lives off of the rules as they are, and those rules won’t change until their wallet is affected.
Perhaps the practice of hunting could get streamlined and the game commission offer meaningful hunters’ education or revise their rules to allow an AR-10 to take deer in PA. At least, one can hope. However, there is a lot to be said in that the State Game Lands range access makes up for a lot of the BS in helping new shooters practice and learn in an affordable place. Not everyone is so lucky as to live in a place they can practice at any time. Let us know your thoughts.