Pennsylvania Game Commission president says semi-auto hunting a ‘social issue’

AP Photo/Lisa Marie Pane

A few weeks ago I covered the plight of the Pennsylvania hunter. For years now, Pennsylvania hunters should have been permitted to hunt big game utilizing semi-automatic rifles, and they have not. There was legislation passed and enacted in 2016 that charged the Game Commission with writing the regulations to make this a reality. Shirking their duties for years, the Game Commission decided to lean on a poll they allegedly conducted. When I reached out to all the game Commissioners, NONE of them replied. I did get a message back eventually from the Executive Director of the Commission, Bryan Burhans, asking if anyone got back to me. Eventually Burhans was able to get me an official message from the commission and it’s rubbish.


If you recall, the 2016 law put into statute that, “A semiautomatic rifle may be used to hunt game in accordance with regulations promulgated by the commission.”

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.

What did the President of the Game Commission have to say concerning my queries about why they have not executed the legislative intent of the law yet? In my opinion, what I received looked a lot like a steaming pile of scat served up in an email. 


Mr. Petrolino,

Thank you for contacting the Game Commission regarding this issue. As mentioned in your correspondence, in 2016, the Pennsylvania General Assembly made amendments to Title 34, permitting the use of semi-automatic firearms through regulations established by the Game Commission. Following the enactment of Act 168, the Game Commission Board of Commissioners initiated the process of deliberating regulations that would authorize their usage.

Given the essentially social nature of this issue, as part of the regulatory procedure, the Game Commission conducted a survey among licensed hunters to assess their views on this matter. The survey revealed a broad spectrum of opinions regarding the use of semi-automatic firearms. A majority of license buyers expressed support for using semi-automatic rifles in furtaking, with 55% of respondents indicating their approval. The opinions were divided on their use for groundhog hunting, with 51% in favor, 37% against, and 12% undecided. Similar mixed sentiments arose regarding their use in small game hunting, with 44% in support, 46% against, and 12% with no opinion. However, a clear majority of hunters opposed their use in big game hunting, with 64% of license holders opposed and only 28% in favor.

Following a thorough review of these findings, in April 2017, the Board authorized the use of semi-automatic firearms for hunting furbearers, groundhogs, and small game. However, the Board refrained from permitting their use in big game hunting.

The Board’s approach to regulating semi-automatic firearms aligns with the legislature’s intent when they lifted the ban on their use. The legislature could have directed an immediate authorization of semi-automatics for all hunting seasons; but instead, the legislature empowered the Game Commission to exercise discretion in selecting seasons for their approval. Given that approximately two-thirds of Pennsylvania hunters oppose their use in big game season, we believe it would be an abuse of that discretion to authorize their use at this time.

Nevertheless, the Board acknowledges that opinion can evolve. If there is substantial support within the hunting community for revisiting this matter, the Board remains open to reconsidering the use of semi-automatic firearms when it is more acceptable to Pennsylvania’s hunters.

Kristen Schnepp-Giger
President, Pennsylvania Game Commission Board of Commissioners


Whoa! Schnepp-Giger is an unelected bureaucrat, let that sink in. This individual thinks it’s a “social” issue. What exactly is a social issue here? That she and the board are ignoring the legislative intent of the law, or that she just does not like scary black rifles?

The legislature did task the board with coming up with the regulations, which makes sense. To come up with the regulations…not ignore making the regulations. They’ve half-committed and are leaning on their survey as evidence that their actions are permissible – because this is a social issue. Residents of the Keystone State, you need to get with the Commission and give them a piece of your mind! This is not your representative and thus, not the arbitrator of truth nor maker of laws.

I reached out to my friends over at Firearms Owners Against Crime-Institute for Legal, Legislative and Educational Action about the correspondence. They are committed to ensuring that the legislative intent is met, and will resort to litigation if the Commission does not do what they were tasked to do in 2016.

“When the legislature voted to permit semi-auto centerfire rifles for hunting they did not task the PA. Game Commission with rethinking their decision.  They specifically tasked the game commission with REGULATING the process.  The arrogance of a commissioner acting as though they were tasked with deciding whether it should be legal or not is astounding.  The general assembly already spoke on this matter.  It is to be permitted with REGULATION, not remain prohibited over some meaningless survey about feelings.  It is the right of every hunter in this Commonwealth to make a choice.  And if we have to prove it with litigation it will be the Pennsylvania tax payer who is paying the price for their arrogance.” – Jim Stoker, FOAC-ILLEA, President


This is another example of how power-hungry people in positions of authority abuse that authority. We all know what’s going on here and it’s downright biased. Pennsylvania was founded on principles of liberty and freedom, not on Napoleonic ideals. There really is no valid excuse to not get the job done. I, for one, would have more respect for these hacks if they just outright said they don’t like the scary black rifles. I’m interested to see what may come of this subject over the next few months and I’ll be following this story for more possible updates.

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