Pennsylvania approves semi-auto rifles for hunting small game, not large

Conservation officials in Harrisburg on Tuesday voted to end the Commonwealth’s ban on the use of semi-automatic rifles for hunting on some animals, but not deer, bear, turkey or elk.

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners backed away a bit from their tentative plan passed earlier this year to allow the use of self-loading rifles for all game, citing results of a public survey of 4,000 hunters selected at random.

The survey found that 55 percent gave support for hunting furbearers with semi-autos, 51 percent for woodchucks and 42 percent for small game. As a result, the commissioners approved seasons for those animals which included the use of semi-auto rifles and airguns.

For small game moving forward, semiautomatic rifles in .22 caliber or less will be legal as will airguns in calibers from .177 to .22. For woodchucks and furbearers, airguns must be at least .22 caliber while there is no caliber restriction for semi-auto rifles.

As for big game, the survey found 64 percent of those hunters that responded said they were opposed to the expansion. This was enough for the commission to take the proposal off the table.

“We listened to our hunters,” said President Commissioner Brian H. Hoover in a statement.

Pennsylvania is the last state in the country to establish hunting seasons during which autoloading rifles can be used.

Last November, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) signed legislation eliminating the Commonwealth’s historic prohibition against the use of air guns and semi-automatic rifles for hunting after it passed the Senate and House in veto-proof margins at the end of October. Regulating just how hunters will be able to use the new options is now in the hands of the Commission.