State Casts Light on Nighttime Spotting
Frye, Bob, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
If you want to catch Todd Segner at this time of year, you have to do it early.
Come nightfall, he's in his truck, wandering back-country roads, creeping along the edges of fields and woodlots, looking for deer with a spotlight.
Deer, naturally more active at dusk and after dark, make their way out of the woods into fields then, revealing themselves in a way they don't during the day. That's when people like Segner -- and even non-hunters who just like to see deer -- go look for them.
"Ever since I was old enough to walk, my dad took me every time he went spotting. And now I'm into it more than he was," said Segner, a hunter from Indiana and member of the Indiana County Bow and Gun Club.
"I'd say pretty much all of the circles I run in, everybody has a spotlight in their truck. Those of us who are serious hunters, we all go out and look for deer and mark spots on the map where the big boys are. It's something that's been passed from generation to generation."
The question one state lawmaker is asking now, though, is whether spotlighting should remain legal.
State Rep. Marc Gergely, an Allegheny County Democrat, is a hunter and said he understands how popular spotting is. But he also believes the bad is starting to outweigh the good and is considering whether to either ask the Pennsylvania Game Commission to ban the practice or perhaps do so himself via legislation.
He sees three problems in particular.
First, spotlighting -- in an era when antler restrictions could be producing bigger bucks than ever before -- may be tempting more people into shooting deer illegally at night with a light, he said.
Second, that kind of crime is especially dangerous in urban communities, he said. The Game Commission restricts hunters in special regulations areas -- like Allegheny County -- to hunting deer with shotguns. But poachers shooting deer with the aid of a spotlight typically use rifles that send bullets much farther at faster speeds, he said.
Third and finally, problems associated with spotlighting can prompt private landowners to prohibit access to property that might otherwise have been open to ethical hunters, he said.
"I don't know if we need to talk about eliminating spotlighting just in special regulations areas first or the whole state, but the problems with it are painting all hunters with a bad brush," Gergely said. "I think this makes sense."
Others aren't so sure.
Shooting deer at night with a light was outlawed in Pennsylvania in 1935, when it became illegal to cast a light on big game while possessing the means of killing it. But that didn't eliminate it, said Tom Fazi, information and education specialist in the Pennsylvania Game Commission's southwest region office in Bolivar.
"Some guys just want to shoot a big buck, or shoot it before someone else does, by any means. It's just about greed," he said. "It's always been a problem."
There's no way to tell for sure whether it's worse now than in years past, said Game Commission spokesman Jerry Feaser.
"I'm not saying that's not accurate," he said. "We just don't have the data, per se, to validate that."
Rod Burns, a wildlife conservation officer for the commission in western Greene County who sees a lot of poaching each year beginning about this time, doubts that it's up now compared to five years ago, though.
And he's not sure a ban on spotlighting wouldn't do more harm than good.
"Would it save some deer? Definitely. But there are a lot of people who really like to go out looking for deer," he said.
"It's not even just hunters who do it. You get a lot of families who buy a spotlight, borrow a spotlight, even just use a bright flashlight. …