Hunting License Headaches 

We’ve been hearing quite a bit lately about the looming generational “cliff”, which will bring with it a consequent drastic drop in hunters over the next decade or two. Conservation societies and state game agencies are scrambling to find ways to recruit and retain hunters. I propose that one way that states could encourage new hunters is to make the licensing process less cumbersome. Some of these state systems are absolutely Byzantine.

Take for instance the state of Pennsylvania. I have lived elsewhere for over 25 years, but I was born in PA and we have family property there. Because of these roots, I have bought an out-of-state hunting license for PA for the past several years.

It is possible to at least apply and pay online, but they snail-mail the yellow license to you in a big envelope, rather than allowing you to simply print it out from your home computer. That seems like a huge waste of money and resources to me, but I have accepted it nonetheless.

This year I decided that I wanted a tag for antlerless deer. In my current home state, you can take an antlerless deer during archery season with no special provision other than the standard license and for rifle season the antlerless license is an extra ten dollars added to your online cart with everything else. But not in Pennsylvania – Big Nope.

In PA, you have to wait to receive your out-of state license package by snail mail, and then apply for an antlerless permit directly to the county treasurer of the county you want, specifying which Wildlife Management Area, using paper applications sent to you by snail mail in your license package. 

Now, bear in mind that WMA’s don’t go by county. There seems to be no geographical rhyme or reason for the boundaries on WMAs. The one I wanted contains pieces of four different counties. I had to page through the guide several times to figure out which WMA the property was in. I also found out as I was reading the fine print that there is a separate pathway to an antlerless permit for property owners, but that has to happen BEFORE the time period opens for the regular application process, so I was out of luck there. And since the property isn’t in my personal name, I might still have been out of luck.

Once you figure out your WMA then you then have to fill out the application “properly” including a second stamp for the tear-off return part in which the treasurer is supposed to send your license. That is, if the license number allotted for the WMA hasn’t already been reached and you have to specify a second or third choice. To make it even more confusing, you “can” send up to three applications in the same envelope, but there is no guarantee that everyone in your party will all actually GET a license. To top it off, when you make out the check to send along, you are supposed to make it out to “County Treasurer”. NOT “Union County Treasurer, NOT “Fayette County Treasurer” – just “County Treasurer”. I had to void a check before I figured that one out.

Are you confused yet? I sure was. How many advanced degrees does it take to figure out the application process for one antlerless deer license? There should be a less cumbersome way to deal with this. We do live in the computer age after all.

I also have hunting licenses for West Virginia and Maryland, due to wanting to hunt with friends on their property. I count the cost as “entertainment money” rather than “meat/grocery money”, and can justify the expense that way. I thus have first-hand experience with the licensing processes of three different states and can safely say that PA is the absolute worst of the three.

It seems to me that if they are truly interested in increasing the number of hunters one of the first things they should do is make the hunting license process less cumbersome. I do understand that conservation and management of the species comes “first”, but c’mon.  I don’t mind the money so much as I know it goes toward conservation, but I spent $166 including postage for a non-resident Adult Hunting Permit, a non-resident Archery Permit, and (hopefully) an Antlerless Deer Permit, all for the privilege of hunting on my own family property. You’d think for that amount of cash every year they would be working harder to make it “easy” for me to give them my money. It certainly doesn’t sound like a way to encourage more new hunters.

What is the licensing process like in YOUR state?