by Dave Fisher
For the first time in the history of Pennsylvania, rabbit hunters will be able to hunt until the last day of February 2002! What's even better is that the cottontail season will also reopen immediately after deer season on December 10th, 2001 almost a full five weeks more of hunting. It has been a long time in coming and I want to thank everyone that has helped in this endeavor. For me it has been a 12 year campaign, and to be honest, there were times when I thought this might never take place.
This year, I took a more aggressive approach when I visited and spoke at the Game Commission Meeting in Harrisburg, on Jan. 22nd. I made a pitch as usual, and had Deputy Executive Director Mike Schmitt pas out a signed copy of one of my books to every Commissioner and officer. I signed each one, "In quest of a longer cottontail season!" I also made it a point to speak one-on-one during breaks and lunch to as many of the Commissioners that would listen. At least four listened with interest. The Game Commission has about 6 or 8 full-time biologists on staff for various species. I simply told them, "I know more about rabbits than anyone in this room." And I believe I do, probably many out there that have hunted rabbits for years would say the same. Who knows rabbits better than a rabbit hunter. In the dead of winter I can tell you if my dogs are running a female or male rabbit even before we kill it. Can a biologist?
I was also, armed with a very good article written by Ben Moyer, Editor of PA Sportsman Magazine, about my efforts over the years, and more importantly it contained pertinent facts from Mr. Steve Wilson, West VA DNR biologist. Mr. Wilson, gave good solid reasons why hunting rabbits in February has little effect on the repopulation and why his state has allowed it for many, many years. Other states around PA, like NY, OH, MI have also had this longer season for years. My closing line in my talk was a quote from Mr. Wilson who said; "If the PA Game Commission won't allow the hunters there to hunt rabbits until the last of February, end them down here, we'll sell them a non-resident license in a hurry!"
I told the Game Commission that this was a shame and I should not have to go and spend $50 in NY or $130 in WV (as I do) to extend my hunting, when I live in the greatest hunting state in the east.
This year I had help from two specific Commissioners, Mr. Steve Mohr, and a new Commissioner Mr. Bob Schleiden. Both were in favor of the longer season, and Commissioner Mohr brought up the proposal to lengthen the season and the new dates. Also, new Commissioner Roxane Palone is from a small town here in the southwest where I hunt, and I think she was sympathetic to a longer season.
Why did all this happen this year? Well, I think it was a combination of a lot of things, and it didn't happen overnight. The Game Commission knows that they have to keep opening up hunting opportunities for young and all hunters to keep them on the roster. Pennsylvania has now retaken the lead in the total number of hunters, of all the states, with 1,066,032. [Texas - 987,837; Michigan - 920,473; Wisconsin - 769,837; New York - 698,844 make out the rest of the top five] Also, over time, as I have explained to them many times, they have come to see that there is no good biological reason NOT to extend the season! I think they finally come to realize this. Also, the expanding deer population in PA has also worked to the rabbit hunters' advantage. In the year 2001, for the first time ever, there will be no traditional "doe" season following buck season. Doe deer or antlerless animals will be taken several times earlier in the year, and during the entire two weeks of buck season!! Which means deer season will close on Dec. 10th! Final approval of all this came in April 2001.
This is a tremendous personal victory for myself, because I have put so much time and effort into it over the years, driving to Harrisburg in snowstorms, spending hundreds of dollars in gas, and countless hours at the computer writing letters and thousands of phone calls. I would come away from some of the meetings very discouraged. But I am excited now! Next, February 28th, with the Lord's help, I and all of those who choose to, will be hunting rabbits! Praise The Lord, it's been a long time coming!