Pa. hunting regulators delay vote on rifle ban

January 29, 2008 12:14:12 PM PST
State hunting regulators on Tuesday postponed a decision on whether to expand the territory in southeastern Pennsylvania where deer hunters are banned from using rifles - a move that will maintain the existing rules for the 2008-09 hunting season. The Pennsylvania Game Commission voted 6-1 to table a proposed regulation that would impose the ban in the rapidly growing Lehigh Valley.

The prohibition currently applies to Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties. The proposal would have extended it to portions of Berks, Lehigh and Northampton counties and a sliver of Lancaster County.

Commissioner Gregory Isabella, who made the motion, said during a break in the commission's meeting that many hunters and sportsmen's groups have asked him questions about the proposal, and more time is needed to discuss it with them.

"We need more input, at least from the hunting community, just to make sure we get this right," Isabella said.

Isabella also cited a state-sponsored study that found requiring Lehigh Valley hunters to use shotguns instead of rifles would not necessarily make the area safer during deer season.

The study, released in March, was ordered following a November 2004 accident in which a pregnant, 18-year-old Lehigh County woman sitting in a car in her driveway was struck in the head by a stray bullet from the rifle of a hunter a half-mile away. Hunter Craig T.

Wetzel pleaded guilty to violating state game rules in 2005 and was sentenced to six months of probation and a five-year hunting ban.

Isabella said the commission's decision to wait would mean delaying an expansion of the rifle ban until the 2009-10 hunting season at the earliest.

Melody Zullinger, executive director of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, said some members have expressed concerns that expanding the ban will lead to excessive hunting of deer in regions where rifles are still permitted.

"We're concerned as to why they're encompassing such a large area" under the expansion, Zullinger said.