Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf last week signed legislation permitting the use of semi-automatic rifles for hunting in the Keystone State, ending a decades-long ban.
HB 263, sponsored by Rep. Matt Gabler (R-Clearfield), eliminated the prohibition of semi-autos for hunting and clears the way for the Pennsylvania Game Commission to regulate sporting rifles for all game species in accordance with season and bag limits.
Historically, Pennsylvania ranks among the top deer hunting states in the nation, with more than 1.3 million licenses issued annually.
This year’s big game seasons in Pennsylvania, including those for whitetail deer and black bear, are already underway, so the earliest this week’s action could affect hunters would be in 2017. The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners will hold its first quarterly meeting of 2017 Jan. 29-30 at the agency’s Harrisburg headquarters, when it will discuss 2017 seasons and bag limits.
The action this week makes Pennsylvania the 49th state to permit hunters to use semi-auto rifles, with only neighboring Delaware continuing a prohibition for hunters. Previously, Pennsylvania allowed the use of semi-automatic shotguns for hunting, but restricted rifles to single-shot only.
HB 263 amends state law by removing the ban on the use of air, chemical or gas cylinder operated weapons as well as semi-automatic rifles.
“One of my constituents from Elk County was the inspiration for this legislation,” Rep. Gabler said in a statement this week. “He brought to my attention how technology associated with air- and gas-powered rifles has improved to where they are viable, humane options for sportsmen. I appreciate the efforts of my Senate colleagues, who amended the original bill to add semi-automatic firearms for consideration.”
Efforts to pass legislation overturning Pennsylvania’s prohibition of semi-auto rifles for hunting came up short in the two previous sessions.
“Semi-automatic rifles simply give hunters a much greater ability to fire a timely and accurate follow-up shot, which can be the huge difference between wounding or quickly taking a game animal,” the NRA said in a statement. “Larger calibers, including the popular .30-06 and larger, generate significant recoil that some shooters may not handle well. Gas-operated semi-automatics have less recoil, making them more user-friendly.”