Pa. Board of Game Commissioners approve several changes to Red Tag Program

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WILKES-BARRE — The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners this week approved a host of changes that will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Agricultural Deer Control Program — better known as the Red Tag Program — which helps farmers address crop-damage issues through the hunting of antlerless deer.

“The Agricultural Deer Control Program is designed to allow farmers to manage the deer populations on their property,” said Game Commission Bureau of Wildlife Management Director Matthew Schnupp. “The changes adopted today make it easier for landowners to enroll in the program, while making it more convenient for hunters to participate through an expanded season and increased number of tags.”

The changes, which were recommended to the Game Commission by those who use the program, will become effective in November 2022.

Changes include:

• An individual hunter no longer would be limited to obtaining one permit for a Red Tag property; they could get up to four. The higher limit is consistent with that used in the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP), which also helps landowners meet deer-management goals through antlerless deer hunting. Hunters would be able to keep all deer they harvest.

• The summer period during which Red Tag hunting is closed (currently May 16 – June 30) would be expanded to April 16 – July 31. Permits would be valid from Aug. 1 through Sept. 15, then from Feb. 1 through April 15. Permits would be issued for the license year that begins July 1 and runs through June 30.

• Landowners no longer would be required to report Red Tag harvests. Instead, similar to DMAP, hunters would report for each permit regardless of harvest success.

• All licensed hunters, not just hunters who are Pennsylvania residents, would qualify for Red Tag permits.

• The red snap tags that are the namesake of the Red Tag Program, would be replaced with standard harvest tags issued through HuntFishPA.

• Landowners no longer would need to enroll in the Game Commission’s Hunter Access program before using the Red Tag program, and Red Tag properties no longer would need to be posted with signs.

Antlerless deer, elk licenses

The board voted to allocate 948,000 antlerless deer licenses statewide, which is up from the 925,000 licenses allocated for 2021-21.

Hunting licenses for 2022-23 go on sale in mid-June and become effective July 1. After hunters purchase a general hunting license, they may apply for antlerless deer licenses based on staggered timelines, which will be outlined in the 2022-23 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, to be given free to all license buyers.

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The board also voted to issue 178 elk licenses (60 antlered, 118 antlerless) across three 2022-23 seasons. For the one-week general season to run Oct. 31-Nov. 5, 31 antlered and 70 antlerless tags have been allocated. In the archery season open only in select Elk Hunt Zones, to run from Sept. 10-24, 14 antlered and 15 antlerless licenses are available. And there are 15 antlered and 33 antlerless licenses available for the Dec. 31-Jan. 7 late season.

All elk licenses will be awarded by lottery, and hunters must apply separately for all seasons they wish to be eligible to hunt. Each application costs $11.97, meaning a hunter can enter all three drawings for $35.91. Individuals can be drawn for a maximum of one elk license per license year.

More turkey firearms restrictions considered

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners gave preliminary approval to a measure that would provide the Game Commission yet another tool to respond to below-goal turkey populations.

In years past, reducing the length of the fall turkey season was the primary method to increase turkey populations. But last year, the Game Commission eliminated the use of centerfire and rimfire rifles in fall turkey season, noting that relatively few hunters used rifles, but rifles were responsible for about one-third of the fall turkey harvest. That provides an additional means to protect turkey populations without reducing season length.

The measure the board preliminary approved would eliminate the use of other single-projectile firearms — muzzle-loading rifles and handguns, and slug guns — in the fall turkey season. It will be brought back to the July meeting for a final vote.

When eliminating the use of rifles in the fall turkey season, the Game Commission noted that relatively few fall turkey hunters used rifles. Survey data suggested only 14% of fall turkey hunters statewide primarily used rifles, but rifles were responsible for 33% of the harvest.

Eliminating the use of other single-projectile firearms in fall turkey season would seem to impact even fewer hunters. The Game Commission has observed very few fall turkey hunters afield with single-projectile muzzle-loaders or shotguns. At the same time, eliminating the use of those firearms in the fall turkey season works toward the Game Commission’s goal of finding methods other than season-length reductions to stabilize fall turkey harvest numbers.

“Season length adjustments are a part of managing wild turkey populations, and reducing season length sometimes is a necessity,” said Commissioner Scott Foradora, who represents District 3 in north-central Pennsylvania. “But through alternative methods such as restricting the firearms that can be used in the season, season length reductions might be avoided, giving all hunters the opportunity to spend more time in the woods.”

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DMAP might be available on leased hunting lands

Lands where hunting rights have been leased and where a fee has been charged for hunting might soon be eligible to enroll in the Deer Management Assistance Program, commonly known as DMAP.

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to a measure that would change the regulation that excludes leased hunting land from the program. The measure will be brought back to the July meeting for a final vote.

DMAP enables public and private landowners to better address their own deer-management goals for properties. Lands enrolled in DMAP are allotted a number of antlerless deer permits that can be purchased by hunters.

Landowners can make the permits available directly from license-issuing agents, or they can choose to issue coupons that then are redeemed for permits. In either case, DMAP permits cost $10.97 each. Hunters can obtain no more than four permits each for properties where coupons are issued, and no more than two permits each for other properties. Each DMAP permit can be used to hunt and harvest an antlerless deer during any established deer season.

The change preliminary approved by the board wouldn’t have major impacts on the DMAP program, but would make a significant difference for landowners who now are excluded.

The Game Commission has determined only about 5% of hunting lands are leased. On those properties, however, the only tool landowners and lessees presently have to address deer-population concerns is WMU-based antlerless licenses allocations, which might not be enough.

Applying the same rules to leased lands and private lands enrolled in DMAP makes sense because public access isn’t required to enroll in the program. Additionally, restricting DMAP to certain lands to encourage public access historically did not lead to significantly more public access or the prevention of leased lands. Leased lands still exist and are part of the Pennsylvania landscape.

Measure could allow for new road-killed deer disposal option

Permitted professionals hired by those wishing to address nuisance-wildlife problems might soon receive authority to pick up and dispose of road-killed deer.

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners gave preliminary approval to a measure that would allow nuisance wildlife control operators, who already are regulated by the Game Commission, to offer road-killed deer pick-up from roadways and private property.

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Presently, the responsibility for picking up and removing deer carcasses from roadways is split between the state Department of Transportation and the Game Commission, which sometimes hires contractors to collect and dispose of deer.

Each year, the Game Commission receives thousands of calls from the public concerning deer carcasses along roadways and on private property. The agency often will assign its wardens to collect and properly dispose of these carcasses as their schedules and work duties permit, which in some cases doesn’t meet residents’ expectations.

Nuisance wildlife control operators could provide the public an additional resource for road-killed deer removal.

The measure will be brought back to the July meeting for a final vote.

More than 1,000 acres added to game lands

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today and recently approved of acquisitions that would add more than 974 acres to state game lands. Among them are:

• A 278-acre tract in Bear Creek Township, Luzerne County. This land, which adjoins State Game Lands 91, was offered by Natural Lands for the option price of $42,000 lump sum. Natural Lands can acquire the property through partnership grants provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Open Space Institute.

• A 4.59-acre tract in Bell Township, Clearfield County. This parcel within State Game Lands 87 is being donated by Diversified Production LLC.

• A 158-acre parcel in South Londonderry and West Cornwall townships, Lebanon County, and Rapho Township, Lancaster County. This land, which adjoins State Game Lands 145, is being offered for donation by Natural Lands, which can acquire the property through partnership grants provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.

• A 54-acre tract in Miller Township, Perry County.

• Two tracts totaling 192 acres in Greene and Whiteley townships, Greene County.

• A 288-acre tract in North Bethlehem and West Bethlehem townships, Washington County.

Additionally, the Game Commission acquired one-ninth interest in the 39.76-acre Lola L. Woodring estate property adjoining State Game Lands 311 in Benezette Township, Elk County.

The Game Commission also has acquired a portfolio of oil, gas and mineral rights in Erie Crawford, Venango, Forest, Warren, McKean and Elk counties. These interests, which were donated by Payday Holdings LLC, of Frisco, Texas, are not surveyed and have not had exhaustive title searches conducted. The commissioners accepted the donation by notational vote in December 2021.

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>