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

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

Recommended for You

Some history and reloading recipes on five popular .17-caliber cartridges, including the .17 Ackley Hornet, .17 Hornady Hornet, .17 Mach IV, .17 Remington Fireball and .17 Remington. Reloading

.17-Caliber Reloading Data and History for 5 Cartridges

Layne Simpson - June 05, 2019

Some history and reloading recipes on five popular .17-caliber cartridges, including the .17...

Thompson/Center Arms rimfire rifles are available with Traditional Hardwood and Flat Dark Earth Black Grit finishes. Rimfire

Thompson/Center Arms Adds Stock Options to Rimfire Line

Rifle Shooter Digital Staff - April 16, 2019

Thompson/Center Arms rimfire rifles are available with Traditional Hardwood and Flat Dark...

The Federal Berger Hybrid Hunter Ammo combines high BCs with a forgiving bullet profile and promises versatile performance. Ammo

Federal Berger Hybrid Hunter Ammo

Brad Fitzpatrick - April 30, 2019

The Federal Berger Hybrid Hunter Ammo combines high BCs with a forgiving bullet profile and...

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Ruger Launches New American Rifle Predator in 6.5 Grendel

Ruger Launches New American Rifle Predator in 6.5 Grendel

OSG's Lynn Burkhead and Ruger's Matt WIlson kick off SHOT Show 2018 by taking a look at the Ruger Predator.

All About .300 Blackout

All About .300 Blackout

The .300 Blackout is here to stay, and we take some time to look at new technology surrounding this cartridge. Next, we pit subsonic rivals against each other before stretching the legs of this CQB round out to 600 yards from a short 9-inch barrel.

Steyr Arms Announces Sniper Rifle in 6.5mm Creedmoor

Steyr Arms Announces Sniper Rifle in 6.5mm Creedmoor

Scott O'Brien from Steyr Arms sat down with Michael Bane at SHOT Show 2018 to take a look at Steyr's new tactical heavy barrel sniper rifle in 6.5mm Creedmoor.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Browning's new X-Bolt Max Long Range rifle is an accurate rifle tailored for long range accuracy. Bolt-Action

Browning's New X-Bolt Max Long Range Rifle

Rifle Shooter Digital Staff - April 11, 2019

Browning's new X-Bolt Max Long Range rifle is an accurate rifle tailored for long range...

You're only as good as your weakest link; heed these to tips to make sure your shooting skills don't hinder your rifle's accuracy potential Shooting Tips

How to Shoot Your Best from a Benchrest

Keith Wood - August 05, 2014

You're only as good as your weakest link; heed these to tips to make sure your shooting skills...

Want to get into the long-range game and not go broke? Check out the Mossberg MVP Precision Rifle. Reviews

Review: Mossberg MVP Precision Rifle

J. Scott Rupp - March 21, 2019

Want to get into the long-range game and not go broke? Check out the Mossberg MVP Precision...

See More Stories

More Semi-Auto

CMMG's MkW-15 XLR2 in 6.5 Grendel combines the best of the AR-15 and AR-10. Semi-Auto

Review: CMMG MkW-15 XLR2 in 6.5mm Grendel

David Fortier - January 18, 2019

CMMG's MkW-15 XLR2 in 6.5 Grendel combines the best of the AR-15 and AR-10.

The Windham Weaponry .450 Thumper is both a modern take on the AR-15 in an unusual caliber and a throwback to some of the concepts of the late Jeff Cooper. Semi-Auto

Review: Windham Weaponry .450 Thumper

James Tarr - July 20, 2018

The Windham Weaponry .450 Thumper is both a modern take on the AR-15 in an unusual caliber and...

Barrett is shedding the weight from its popular REC7 rifle with the brand new REC7 Gen II Semi-Auto

Barrett Trims Fat with New REC7 Gen II Flyweight

RifleShooter Online Staff - January 26, 2015

Barrett is shedding the weight from its popular REC7 rifle with the brand new REC7 Gen II

See More Semi-Auto

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.