Keystone State should be getting semi-auto rifles ‘okayed’ for hunting big game, so what's the hang up?

Keystone State should be getting semi-auto rifles ‘okayed’ for hunting big game, so what's the hang up?
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

There’s an interesting thing in Pennsylvania law that’s worth bringing up. A 2016 measure allows the use of semi-automatic rifles for hunting purposes. There’s a “but”, though: the use of semi-automatics must be blessed by and  “in accordance with regulations promulgated by the commission.” “The commission” that’s being spoken about is the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners, and it’s high time they pull the trigger on semi-auto rifles for big game.


The 2016 measure, HB263, which was enacted as 2016 Act 168 by Governor Tom Wolf, allows for the use of such firearms for hunting purposes. Specifically the statute states:

A semiautomatic rifle may be used to hunt game in accordance with regulations promulgated by the commission.

So what’s the holdup? That’s a great question.

According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission website, the commission is comprised of eight board members. Those board members are unelected executive bureaucrats who are appointed to their positions by the Governor. The legislative intent is already there, with the law stating the use of semi-automatic rifles is no longer verboten, as long as the commission comes up with the regulations. Specifically about the board, the site states:

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners is comprised of eight board members, each selected by the governor, and confirmed by majority vote of the state Senate. Title 34, the law that governs the Board, requires that each member be a citizen of the Commonwealth, and well informed about wildlife conservation and restoration. Commissioners are appointed from various geographical districts of the state to ensure uniform representation for all residents. Click here to learn more about the board.

The entire conflict on whether or not a semi-automatic rifle should or should not be used to take big game in the Keystone State has already been debated. It’s now just a matter of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. The commission actually started to address this very subject several years ago in 2019, but it seems they’ve dropped the ball.


With Pennsylvania in the stretch run of its first hunting season in which semiautomatic shotguns were permitted for big-game hunting, and semiautomatic rifles have been permitted for hunting small game and furbearers, the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today announced it will entertain a proposal to allow semiautomatic rifles for big game in the 2019-20 license year.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission is accepting public comment on the matter, which could be considered at the commissioners next quarterly meeting April 9. If voted upon and given preliminary approval in April, the measure could be considered for final adoption in July and put in place for the 2019-20 license year.

Written comments can be submitted by email to [email protected] up until the April meeting.

Like the proposal to move the opening day of the firearms deer season to the Saturday after Thanksgiving, which was given preliminary approval on Tuesday, the proposal to expand opportunities to hunt with semiautomatic rifles seeks to provide for the changing demographics of license buyers and their needs.

This seems like a no-brainer to finish executing what’s clearly the intent of the law. I reached out to the commissioners and Executive Director Bryan J. Burhans to see if they would weigh in on the topic.

I’m writing to inquire about the board’s position on the taking of big game using semi-automatic rifles. I’m a freelance writer for a number of publications that cover Second Amendment related news, and I’m currently looking into a 2016 law affecting the game regulations in Pennsylvania.

According to the 2016 law, it is the legislative intent for the commission to come up with rules and regulations governing the use of centerfire semi-automatic rifles to be used to take game, including big game. I would like to know what is the commission’s position on this, why these rules have yet to be implemented, and what’s the plan going forward to roll out regulations per the legislative intent?

I saw that in 2019 the commission was considering rolling out regulations consistent with the legislative intent of the law, but seem to have not followed through.

My readers would be interested in knowing the answers to those questions, as well as I welcome any other comments you may want to provide.


After receiving no reply, I did reach out to follow-up. This time I copied in the address formerly listed when the commission was seeking comments on the regulation change back in 2019, [email protected]. I received an automated reply from that address to that query.

This email account is no longer active.

You have reached the Pennsylvania Game Commission, your state wildlife agency. The agency is responsible for the management of the commonwealth’s wild birds and mammals, and state game lands.

General questions and comments on proposed hunting and furtaking seasons and bag limits, or other regulatory matters pending before the Board of Game Commissioners can be submitted here:

If you have a wildlife emergency or are witnessing a game law violation, please reach out directly to the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Centralized Dispatch Center at 1-833-PGC-HUNT or 1-833-PGC-WILD.

Thank you for sending an electronic mail message to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The agency values your input.

Given the perplexing nature of this dynamic and since the topic sat idle for years, I reached out to the President of Allegheny County Sportsmen’s League, Klint Macro, for his perspective on the situation. Macro is one of my trusted go-to’s when it comes to Pennsylvania related issues.

One of the goals of the PA Game Commission is to sell more licenses by bringing new hunters into the woods. Over the past couple years of government lockdowns, millions of Americans purchased AR-15’s to defend their families in their homes. These folks should not be excluded, if they want to feed their families by enjoying our Pennsylvania hunting heritage, just because of the type of firearm that they own.

This IS a 2A issue. If you hunt with a firearm, unless that firearm is borrowed, you are a gun owner first and a hunter second.

Freedom of choice is a fundamental American right. Every Pennsylvanian should have the right to choose which rifle they use to enjoy our proud hunting heritage.


Also kind enough to weigh in on the topic was Jack Iannantuono, the President of the Eastern Pennsylvania Firearms Committee. Iannantuono said of the status of the law, “The Eastern Pennsylvania Firearms Committee fully supports the approval of semi-automatic firearms for hunting big game in PA.”

The President of Firearms Owners Against Crime-Institute for Legal, Legislative and Educational Action, Jim Stoker, sent along his strong opinion on the subject.

It is the right of the individual to choose their tool for the hunt, and not the game commission’s place to tell any woman or man that the most purchased firearms action in America is unsuitable for it.  They were given the task by the general assembly to “regulate” its use in hunting, not given the authority to deny its use. And if we have to prove that in litigation, we will.

As appointed executives, it’s not their job to arbitrate that making such a rule would or would not be within the scope of what some people may or may not find favorable or fashionable. They were tasked with making rules, and they seem to be overstretching the scope of their powers through inaction. They haven’t made a rule to date to regulate the taking of big game via a semi-automatic rifle and is a dereliction of duties statutorily assigned to them.

As of the publication of this piece, queries to Executive Director Bryan J. Burhans, the individual commissioners, and another message sent through their web form have all gone unanswered.


This whole subject would be settled with the commission just doing their job –  and they can’t claim that this topic has not been brought to their attention, because it clearly has.

Through negotiated nudges from groups such as FIOAC, EPFC, and ACSL, an amicable agreement should be made that supports the legislative intent. Learning from Stoker that he and his group are ready to bring the matter to the courts should make the commission second guess their position, as they’d be wasting taxpayer’s dollars to defend a very indefensible stance.

Aside from being a dereliction of duty, this is a Second Amendment-related topic and as such, a civil liberty. When suits are brought predicated on the subversion of a civil right, if found liable, the defendants are responsible for the costs of the suit plus damages. Those Pennsylvania residents who feel they don’t have a horse in this race should be paying attention because there’s a financial burden here that’s being ignored. There’s the defending of the dereliction of duty, and in possible subsequent victories, legal fees and damages.

How Executive Director Burhans and the rest of the commissioners will handle the rulemaking going forward is anyone’s guess. They’re clearly not interested in communicating with inquiring minds about the topic. Pennsylvania residents who wish to see the rules instituted per the statutory obligation of the commission should probably reach out to them. 


This is just another example of bigotry and bias against the Second Amendment, scary black rifles, and liberty at large. This also shows the stonewalling that citizens fall subject to by the unelected. We’ll be following the status of Pennsylvania’s game regulations and report back with any changes or updates.

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