- Associated Press - Saturday, September 10, 2016

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Changes are in store for Pennsylvania hunters taking to the state’s 1.5 million acres of game lands this season, including new and canceled programs offered by the state Game Commission.

During the 2015-16 season, 937,000 hunters purchased licenses or mentored permits in Pennsylvania, a slight decrease from the previous year.

More than 10 percent of that number was from female purchasers, with 96,555 licenses or mentored permits bought by women or girls, according to game commission licensing statistics.

A look at some of the changes in store for Pennsylvania hunters this season:

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LEAN BUDGET

A tight budget has the state Game Commission monitoring its spending.

The Game Commission does not receive an allocation rom the state’s general fund like other state agencies, but is funded through hunting and trapping licenses, a portion of the federal excise tax collected on sporting arms and ammunition, among other revenue.

The commission is considering a future increase in hunting and furtaker license fees.

Officials say the commission has cut back with laid off full-time workers and part-time staff, placing construction projects indefinitely on hold, freezing equipment purchases and waiting to recruit a new class of wildlife conservation officers.

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DEER HUNTING CALENDAR

For deer hunters, statewide archery season starts Oct. 1, although in some limited areas it begins two weeks earlier on Sept. 17.

The general statewide deer rifle season starts on Nov. 28 and runs through Dec. 10.

Game officials say it’s important that hunters know the season for the game they are seeking, the type of weapon they are using and the wildlife management unit where they will be hunting.

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CANCELED GAME LANDS TOURS

The Pennsylvania Game Commission has canceled its autumn driving tours because of financial constraints.

Commission officials said the free tours have been popular with the public, but are currently too costly for the commission to operate. The tours create personnel costs for planning, preparing and hosting the tours, they said.

Officials say the 17-mile tour through State Game Lands 211 in Dauphin and Lebanon counties and the 28-mile circular tour through State Game Lands 12 in Bradford County attracted thousands of people each year.

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DRONE BAN

People are prohibited from operating, controlling, launching and retrieving drones on Game Commission-controlled property, unless given approval in writing for specific exceptions by the commission’s executive director.

Game commission officials said they have seen an increase in the number of cases where recreational drone flying has “caused concern for wildlife.” Staff reported at least five instances where wildlife was disturbed during the snow-goose migration season and drones were also reported as flying too close to bald eagle nests.

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ELK CAM

The game commission has installed a camera in a field on State Game Lands 311 in Elk County for people to watch elk from their homes.

Officials say the area typically attracts thousands of visitors for the heightened elk activity during bugling season.

The camera live streams video and sound on the Game Commission’s website.

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DISABLED VETERANS HUNTS

The Game Commission’s executive director will designate one shooting day at the Pymatuning and Middle Creek wildlife management areas as open only to veterans with disabilities.

Pymatuning will hold a Veterans With Disabilities Hunt in the 2016-17 season, and Middle Creek is expected to hold its event once its pit blinds are made wheelchair-accessible. Disabled veterans are encouraged to apply for the random drawing.

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