Hunting Deer In Pennsylvania? Don’t Bring A Modern Sporting Rifle.’

At the end of this month the Pennsylvania Game Commission will hold their first quarterly meeting of 2017, and the agenda will include approval of new changes in hunting regulations which go into effect.  Hunting is a big deal in Pennsylvania; only one state (Wisconsin) issues more resident hunting licenses, and the only state which derives more licensing revenue is Colorado because buying a license to hunt elk ain’t cheap. So when the Game Commission sits down to revise hunting regulations, the changes will affect a lot of Pennsylvania hunters this year.

hunting             Yet despite these impressive numbers, the truth is that hunters in Pennsylvania, like everywhere else, are a vanishing breed.  Since the early 1980’s, the Pennsylvania deer-hunting population has dropped by more than 25%, and in a 2004 survey, more than one-third of all Keystone State hunters said that declining health and increasing age would keep them from engaging in the sport any more.

So what do you do if you’re an industry that depends, in part, on hunters to buy your products and those particular consumers tell you that they no longer want or need the products you sell? You come up with a new type of product, sell it to a new group of consumers and let them decide how best it can be used.  Voila! – the modern sporting rifle, a marketing slogan of the gun industry whose nomenclature bears absolutely no resemblance to even the remotest definition of the word ‘truth.’  But now that we have a President who also seems unable to discern the difference between the words ‘true’ and ‘false,’ what difference does that make?  Well, in the case of the Pennsylvania Game Commission it seems to make a big difference, at least when it comes to the 2017 version of their hunting regs.

What the Commission is proposing is a rule change which will define the capacity of any rifle that can be used to hunt big game, which in Pennsylvania basically means the ol’ white-tail deer.  Pennsylvania contains some of the most rural (and beautiful) uninhabited landscapes in the eastern half of the Lower 48, and the deer abound, even if the number of hunters keeps dwindling down.  And what the new regs say is that if you want to go into the woods to take a pot-shot at Bambi, your rifle cannot have a ‘total aggregated capacity’ (breech and magazine) of more than five rounds.  Which means that you can’t go hunting with an AR-style rifle and only put 5 rounds in the mag. It means you can’t take an AR-style rifle (that’s an assault rifle, by the way) into the woods to go hunting at all.  Period.

Try as they might, the geniuses in the gun marketing community have obviously not convinced the Pennsylvania Game Commission that an AR-style rifle is no different in form or function than the old, semi-automatic Remington or Winchester hunting rifles that have basically stopped selling because the kind of people who used to buy them are either too dead or too old.  The industry has been lying about ‘modern sporting rifles’ ever since Chuckie Schumer and Di Feinstein first started going after assault rifles in 1994. And the NSSF has convinced a lot of people who should know better that any rifle that can’t fire all its ammunition with one squeeze of the trigger is just another type of sporting gun which can and should be used for any kind of shooting at all.

The military rifle – M4 – that our troops use in battle theaters does, in fact, allow its user to pull the trigger once and shoot a three-round burst.  But the gun can also be set to fire one round at a time, just like any other semi-automatic rifle.  So when a soldier decides that the tactical situation calls for using his rifle in semi-auto mode, does this mean he’s going into battle with a ‘sporting’ gun?  At least the Pennsylvania Game Commission seems to understand the difference.


23 thoughts on “Hunting Deer In Pennsylvania? Don’t Bring A Modern Sporting Rifle.’

  1. Call me old fashioned, but I cannot see myself hunting deer with something designed to pacify Anbar Province. Your comment about civilian v military versions of these rifles is on point.

    I recently gifted one of my Winchesters to my brother in law by first marriage as he still hunts deer and I don’t. Since I have known him closely and could vouch for him since we have followed each other’s lives since the 1970’s, a background check as proposed in Maine, Nevada, and now New Mexico by Mike Bloomberg would be silly. I kept the pre-64 example though. Beautiful rifle. I still take it to the range and practice hitting paper.

  2. Mike, you state that the game commission wants to regulate the capacity “of any rifle”, but shucks, a 5-shot limit would eliminate many popular and historic lever action thutty-thutties. do you reckon the magazine cap would only apply to semi autos? I wondering if maybe 016 was the first year PA even allowed semi autos for hunting, and the mag limit is a follow-up to that change.
    Such a reg isn’t a big impact on a state that only allowed semis for 1 season. Up here in VA, many many of my friends have been hunting with ARs for years, and such a reg would force them to go out and buy another gun. That’s not what we want, right? another excuse to buy another gun?

    • Back in NYS when I was young, there were three shot plugs (spacers–I made mine out of a wood dowel) put into the magazine from the distal end for Federally regulated wildfowl hunting. I wonder if four round magazines for ARs could be introduced. Or for that matter, if this does turn out to apply to rifles with tubular magazines, those could have temporary magazine spacers installed as well. That is, if the state approves them.

      Nothing wrong with good people having another gun. Its keeping them out of the hands of those who will misuse them that is the idea.

  3. Any notion that the purposed rule change in PA is based on anything beyond short term political posturing seems pretty naive. The only reason waterfowl guns are limited to 3 shots is to put something in the way of taking too many birds (ie over the limit). Like – would be market hunting – which did exist at one time. Migrating birds are Federal Property. Having 5 shots or 30 shots in a mag is irrelevant when taking a single deer. If there was any evidence that lawful hunters in PA were developing the habit of spraying rounds at whole herds of deer, there might be something to talk about — but of course there isn’t. The AR 15 platform is by far the most popular type of centerfire rifle in America. Nothing else out there offers the combination of high inherent accuracy, stability of sighting systems, recoil reduction, adapability to modern suppressors, ergonomic correctness, 50 years of engineering improvement by the US army, and sheer brillant fun. The best rigs can put all the hits into more or less one jagged hole at 50 meters – at night.

  4. I don’t have really strong feelings one way or the other about civilians buying slightly modified rifles mainly designed for suppressing enemy fire on a battlefield. As UCLA law prof Adam Winkler (“Gunfight”) has said in his essays, they are to some degree a hot button diversion from the main gun violence problem. Millions are out there and only a few parts per million of that number are used lawlessly. Plus, just having had major shoulder surgery on my shooting shoulder, I certainly can understand the advantages of a gas operated semiauto in reducing recoil. I’ll be shooting my Mini-14, which is the Clark Kent of “assault rifles”, long before my bolt action 300 H&H Magnum, even with reduced loads..

    Whether a 5.56×45 is a good deer cartridge I will leave to another forum, such as

    That said, its up to the state to decide how many rounds hunters can load in a rifle when hunting game regulated by the state. I usually needed one shot with whitetail. Two in a pinch. Hunting and bearing arms are two different things. As Garry Wills said in his 1995 essay, you don’t bear arms against a rabbit. That is and always was a military/paramilitary term, which is why military rifles have different requirements than traditional hunting rifles. Bambi doesn’t shoot back.

  5. I realize the gun makers have to keep selling something to stay in business, and ARs have been the first battle rifle to really take off with civilians. And since keeping these guns out of the wrong hands is impossible ( who can really know when anybody intends to commit mass murder) I conclude that we will only see more Sandy Hooks, Orlandos , Aurora Theaters ,etc. The Pa. Game Comm., in it’s own way, is pushing back on the gun industry’s attempt to legitimize selling a gun designed for military battle use as a “modern sporting rifle”. It would be laughable, if it wasn’t so deadly serious.

  6. Peter. Civilians have always been able to buy whatever “battle rifle” was in use by the military as long as it was not a machine gun. The most produced US small arm in WW 2 was a light-weight, semi auto that took 15-30 round mags and was basically comparable in firepower to a modern civilian AR 15. When the time came to phase them (M1 carbines) out in the 1960s, millions of them were sold at quite low prices to US civilians, no questions asked. They have never been a problem with crime or massacres, etc. No one thought to demonize them because they have wooden stocks. They are all still out there and will be for a 100 years. What they lack is accuracy. By contrast, civilian AR 15s can be extremely precise out to several hundred meters. Which is irrelevant if the goal is to massacre in an enclosed room.

  7. “…ARs have been the first battle rifle to really take off with civilians….” ignores history. To elaborate on Rum’s comment, sporterized military 1903 Springfields (my stepdad’s first deer rifle) and other military rifles (Mausers, other European WW I and WW II rifles, etc) were highly popular when converted to sporting rifles, especially back when they were sold without extensive Federal oversight in the sixties. I recall going into stores hardware and mixed goods stores in the sixties and seeing rows and rows of surplus military battle rifles labelled “NRA excellent” down to “NRA fair” that were priced accordingly.

    As rifle technology has changed to lighter cartridges and battle rifles changed to higher capacity with or without three shot or fully auto capability, there was not a commensurate change in thinking as to what was acceptable and what was not as far as civilian ownership other than not allowing full auto or three shot burst capability. I won’t get into a war of words as to what would be “in common use” to quote Scalia as to some degree this becomes circular–since we could buy ARs for decades before a temporary ban, these have indeed become in common use.

    Trying to put the horses back in the barn after leaving the door open for half a century is a bit of a problem. Plus, aside from a few mass murders, it would do virtually nothing to cut down on the US gun death rate. Vast majority of gun deaths, whether homicide, suicide, or accident, are handguns.

    Plus, would Mike really want to turn in his Mini-14?

    • “…who can really know when anybody intends to commit mass murder…”

      That sort of statement, which can be used to justify a wholesale roundup of firearms from the public, is the reason the moat between the two sides of the gun violence prevention debate keeps getting deeper.

    • Please don’t put your words in my mouth. I stated clearly three things that I will stand behind.

      One, that “battle rifles” of all vintages (your words, not mine) were later sold to civilians. I never said modern ARs were equal to grandpa’s shotgun. That is a ridiculous statement because if they were, the services would still be using 03/A3’s or grandpa’s shotgun.

      Two, in spite of their higher capacity than the WW II main battle rifle (8 rds), or even the M14’s 20 rds, government never adequately considered regulating semiauto ARs (30 rds) when they were introduced more than half a century ago; regulating them after a half a century of spirited sales is a tough sell. Indeed, sales are driven in part by worries about future bans and in part because they are highly engineered and accurate rifles and fun to shoot. Congress can try to regulate them (preferable) or ban them (highly unlikely) but given this Congress and President, a pipe dream.

      Three, that their misuse makes up a tiny portion of shootings. Sure, they are used in high profile shootings of middle class people in nice places like Aurora (where the shooter’s shrink was reticent to get a commitment order) or Newtown (where the gun was heavily regulated and registered to the mother but the shooter executed his mom to get it), but the lion’s share of gun violence is with handguns. But who cares other than Father Michael Pfleger if it is black kids in Chicago.

      As I said, I have no love affair with black rifles although like Mike, I am conflicted, having the “wood stock” version of same–the gun used by Anders Behring Breivik. But they are out there and unless you live in a Blue state like NY or California, are likely to remain. Rational attempts to find a way to regulate rather than ban them fall on deaf ears as both the NRA and its opponents won’t settle for half a loaf.

      Frustrating subject, eh?

  8. Rum and Khal,the battle rifles ofWW1( Springfield and Enfield) were 5 shot bolt action rifles. I got an NRA 03-A3in 1963 which I sporterized. Also 2 M-1 Carbihes which I have sold. No comparison whatsoever on the killing power of the bolt guns and AR-15s.Try 154 rounds in a grade school from a bolt gun. Physically impossible. I stand by my statement. The AR-15s are by far the most successful and widely manufactured and sold of any US battle rifle. As of Sandy Hook, the NSSF said there were 56 makers of ARs, probably more now. Please, stop pretending there is no difference between these guns designed as a highly effective human killing machine, and grandpa’s double barreled shotgun. By the way, go into a gun shop and see how many of the 6.4 million M-1 carbines produced in WW-2 are sitting next to the racks of AR-15s They’re just not widely available, from my experience , and the reproductions never made a splash, nor M-1 Garands or M-14s. And don’t minimize the human casualties of this gun. I’ve spoken to Lonnie Phelps, who lost his daughter in the Aurora theater massacre,with her boyfriend, who was carrying a pistol. He told Lonnie” against the ( S@W MP 15) we didn’t stand a chance” Enough said.

  9. Peter: To paraphrase:”With a pistol, we did not have a chance against the Smith and Wesson MP 15.” First of all, no one with just a pistol has a chance against anyone with a semi-auto rifle, especially if the guy with the rifle has the element of surprise. Second, if ARs were magically banned, M 1 carbine reproductions would sell like hot-cakes, I bet. I scarcely see how that would make the world a better place.

  10. A few quick suggestions on how to hunt with an AR style rifle in Pennsylvania:

    (1) Buy a .458 Socom Upper.
    A 10 round AR-15 Magazine holds about 3-4 rounds of .458 Socom….

    (2) Use a magazine plug to lower capacity

    (3) Ask Magpul (or any other Magazine maker) to whip up a low capacity “Hunting” Magazine…

  11. It’s funny how everytime I read an article that bashes firearms, the author doesn’t know what the hell they are talking about. Shut your ignorant pie hole.

  12. You all have too know that you all are on the Devil side . Becouse God hates what you are doing he will wipe you off this earth.

  13. This was the most biased article I’ve read in a while. Are you sure your a gun guy? From the bashing of our president to your lies about the AR. First off, AR does not stand for assault rifle. It stands for Armalite rifle. Which is the first company to make the AR. Second the M4 platform does not have a 3 round burst, only the M16a2 had the 3 round burst and that version also had the semi selector on it as well. So your inaccurate description of these firearms is misleading and immoral. So again I ask are you sure your a gun guy? Every gun guy knows what the real meaning of AR stands for and it’s not assault rifle.

    Now as far as hunting with an AR style platform I never would. I will stick to my good old fashion bolt action rifle. I don’t like the idea of hunting big game with an AR. To me it takes the sport out of hunting. I feel the semi auto rifle should be limited to small game and furbearer animals like coyotes and foxes and such animals. Hunting with a semi auto .22 would open my hunting to a lot of rifles I own and would love to take squirrel hunting. As far as the .223 caliber to take deer I say no. I don’t feel that is a large enough round for PA deer. Might be good in Texas where the deer are smaller but not up here in PA. Another thing about the game commision toying with the idea of letting hunters use these rifles if the number of hunters are dwindling then they won’t have the money for our parks and how will they keep the parks alive? Maybe by increasing taxes. Hunters do more for the state then what most people think. If it wasn’t for us buying those licences the parks would be going to the lumber mills

    I truly hope any future articles you write will be filled with truth and not lies.

      • I can point out your lies and you can explain how they aren’t. So your number one lie is that AR stands for assault rifle. It does not. Armalite Rifle manufature company was the first company to manufacture the rifle. They named the different firearms with the AR abbreviation.

        Your second lie would have to do with the full auto statement. Blaming the NSSF. So with a little history lesson you would learn that in 1934 Congress but a $200 tax stamp on full auto firearms. So that pretty much killed the sale of those types of firearms. I’m not sure but I don’t think most people were affording $200 in the depression area. Except maybe the bootleggers. Which is why they came out with the stamp in the first place. Ironic isnt it that the whole reason for the stamp was because the bootleggers were out gunning the police. So congresses briliant idea was to put a stamp that only the criminals could afford. I guess its nice to see they havent changed.Then in 1986 Congress made it even harder to get your hands on a full auto gun. By stopping the manufacturing of any full auto firearm. So the only way to get one today is to find one first, have about $15,000 plus the $200 tax stamp and be willing to wait over 6 months for the extensive background check to be completed. In your article you make it sound like they are everywhere and they are not. That hunters would be in the woods spraying and praying as we use to say in the military. Just not true. I dont know of one hunter out there who doesnt want to take their kill out quickly and as humanely as possible. So besides your 2 blatant lies your article is misleading.

        Again I’m not sure why you call yourself a gun guy when it is obvious you know nothing about them. Plus like I stated before as a hunter I am not for the AR platform rifle to be used for big game hunting in PA, to me it’s not sporting. I don’t care if that rifle platform is used for taking furbearer animals like coyotes and foxes. I think that’s what it should be limited too, not big game animals.

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