For those living on a farm or in rural, backwoods areas, it's not unusual to see a beam of light sweep across a darkened field during the overnight hours this time of year.
The lights often originate from a vehicle stopped or crawling on a bordering road. Objects of their search are the whitetail buck, prized by all deer hunters.
Spotlighting is legal until 11 p.m. year-round in this state except for those times when the two-week firearms deer season is open - Nov. 30 to Dec. 12 this year - and when extended firearms deer seasons are open in certain wildlife management areas. You can't have a firearm or bow and arrow in your vehicle when you're spotting at any time, and it's always illegal to shine your light on houses and other buildings.
The law also prohibits spotlights that would excite, frighten or harass livestock, poultry or other farm animals. Illegal spotlighting is punishable by a fine of $75 to $200 plus court costs. If the spotlight is used in an attempt to take game illegally, other penalties apply.
Rich Palmer, director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Bureau of Wildlife Protection, says the large-racked bucks, which get the adrenalin flowing for hunters, are more plentiful because of antler restrictions. In trying to limit the spotlighting, it would be hard for officers to determine whether someone shining a spotlight is legitimately looking for wildlife as a hobby or if that person is a would-be poacher casing the area for an illegal kill.
He feels a ban on spotlighting would eliminate that since the light would be an easy tip-off that something is going on.
Some county game commissioners feel spotlighting should be restricted, or banned altogether. Charlie Fox, an official from Bradford County, would like to see new rules to halt "spotting" during any deer season after hearing reports that poachers were using crossbows to shoot deer illegally at night early in fall, when spotlighting is legal. He said a ban on spotlighting could remedy that problem.
State lawmakers, not the commissioners, are the ones that can change the rules. Back in 2009, the issue was debated but no bill was introduced to ban spotlighting to curb poaching.
There are reported cases where spotlighting for deer have led to violent confrontations. Just last week, four people got into a fight over deer spotlighting in southeastern Pennsylvania. A 34-year-old man from York County was hospitalized after being hit in the head with a tire iron.
Police say the man and a 31-year-old woman were spotlighting deer when they were confronted by another couple from a nearby township. The male resident reportedly hit the male spotlighter while the women began fighting one another.
With the mountains, woodlands and miles of back roads and corn fields, we can expect to see Pennsylvania hunters scouting out territory for those elusive buck can act crazy since it's their rutting season. But as the recent York County incident shows, we should also be on alert for those hunters who, swept up by buck fever, can also act bonkers this time of year.
By Jim Zbick