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Semi-Auto Rifles for Hunting Still Not Allowed in Pa.

by Brian McCombie   |  September 24th, 2012 19
AR Whitetail Hunting

While Pennsylvania shotgunners are free to use semiauto scatterguns, self-loading rifles are a no-no. Why? Answer seems to be: Because that’s the way it’s always been.

Tom Spithaler is frustrated that he and others can’t use semi-automatic rifles to hunt in Pennsylvania. Oh, people can own semi-autos and shoot them. No problem there. But Keystone State hunters can’t use these same semi-auto rifles to take game animals. Yet, at the same time, these same hunters can take semi-auto shotguns afield for waterfowl, small and upland game and, in certain jurisdictions, even deer.

This in a state that sold more than 900,000 general hunting licenses in 2010 (not including archery and muzzleloading licenses).

Though he lives in Washington State today, Spithaler grew up shooting and hunting in Butler County, Pennsylvania. He makes trips back home frequently and will inherit land there one day. He plans on retiring to the Keystone State, and he’d like to be able to use his AR-15 and other semi-automatic rifles for hunting.

So, over the last couple years, Spithaler, who is also president of the AR15 Hunters Association and marketing director for Olympic Arms, began contacting Pennsylvania legislators, wildlife and conservation officials, sportsmen and state media, trying to gather support for allowing semi-autos. Generally, it’s been a frustrating experience.

“The hunters want semi-autos, especially the young ones,” he says. “They know these rifles well, especially AR-15, and they want to take them to the field as a hunting tool. Frankly, there is no reasonable reason to prevent them from doing so, but the old codgers in power do not want semi-autos regardless of what brand or type they are, and so they fight it tooth and nail.”

In communications with top people at the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Spithaler was told that semis are less safe than manually operated rifles and would result in more accidental hunting shootings. He asked for proof of this safety disparity but says he was given none.

The regulation goes back decades.

“It is likely that the prohibition was put in place early by the legislature, meaning as soon as semi-automatics became common in the marketplace,” says Gerald Feaser, PGC press secretary. “In 1907, the General Assembly made the use of automatics illegal for hunting, so it would stand to reason that the prohibition on semi-automatics was likely implemented around that time or shortly thereafter.”

The ban on using semi-automatics is found in Title 34 of the Pennsylvania Game and Wildlife Code. That code can only be amended by the state legislature, Feaser says. “The Game Commission has no authority to change Title 34.”

Meanwhile, hunters have been using semi-automatic shotguns since 1951.

Chuck Lombaerde, president of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, says that, despite some spirited discussion on using semi-autos on the PFSC website message boards, “For now, in our organization, it’s a non-issue.” PFSC has approximately 100,000 members. Lombaerde has heard a few inquiries about adding semi-auto rifles to the list of approved hunting arms but finds no real groundswell to make it happen.

It may be a non-issue with PFSC, but there also appears to be some misunderstanding by Pennsylvania hunters regarding semi-automatic rifles. Based on contacts made by Petersen’s RifleShooter and a scanning of state sportmen’s message boards, at least some Pennsylvania hunters seem to be under the impression that—though they can’t hunt deer and other big game with semi-auto rifles—small game hunting with a semi-automatic .22 rimfire is allowed.

Not so. “Semi-automatic rifles are illegal [for all hunting of wildlife], regardless of the caliber or if they are centerfire or rimfire,” the Game Commission’s Feaser says.

“Pennsylvania is the only state with a semi-auto rifle ban for hunters,” notes Darren LaSorte, the manager for hunting policy at the National Rifle Association. “We’ve broached the issue a few times, but there have been bigger fish to fry after the resistance starts. As is usually the case, it’s hunters who probably cause the biggest problem with regard to reform. They believe that hunters will be mown down like Wyoming prairie dogs if semi-autos are allowed.”

LaSorte notes that NRA worked long and hard to bring Sunday hunting to the state, a failed effort—despite the fact that it would increase hunting time and contribute money to the state’s economy.

“They’ve always done it a certain way and that’s the way it has to be,” say LaSorte, whether it’s Sunday hunting or semi-automatic rifles.

That attitude is exactly what Spit­haler has encountered.

“The problem is education, and I’ve been trying to provide that,” Spithaler adds.

More than once, he says, he’s offered to come to Pennsylvania at his own expense, with a variety of semi-automatic rifles, to put on presentations and give legislators and Game Commission officials hands-on shooting experiences. That way, they could see for themselves the rifles are safe and effective hunting tools. So far, though, Spithaler says he’s had no takers.

  • RedFalconBill

    I've lived in PA for years and the "we've always done it this way" describes more than just the Commonwealth's approach to hunting. In interacting with multiple Clubs I'm amazed at the lack of understanding and niche thinking. Black Powder vs. Smokeless, Primitive vs. Modern Black Powder, Bolt vs. Pump, and this does not include the resistance seen over crossbow hunting.

    These people are not educated and do not wish to become so. I've seen shooters, as well as board members of some Rod and Gun Clubs become annoyed, or even angry, when informed that the 2nd Amendment was never about hunting.

    • Dave Straub

      Agree that the 2nd Amendment did not address hunting. Why would it? Hunting was not a bone of contention during that era. Nobody thought it was a good idea to stop people from subsisting off the land back then, although some people want to stop that now – after all, that's what supermarkets are for – right? LOL!! Guess what – our Forefathers weren't stopping the building of log cabins or discussing the possibility of legislating the breathing of air either, why?, because they inherently knew that those were things people needed, in order to exist! There's lots of stuff that didn't make it into the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights – I guess they felt that no thinking human being would ever deny their fellow citizens these things!

  • Wmj

    Sorry..I agree with the fact that we donot need semi auto's, cross bows and other technology to make "killing" easier…if you want to hunt..learn how…learn to shoot properly, learn to still hunt or stalk…but stop whining about the means and appreciate the fact that Penna. has always been an outstanding state to hunt in…for real hunters

    • CaptT

      Wmj…this 58 yo can’t stand sanctimonious. pompous douchebags such as yourself with head firmly up you ass always “holding to the purist of traditions” refusing to see the world in any other light…well I have OVER twenty five years as a law enforcement officer and outdoorsman and though you see yourself as the bastion of tradition, what you truly are is an anachronism in a world technological advancement..

  • Wmj

    There is a good reason for not allowing semi auto…why?…because like it or not..there are alot of jerks who own firearms…got it?…I am an NRA Life memeber, Certified instructor in 3 disciplines, also certified by my state and have real world practical, hands on experience from yrs with DOD/DIA…any one who tells tyou they need a semi auto to hunt is lying, an idiot or both…which is reason enough to keep them out of the hunting area. I have hunted for many many years with a Browning 78single shot,,..yeah..one shot..imagine that..i can actually hit what I am shooting at. The use of AR type firearms is frought with potential problems becuse the would be rambo types will use illegal magazines..you know it and I know it…and the fact taht they have several quick follow up shots..takes the palce of shooting skills, good safety practices and technique….Do not tell me I am wrong..i see it every week at the range where i am Range Officer….so, I think more states need to be like Penna. not less….lear to hunt, learn to shoot, learn to do it the right way….

    • W.S.Schuessler

      you sir and people like you ate why NYS has passed a weapons ban. No one gives a rats rectal oridive about your prefered hunting method. YOU either stand for the right to bear arms or not.

    • Dave Straub

      Using your analogy: Why would we allow people to drive cars – everybody's gonna drink & drive right? No more prescription drugs – everybody's a druggie right? On and on ad nauseum! No more damn laws – because some(one) MIGHT do this, or MIGHT do that! You need a lesson on the repercussions of – Watch Out What You Wish For! We need to go through our law books and clean house on laws that affect 99.9% of the people, but actually do nothing to the .1% that the damn law was written for in the first place! Sound familiar??

    • mark

      I lived in Pa for 40 yrs. Now live in WI. When I asked my friends out here if I could hunt with my M1A they looked at me like I lived in a bubble. When I told them that where I come from semi auto guns are not allowed nor is hunting on Sun. they made me look it up to prove it to them. I have not heard anymore shots here than I did In Pa when out hunting. So when I booked a trip to AK for bear I was thrilled that I could buy a Benelli R1in 300wm and use it. You sir WMJ should get out of the bubble and see for yourself! But I know that you will never change your stance on the issue because you know what is best for everyone.

  • RedFalconBill

    The two above comments capture everything the article says.

    The former PA Governor called it "killing it on the vine". We fill up the lives of young boys with activities besides hunting and they will not take up the sport. We do not allow they to use the firearms they have seen on the TV since Sept. 11th and they will not want to take up the sport. We do not allow Sunday hunting and they will not take up the sport. The old hunters pass on and there is nobody there to take up the sport. Then, when a future Governor bans hunting, the few thousand hunters will whine and complain, but since nobody hunts, nobody will care what these few crazy people think.

    Want makes need. Many people want the option, and to be honest, I would like to hunt with my SPC and Grendel uppers.

    Who are you to tell a young man, weaned on video games and seeing war on the TV that they cannot go out and use what they see?

    Who are you to stamp on people the title of "real hunter"?

    Most of the time, I hunt with single shots, but that is MY choice. I spot and stalk, but again that is MY choice.

    We did not have this trepidation when the Doughboy's came back from France, or the GI's from Europe/Pacific and went afield with bolt guns, but somehow allowing a person, or a former/current servicemember to hunt with a semi-auto will turn them into a rabid, shoot from the hip, spray the field with bullets slob hunter. Got news for you, if they were a slob hunter with a bolt gun, or an Amish machine gun, they will still be a slob hunter with a semi-auto.

    Outside of the "Black Guns" be it rifle, pistol (to include the CCW), or shotgun, the industry is in the doldrums. The only rifles that are selling are the value guns. Some show promise and value, others are just cheap. The one thing they all have in common is that the manufacturers are sprinting to the lowest price point. This is not a characteristic of an industry I would call healthy.

    And as long as we are throwing out Interweb credentials as a cudgel, I'm been a member of the NRA since I was 16 and upgraded to Endowment last year, as well as being a Certified Instructor with "real world" experience from yrs with DA/DoD.

    With our experience and $0.89, you can buy a small coffee at the local 7-11.

    What I am hearing from you two is that you have a poor opinion of your fellow firearms owners and because of this you are projecting onto them the very traits you think they possess.

    Yes, I'm saying you are wrong and you are the reason why we have these discussions an you are the reason why people who wish to control and subjugate us can triangulate and wedge into the discussion a "reasonableness" test.

  • RedFalconBill

    Oops, did not see that the two comments were made by the same person.

  • Dan

    This comment is for the gentlemen that thinks tecnology has no place in hunting. Many older hunters use a crossbow because they lack the strength and mobility to use a compound or traditional bow. This technology makes for cleaner kills by those that may not be able to due so otherwise. The few older gentlemen I know have a renewed sense of excitment now that they can hunt in the early part of the season. There is always room for technology that enhances one's quality of life and a lot of senior citizens appreciate this. It is a shame that some hunters feel that to make something difficult is better than something efficient. Open minds don't do things just because that's the way we did them 50 years ago.

  • DetroitMan

    So I'm not a real hunter because my rifle that cycles itself, in a state where it's legal? What a riot!

    1) You hunt with a single shot rifle? Well I hunt with the iron sights on my M1. That's right, no scope! I make accurate shots using the sighting technology my grandfather used. Who's the real hunter now? See how silly one-upmanship is? It proves nothing.

    2) If you can't hunt or stalk, you'll never see game to shoot at, no mater what rifle you carry.

    3) Arguing that semi autos make unsafe hunters is the same logic that anti-gunners use to argue that guns make murderers.

    4) A person with any skill with a bolt action, lever action, or pump action can fire it fairly rapidly. They can take second shots at fleeing animals, and those can be just as poorly aimed as somebody with a semi auto.

    5) The type of gun a person uses does not determine how skilled they are at shooting, hunting, or anything else.

    6) If technology is the enemy and leads to poor hunting skills, then why not restrict people to black powder, bows, or spears?

  • ApaHunter

    Ar-15 provide greater stability and are built more for the human hands that being said there will be less need for fallow up shots and that will take out the spray and pray factor I just wanna hunt with my weapon of choice hell I'd take it in to the woods with no clip and one bullet and still come out with enough meat to feed my family but just because I can shoot rapidly doesn't mean I'm gonna and the way I see it black powder is more dangerous then a semi auto because a muzzle loader can be over charged with power and then boom you have a grenade and like the one man said if we technology is blasphemy we should just hunt long bows spears and maybe even traps but wait that's technology too what are we ever to do………P.S they haven't built a bolt action rifle with a smooth action since the late 70s

  • Chris

    My main problem with the semi-auto hunting ban, is it always seems to stop me from buying the gun I want. Here's an example, go to buy my 15 year old son a .22 for his birthday. He really wants the 10/22, but we both know if he gets it the only thing he can do is go out plinking with it. We don't have a lot of money, so instead of buying him the gun we both know is better, we ended up getting him a Savage MK-II. Still a decent gun, but it wasn't as good as a Ruger 10/22, yet we paid the same price for it. I felt like crap I knew he wanted the Ruger, but he also wanted to be able to hunt.

  • Johnboy

    Don't forget that once again PA ranked as the state with the most deer-car collisions in 2012!

    • johnboy

      you'd think they would want to make killing deer as easy as possible… Just gotta love the intelligence of politicians

  • Chris

    They bitch and moan here constantly about deer over population, but the fact of the matter is they aren't truly interested in solving the problem. If they were there wouldn't be restrictions on Sunday hunting, semi autos would be permitted, less populated areas of Allegheny county would be allowed to use a rifle, and the local governments would ask those who own wooded lots to unpost them, even if they limit it to bow/crossbow only.

  • JW of PA

    I have NO interest in hunting Pennsylvania's Game Animals with an AR type rifle.
    However; I would love the opportunity to pursue coyotes and other predators with an AR style rifle.
    At present I have a Fat chance ! !! If I want to hunt with an AR, I must to drive 2 hours to neighboring West Virginia. Upon arrival I must buy a WV Non-Resident license (not cheap), get a motel for the night, find a place to eat, and then start looking for public hunting areas (where available), more gas money spent.
    PA restrictions on the use of AR rifles is both laughed at and applauded by our neighboring states of WV and Ohio. They laugh at the antiquated PA ban; and applaud the influx of cash from visiting PA hunters who wish to legally hunt with their modern arms. We will hunt with our ARs, if not here at home in PA, then it will be in any of the surrounding states. We will legally buy our ARs and we will hunt with our ARs where legal.
    I am quite sure PA Hunting License sales will take an upward turn in both Resident and Non-Resident. The amount of revenues generated buy increased license sales, gun sales, ammunition, etc would be staggering. . The only question that remains is…. are the PA legislators smart enough to take advantage of this cash cow ? My final words are on SAFETY ! A solution would be to limit use of AR style firearms to Adult License holders when hunting alone, Youth hunters already require adult accompaniment.

  • Stephen Malm

    I am an instructor and RSO from NJ, where we can only hunt with shotgun, muzzleloader or bow. Not everyone who wishes to hunt in PA can afford separate firearms to cover hunting, recreational and defensive shooting. Restrictions on hunting with a semi-auto in PA therefore take some potential hunters out of the picture. The appeal of the AR is that it is a configurable platform for custom fit and function, now with additional caliber choices that broaden it’s game-taking appeal. I disagree with Wmj and the “…and don’t tell me I’m wrong” attitude, assuming that fast follow-up shots mean indiscriminate first shots, and a free-for-all by the “jerks” seen at the range. I know people who put three shots in their semi-auto when hunting out-of-state. The sportsman-spirit of pursuing, stalking and humanely harvesting game is something that is taught, hopefully from parent to child, but there will always be the few who don’t get it, regardless of the type of rifle used. Punishing all for the actions of the few is the signature approach of gun-control and hunting-control advocates. I prefer a bolt-action for hunting, but I don’t support restrictions on semi-autos for hunting.

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