Big birds and big bass made big impressions in 2017. Hunters were also semiconcerned about shooting big game with bigger guns.
The possibility that semi-automatic rifles would be approved for hunting big game in Pennsylvania drew fire from both sides as 2017 opened. The Pennsylvania Game Commission gave unanimous preliminary approval in January to the use of semiautomatic rifles and shotguns while hunting big game, small game and furbearers. But at the March meeting, commissioners backed away from the big game idea, approving the use of semis for hunting small game and furbearers.
The effects of the spread of chronic wasting disease reached eastward across Cumberland and Adams counties in 2017, though it wasn’t actually discovered in either place. After CWD was found on a deer farm in Franklin County, Disease Management Area 2 and its restrictions were extended from Somerset County, eastward to the midpoint of Adams County. Throughout the state since 2012, 44 captive deer have been confirmed to have had CWD. The disease has been confirmed in more than 60 free-ranging deer.
In January, the Game Commission decided to turn back the clock for deer hunters in the Cumberland County area, to the days of a bucks-only period, followed by days when antlerless deer are also legal. Under the split season format, the five-day antlered deer season was Nov. 27-Dec. 1. That was followed by a seven-day concurrent season for antlered and antlerless Dec. 2-9.
In another controversial move, the Game Commission approved a $25 pheasant hunting permit for adults.
In early February, bald eagle parents began nurturing two eggs in a nest near Codorus State Park, which hatched in mid-March. Cameras on the nest provided 24/7 monitoring through the commission website at pgc.pa.gov and are expected to be launched again in early 2018.
The eagle parents in a nest at Hays near Pittsburgh were tending to one egg when tragedy struck. The giant hackberry tree holding the nest and the female sitting on it was blown down in a windstorm. The parents got busy building a new nest in a nearby sycamore tree and amazingly fledged one eaglet. Livestream of that nest is available again at www.pixcontroller.com/eagles.
In March, the Game Commission reported that hunters killed 333,254 deer in 2016-17, up about 6 percent over the 2015-16 harvest. The antlered deer take was up 9 percent, at 149,460 bucks and was the largest harvest of antlered deer since 2002.
In the summer, the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission decided against drastically changing its suite of bass fishing rules, seasons and creel limits. Bass season on the middle and lower Susquehanna and lower Juniata will remain closed during the traditional spawning period, May 1 through mid-June. The commission had proposed taking away the spring closed season after fish surveys from 2013-16 showed increasing numbers of adult smallmouth bass, whereas numbers had been greatly reduced from 2005 to 2012.
The last thing Mike Sholley and his buddies expected to hook up with in early August was monster stripers just a few casts from downtown Harrisburg. The Palmyra angler and the guys were throwing bigger topwater smallmouth baits at the lowhead Dock Street Dam, just down-river from the state capital. That’s when the first of what would be a catch-and-release rockfish roundup ignited. The biggest was 35 inches.
As a new board member of the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, I was in the majority in September, voting to reduce organizational spending by $2 million. The commission will not spend more than it takes in. Senate Bill 30, passed overwhelmingly by the state Senate and currently in the state House, would allow the commission to raise fishing license fees for the first time since 2005. The added revenue can help cover mandated annual expenses for pensions and health insurance for commission employees past and present.
Raw, rainy and foggy conditions on the first day of the statewide bear season in November cut the overall harvest by about 30 percent. With a dismal take of 659 on the first day, the total killed was 1,796, down from the 2,579 of 2016. An estimated bear population of 20,000 before the season should be in strong shape next year. Bears were harvested in 54 counties in 2017.
In December, the Game Commission announced that for the first time in its 122-year history it will call its law-enforcement officers “state game wardens.” Many folks have been calling them that for about 122 years.
And in 2018 ...
In order to make more money for the agency, a Pennsylvania Game commissioner wants to explore creating permits so that a limited number of hunters could shoot a second buck. A lot of details have to be worked out. Would the extra buck license be sold over the counter or by lottery? What would the cost be? $100? $150?
What do Sentinel readers and deer hunters think of the idea?