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Big Game Hunting Laws & Regulations

Lawful Arms & Ammunition for Hunting in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, specific regulations govern the use of firearms and ammunition for hunting different game species. Here's an overview of the lawful arms and ammunition for various hunting seasons:

Deer and Bear, Regular Seasons

  • Manually operated (pump, lever, bolt actions, single-shot) centerfire rifles and handguns: These firearms can be used with all-lead bullets or expanding bullets.
  • Manually operated or semiautomatic centerfire shotguns: These shotguns can be used with single-projectile ammunition. Buckshot is not legal for deer and bear hunting, except during certain controlled hunts with special permits.
  • Muzzleloading long guns: These firearms, .44 caliber or larger, can be used, as well as muzzleloading handguns, .50 caliber or larger.
  • Bows: Long, recurve, compound bows with a minimum draw weight of 35 pounds are permitted, as well as crossbows with broadheads having an outside diameter of at least 7/8 inch and not exceeding 3.25 inches in length.

Bear Archery Season

  • Bows: Long, recurve, and compound bows with a minimum draw weight of 35 pounds, as well as crossbows, are allowed.

Deer Archery Seasons

  • Bows: Long, recurve, compound bows with a minimum draw weight of 35 pounds, crossbows, and legal broadheads with an outside diameter of at least 7/8 inch and not exceeding 3.25 inches in length are permitted. Magnifying scopes and sights, such as red dots on crossbows, can be used.

Dual-Carry Rules

  • Possession of any firearm while archery hunting is prohibited unless the individual possesses a license to carry a concealed firearm. Archery hunters can carry a muzzleloading firearm only during overlaps of archery deer or bear season with a muzzleloader season.

Bow & Arrow Equipment Definitions

  • Arrow: A projectile shot from a bow with fletching designed only for guidance at the aft end and a broadhead mounted on the fore-end. No electronic tracking device is allowed.
  • Bow: A device for launching an arrow that derives its energy solely from the bending and recovery of two limbs. The bowstring must be drawn and released directly by the shooter.
  • Broadhead: It must have sharpened cutting edges, an outside diameter of at least 7/8 inch, and not exceed 3.25 inches in length.
  • Crossbow: It must have a draw weight not less than 125 pounds.

Muzzleloader Deer & Bear Seasons

  • October Antlerless Deer Season & Bear Season: These seasons allow the use of single-barrel muzzleloading long guns with flintlock, in-line, or percussion ignition, .44 caliber or larger, muzzleloading handguns of .50 caliber or larger, and encapsulated propellant charge that loads from the breech. Scope sights are permitted.
  • Flintlock Season: This season permits flintlock-ignition, single-barrel long guns manufactured prior to 1800 or reproductions of such guns, .44 caliber or larger, or .50 caliber or larger handguns using a single projectile. Telescopic sights are not allowed.

Fall Turkey Season

  • Shotguns: Manually operated and semiautomatic shotguns are limited to no more than three shells in the chamber and magazine combined.
  • Archery Equipment: Long, recurve, compound bows (minimum draw weight of 35 pounds) or crossbows with legal broadheads can be used for turkey hunting.

Spring Gobbler Season

  • Shotguns: Manually operated and semiautomatic shotguns are limited to no more than three rounds in the chamber and magazine combined.
  • Muzzleloading Shotguns: All types and gauges can be used.
  • Archery Equipment: Long, recurve, compound bows (minimum draw weight of 35 pounds) or crossbows with legal broadheads are permitted.

Elk Season

  • Firearms: Manually operated centerfire rifles and handguns (at least .26 caliber, all-lead projectiles or bullets of at least 120 grains designed to expand) can be used.
  • Shotguns: Manually operated or semiautomatic centerfire shotguns (shotguns must be at least 12-gauge) that propel single-projectile ammunition are permitted.
  • Muzzleloading Firearms: Flintlock, in-line, or percussion ignition muzzleloaders (at least .44 caliber for long guns and .50 caliber for handguns) can be used.
  • Bows and Crossbows: Long, recurve, compound bows (minimum draw weight of 45 pounds) and crossbows (with broadheads having an outside diameter of at least 1 inch and not exceeding 3.25 inches in length) are allowed.

Hunting Restrictions in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has specific hunting restrictions and regulations to ensure the ethical and safe pursuit of game. Here are some key restrictions to be aware of:

Bear Season

  1. Killing Bears in Dens: It is unlawful to kill a bear in its den.
  2. Use of Radios: Using a radio to locate a bear to which a radio transmitter has been attached is prohibited.
  3. Use of Scents or Lures: The use of scents or lures for hunting bears is not allowed.

Blinds

  • Fluorescent Orange Requirement: Blinds can be used for big game hunting, but during firearms deer, bear, and elk seasons, a minimum of 100 square inches of fluorescent orange material (or an orange alert band) must be displayed within 15 feet of the blind. This orange material should be visible in a 360-degree arc around the blind. Hunters must also wear orange while inside the blind.

Dogs

  • Prohibition on Using Dogs: It is unlawful to use dogs for hunting elk, bears, deer, or spring turkey.

Organized Drives

  • Permitted for Deer and Bear: Drives, organized efforts to move game animals, are permitted for deer and bear hunting only. It is unlawful to drive elk or turkeys. Drive participants must have a valid hunting license and comply with all fluorescent orange requirements. Unlicensed individuals can accompany a licensed hunter but cannot actively participate in hunting activities.

Hunting Parties

  • Party Size Limit: It is unlawful to hunt deer, elk, or bears in a party of more than 25 persons.

Tree Stands & Blinds

  • Tree Stand and Blind Placement: While hunting or preparing to hunt, it is unlawful to damage any tree on public or private property by constructing a tree stand or using a portable tree stand or device to climb a tree. Exceptions apply to landowners constructing stands on their property or those with written permission from a landowner to build or use a tree stand.
  • State Game Lands: Tree stands and portable hunting blinds on state game lands can be placed out no more than two weeks before the first deer season and must be removed no later than two weeks after the final deer season in that area. Placing a tree stand or hunting blind does not reserve the area for its owner.
  • Identification Tag: Tree stands and portable hunting blinds on state game lands need to be conspicuously marked with a durable and legible identification tag that includes the owner's first and last name and legal home address or bears the CID number from the owner's hunting license.

Shooting at Random

  • Target Shooting Restrictions: During open seasons for deer and bears, it is unlawful to shoot at any target other than legal game. Target shooting is allowed only under specific conditions:
    1. On property owned by the shooter or their guest.
    2. Within 200 yards of a camp or headquarters where the shooter is either quartered or an invited guest.
    3. At an established shooting range. The target must be protected by a natural or artificial barrier to prevent bullets or arrows from traveling more than 15 yards beyond it.

Handling Unfit Big-Game Animals in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has regulations in place to ensure that big-game animals harvested by hunters are safe for human consumption. Here are the guidelines for handling unfit big-game animals:

  • Discovery of Unfit Flesh: If a person legally harvests a big-game animal and discovers that the flesh is unfit for human consumption at the time of harvest, they must take the following actions:

    1. Reporting Within 12 Hours: Within 12 hours of discovering that the flesh is unfit for human consumption, the person must deliver the entire carcass to any Game Commission game warden. The carcass should be delivered with the entrails removed, but it must include the head and hide.

    2. Game Warden Assessment: The Game Commission game warden will assess the carcass to determine if it was indeed unfit for human consumption at the time of harvest.

    3. Written Authorization: If the game warden is satisfied that the game was unfit for human consumption at the time of harvest, they will issue a written authorization to the person.

  • Harvesting a Second Animal: With the written authorization from the game warden, the person is allowed to harvest a second animal or bird of the same species during the unexpired portion of the season for that species.

Transporting Big Game in Pennsylvania

Transporting big game, such as deer, bear, elk, and turkey, in Pennsylvania is subject to specific regulations to ensure compliance and prevent the spread of diseases like Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). Here are the key regulations related to transporting big game:

  1. Appropriate Tag Required: When transporting deer, bear, elk, or turkey, whether taken within or outside of Pennsylvania, it is mandatory to have an appropriate tag completed and attached to the game animal. This tag serves as documentation of the animal's legal possession.

  2. Furnishing Information: Upon the request of any Game Commission law-enforcement officer, the person who killed the animal must provide their name and address, along with any other information necessary to establish legal possession of the game animal.

  3. Removal of High-Risk Parts: Before moving a harvested deer outside of a Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) Disease Management Area (DMA) or the Established Area (EA) in Pennsylvania, or bringing in a harvested deer, elk, or moose from outside of Pennsylvania, all high-risk parts must be removed. High-risk parts typically include the brain, spinal cord, eyes, tonsils, and lymph nodes.

  4. Proper Disposal of High-Risk Parts: High-risk parts removed from harvested animals cannot be placed on the landscape in DMAs or the EA unless they are left at the kill site.

  5. Cooperating Processors and Taxidermists: Hunters who harvest a deer out-of-state or within a DMA or EA can now take the game animal directly to a cooperating processor or taxidermist anywhere in the state. This simplifies the process for hunters who want to transport their harvested game while complying with CWD regulations.

Reporting Big Game Harvests in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, it is essential for hunters to report their big game harvests to the Game Commission to ensure accurate record-keeping and management of wildlife populations. Here are the key details regarding reporting big game harvests:

Reporting Deadlines:

  1. Deer and Turkey Harvests: Hunters who harvest a deer or turkey must report it to the Game Commission within 10 days of the harvest. However, for individuals who are required to make a homemade tag, the reporting deadline is five days.

  2. Reporting Methods: There are multiple ways to report your big game harvest:

    • Postage-Paid Report Card: Use the postage-paid report card provided in this digest. Ensure that you read the report card thoroughly before filling it out. Use one report card per harvested animal.

    • Online Reporting: Hunters can report their big game harvests online at HuntFish.PA.gov. Follow the instructions provided on the website for reporting.

    • Phone Reporting: Hunters and trappers can report their deer, turkey, bobcat, fisher, and otter harvests over the telephone by calling 1-800-838-4431. To complete the phone report, you will need your hunting license and information from the tag used, including the tag number.

  3. Second-License Turkey and DMAP Antlerless Deer: For certain licenses, reporting is required regardless of whether game is harvested. If you hold a second-license turkey or DMAP antlerless deer license and did not harvest any game, be sure to check the "no harvest" box when reporting.

Reporting Bear and Elk Harvests:

  1. Bear Harvests: Within 24 hours of harvesting a bear, hunters must take the animal, along with their hunting license and bear license, to a Game Commission check station for examination. Bear check stations are available at Game Commission offices and other designated locations listed in this digest.

  2. Elk Harvests: For elk, successful license holders will receive a letter notifying them of the location and operating hours of the Elk Check Station. Elk must be taken to the Elk Check Station within 24 hours, along with the necessary licenses, for examination.

Tagging Big Game in Pennsylvania

When hunting and harvesting big game in Pennsylvania, hunters are required to follow specific tagging procedures to ensure proper documentation and compliance with regulations. Here are the key details regarding tagging big game:

General Tagging Requirements:

  • Hunters who harvest a bear, deer, elk, or turkey must follow the instructions printed on the tags supplied with their licenses.

  • Harvest tags must be filled out using a ballpoint pen.

  • The tagging requirements for individuals authorized to hunt without a license are identical. However, they must use a homemade tag that lists the hunter's name, address, game harvested, and the date, time, Wildlife Management Unit (WMU), county, and township where it was taken.

  • It is unlawful to possess an expired, fulfilled, revoked, suspended, or invalid big-game harvest tag or hunting license while engaged in hunting or trapping activities.

Specific Tagging Requirements by Game:

  1. Bears:

    • Bears must be tagged immediately after harvest and before the carcass is moved.
    • The harvest tag must be attached to the bear's ear and remain attached until the animal is processed for consumption or prepared for mounting.
  2. Deer:

    • Deer can be tagged at any time before the carcass is moved.
    • A prior regulation requiring hunters to tag any harvested deer before attempting to take another has been rescinded.
    • The harvest tag must be attached to the deer's ear and remain attached until the animal is processed for consumption or prepared for mounting.
    • When submitting a sample for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) testing, the completed harvest tag should remain with the head being submitted for testing.
  3. Elk:

    • Elk must be tagged immediately after harvest and before the carcass is moved.
    • The harvest tag must be attached to the elk's ear and remain attached until the animal is processed for consumption or prepared for mounting.
  4. Turkeys:

    • Turkeys must be tagged immediately after harvest and before the carcass is moved.
    • Turkey tags must be attached to the bird's leg.

Feral Swine in Pennsylvania: A Threat to Wildlife and Public Health

Feral swine, also known as wild boars or wild pigs, pose a significant threat to Pennsylvania's ecosystems, wildlife, and public health. These invasive animals have no place in the state and must be actively managed to mitigate their negative impact. Here are key details about feral swine in Pennsylvania:

Ecological and Health Impact:

  • Feral swine are known to damage wildlife habitats, disrupt ecosystems, and pose a danger to native flora and fauna. They have been observed killing birds and young mammals.

  • These animals are carriers of various dangerous diseases, making them a potential threat to both wildlife and humans.

  • Feral swine have no natural predators in Pennsylvania, allowing them to thrive, reproduce rapidly, and establish populations in various environments.

Control and Eradication Efforts:

  • In some areas of the state, protection for feral swine may be removed by an executive order of the director of wildlife agencies. However, in regions where eradication trapping operations are actively conducted, protection may be applied to ensure more effective control efforts.

  • Hunters and residents should refer to the Pennsylvania Game Commission's website (www.pgc.pa.gov) for specific details on townships or counties with restrictions on the incidental shooting of feral swine.

Hunting Regulations:

  • Feral swine may be hunted during lawful daylight hunting hours, except on Sundays, with a valid hunting or furtaker license.

  • Hunters who wish to hunt feral swine during any big-game season must have a valid tag and be lawfully engaged in hunting big game.

  • For safety reasons, individuals using firearms to hunt feral swine are required to wear 250 square inches of fluorescent orange material on their head, chest, and back combined at all times.

Equipment and Reporting:

  • The use of firearms and archery equipment for hunting feral swine is restricted to lawful arms and ammunition identified in the Game & Wildlife Code Sec. 2308.

  • Hunters who successfully harvest feral swine must contact the nearest Game Commission region office within 24 hours. This allows for the collection of samples for disease testing, contributing to wildlife health monitoring efforts.

Hunting Regulations in Pennsylvania's State Forests and State Parks

Hunting in Pennsylvania's state forests and state parks is subject to specific regulations and guidelines designed to ensure safety, protect wildlife, and preserve the natural environment. Here are important details regarding hunting in these areas:

State Parks:

  • Firearms and archery equipment can only be uncased in designated hunting areas during the seasons when state recreation areas are open to hunting.

  • Target shooting is restricted to designated shooting ranges; it is not permitted in other areas of state parks.

  • Feeding wildlife or placing food, fruit, hay, grain, chemicals, salt, or minerals on state park/state forest lands is strictly prohibited.

  • The Bureau of State Parks may impose restrictions on hunting areas or hunting seasons within state parks. Hunting and trapping by licensed hunters and furtakers are allowed in designated areas in compliance with Game Commission regulations.

  • In areas not open to hunting, or during closed hunting seasons, firearms and archery equipment must be stored in the owner's car, trailer, or camp.

  • Groundhog hunting is not allowed in state parks, and dog training is permitted from the day following Labor Day through March 31 in designated hunting areas.

  • For detailed information about hunting in specific state parks, contact the Bureau of State Parks at 1-888-PA-Parks, visit www.dcnr.pa.gov, or write to State Parks, P.O. Box 8551, Harrisburg, PA 17105-8551, or contact your nearest state park office.

State Forests:

  • The Bureau of Forestry welcomes hunters and trappers to more than 2.2 million acres of state forests. Only small areas around occupied buildings are posted as off-limits.

  • Overnight camping is allowed only in areas designated by the district forester.

  • Ground blinds and tree stands can be placed on state forest lands, but hunters must follow the requirements outlined in the Bureau of Forestry Rules and Regulations.

  • Required permits for hunting in state forests are available from local forest offices.

  • The Bureau of Forestry opens gated administrative roads annually to provide hunter access. They also participate in DMAP (Deer Management Assistance Program) and offer an interactive map online for easy reference.

  • To find the most up-to-date information related to hunting on state forests, visit DCNR's hunting page.

  • For additional information or maps regarding hunting and recreational activities on state forests, contact the Bureau of Forestry at P.O. Box 8552, Harrisburg, PA 17105-8552, or call 717-783-7941. You can also visit www.dcnr.pa.gov or reach out to your nearest forestry office.

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Disclaimer:

The legal advice provided on Wild Advisor Pro is intended as a summary of the hunting, camping, hiking, and fishing laws and regulations and does not constitute legal language or professional advice. We make every effort to ensure the information is accurate and up to date, but it should not be relied upon as legal authority. For the most current and comprehensive explanation of the laws and regulations, please consult the official government websites or a qualified legal professional. Wild Advisor Pro is not responsible for any misunderstandings or misinterpretations of the information presented and shall not be held liable for any losses, damages, or legal disputes arising from the use of this summary information. Always check with the appropriate governmental authorities for the latest information regarding outdoor regulations and compliance.