Pa. Game Commission proposes ‘unlimited’ antlerless tags for deer hunters statewide

MARK DEMKO
The (Easton) Express-Times (TNS)
The Pennsylvania Game Commission is considering a proposal that would allow hunters to purchase of "unlimited" antlerless tags.

Year-in and year-out, Pennsylvania’s deer hunters look forward to July, which marks the start of the antlerless deer license application process.

This year, they may need to pay close attention to the process, especially if they apply for more than one or two permits, since the state is considering revamping it to allow for the purchase of "unlimited" antlerless tags statewide.

Pennsylvania’s antlerless deer license quotas are set annually to help manage white-tailed deer herds across the state on a Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) basis. And while most WMUs sell out each year, one or two units always have tags remaining well into the season. For example, the Pennsylvania Game Commission reports, some 16,000 permits were still available in November in WMUs 2A and 4A in the western part of the state.

Under current regulations, hunters may not possess more than three antlerless deer tags unless they are hunting in WMUs 5C, 5D or 2B. In those three WMUs only, any leftover tags have historically been made available to the public on an ‘unlimited’ basis via mail-in starting the first Monday in August and over the counter starting at the end of that month.

Under the new "unlimited" proposal, which will be considered at the game commission meeting on Saturday, sportsmen will be able to hold up to four antlerless tags at any one time. In addition, it would be possible for a person to procure a fifth tag if they harvest a deer and officially report the animal via the commission’s registration system, making them eligible to purchase an additional tag from a WMU that still has antlerless deer licenses available.

According to the commission, this proposed new allocation method “maintains equitable and fair distribution of antlerless licenses, and importantly, also helps ensure that the quota of antlerless licenses set by the commission for each WMU is issued to the fullest extent possible, thus supporting its deer management goals. This new process will simplify the antlerless deer license regulations by applying the same distribution rules to all WMUs across the board.”

If the proposal is approved, sportsmen will be able to purchase one antlerless permit per mail-in period, with ‘unlimited’ over-the-counter sales in all WMUs that still have tags available beginning the second Monday in September. One big change of note for sportsmen who historically have purchased tags for WMU 5C, which encompasses much of the Lehigh Valley, and WMUs 5D and 2B, is that mailing in for unlimited antlerless deer licenses will no longer be an option.

Historically, sportsmen were able to apply for and receive an unlimited number of tags starting with the first ‘unsold’ round of license sales ( Aug. 3 this past year). Under the new proposal, however, they would only be able to apply for one permit per mail-in application period, with the only way to purchase ‘unlimited’ tags being to appear in person at a county courthouse starting the second Monday in September.

More Sunday opportunities: Another big change to be considered by the commission is the expansion of Sunday hunting opportunities, not in the number of days – which must be enacted through a legislative change – but in the types of game sportsmen can pursue on the state’s three legal Sunday hunting dates.

For 2021, the commission is proposing allowing sportsmen to pursue squirrels, ruffed grouse, rabbits, ring-necked pheasant, woodchucks and other game species that are in-season on the proposed Sunday archery deer hunting day Nov. 14 and the proposed Sunday firearms bear hunting date Nov. 21. These regulations changes would also create a second Sunday of archery deer hunting Nov. 21 in WMUs 5C, 5D and 2B, where the archery deer season continues through the day after Thanksgiving.

If these changes are given preliminary approval at the commission’s January meeting, they will then vote on final approval at their next meeting in April.