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Archers are excited about getting back to hunting on airport land

| Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Long-time friends Peter Fick, 70, (right) of Neville Island and Mark Panko, 69, (top right) of Coraopolis get their permits from airport safety admintrator Paul Saxon (left) and safety manager Scot Ben (second from left) at the Allegheny County Airport Authority offices that will allow them to hunt deer on Pittsburgh International Airport property. Fick and Panko were two of the 157 people picked out of the almost 3,000 hunters who applied for the special permits. They’ve been hunting together since the 1960s.
James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Long-time friends Peter Fick, 70, (right) of Neville Island and Mark Panko, 69, of Coraopolis look over the hunting map of the Pittsburgh International Airport while picking up permits at the airport authority offices that will allow them to hunt deer on airport property. Fick and Panko were two of the 157 people picked out of the almost 3,000 hunters who applied for the special permits. They’ve been hunting together since the 1960s.

The hunters picking up their permits to bow-hunt deer on airport land felt lucky to get one, but two longtime friends felt particularly fortunate.

“We've been wanting to hunt in there for years,” Peter Fick, 70, of Neville said on Monday at Pittsburgh International Airport. He and Mike Panko, 69, of Coraopolis have been friends since the sixth grade and began hunting together in the 1960s.

Nearly 3,000 people applied for permits to hunt on more than 2,300 acres west of the airport between Saturday and Jan. 11. The Allegheny County Airport Authority picked 157 “winners” during a public random drawing on Sept. 26, meaning Fick and Panko beat long odds to both snag one.

Panko said they hunted in the area years ago, before construction of the airport in the early 1990s and other development reduced access.

“After 9/11 is what put the real damper on it,” he said.

One of the main attractions is the likelihood of finding larger deer.

“Any time you haven't had a lot of hunting in the area, you have a chance to get a quality animal,” Panko said.

Manny Martinez, 52, of Imperial said that's what led him to apply for a permit.

“Just the possibility of what you might call a ‘monster' buck makes it too enticing to pass up,” he said.

Tom Fazi, education officer for the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Southwest Region, said that's part of the attraction for hunters whenever an area is opened to hunting.

“That area is known to produce large deer anyway,” he said. “We've always had big deer come out of Allegheny County.”

The authority set up the pilot program to determine whether hunting can thin the deer population on the airport's land. The hunting area is separated from the runways and terminal by no-hunting areas and the Parkway West.

When the hunters pick up their permits, they are given a map and briefed on areas where hunting is prohibited, including Findlay's community park and the Montour Trail spur that leads from the airport to the main hiking and biking trail.

Several of the hunters have asked permission to bring along people who would help them put up tree stands and carry out deer, said Scot Ben, a safety manager.

Authority spokesman Jeff Martinelli said the authority is working on a policy that accounts for the needs of permit holders but keeps the program “fair for the people who didn't get a permit.”

The main concern is that people will bring in helpers who actually are additional hunters, he said.

Ben said several of the younger permit holders have volunteered to help other permit holders with stands and deer.

So far, 83 people have picked up their permits and two have declined. It's possible that other people will decline or fail to pick up their permits, Martinelli said. In the latter case, the authority will attempt to contact them to see whether they are still interested, he said.

The authority randomly selected 40 numbers for an alternate list during the lottery and will offer unused permits to those people in the order that they were drawn, he said.

The permit holders still have to follow all state hunting regulations, including the applicable seasons for hunting bucks and does in Wildlife Management Unit 2A, which covers the hunting area on the airport's property.

Michael Bossola, 40, of Richland said he hasn't hunted on the land before but has checked out aerial maps.

“From what I hear, it's pretty deer-populated,” he said.

Like the other hunters, he plans to hunt in other areas as well, but the opening of a new archery-only area was particularly welcome.

“I'm a big archery hunter. That's all I do,” he said.

Fazi of the game commission said he hopes the program is a success and that the airport will expand it in the future.

“Any time we can get more access to hunters, it's a good thing,” he said.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or

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