DEMKO: Another Pennsylvania deer-hunting tradition on its way out if this bill becomes law

The (Easton) Express-Times (TNS)
Pennsylvania hunters may soon have an online option to apply for antlerless tags.

Like sighting in your rifle, practicing with your bow and heading out for the opening day of the season, it’s one of the rituals that’s synonymous with white-tailed deer hunting in Pennsylvania.

Every July, thousands of sportsmen across the commonwealth start mailing in those pink envelopes that come with their hunting licenses, with the hopes of purchasing a doe tag or two through the state’s antlerless deer permit application process.

These big envelopes, and the cumbersome process of applying for an antlerless deer tag, have been around for as long as I’ve been hunting, which is now more than three decades. However, they may not be part of the deer-hunting picture for too much longer.

State Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, recently introduced Senate Bill 431, which would effectively allow the Pennsylvania Game Commission to accept applications for and sell antlerless deer permits via its online, automated licensing issuing system.

Antlerless licenses are currently issued by mailing in applications to county treasurers, or in select cases another designated issuing agent for that county. The treasurers then fill the requests until permits are exhausted. By the time hunting season starts, only a handful of the state’s 31 WMUs typically still have any permits available.

While it would seem that changing how antlerless permits are applied for and sold is something that could be done easily by the the game commission, since the agency actually allocates and sells the antlerless deer permits each year, the alteration actually must be made by the state legislature by updating the section of the Game and Wildlife Code (officially known as Title 34 of Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes) that covers rules and regulations concerning authorized license-issuing agents.

Laughlin, who was also instrumental in getting the Sunday hunting bill passed in 2019, noted the change would simplify the process for purchasing antlerless deer licenses.

“This bill takes advantage of current technology to make the system more convenient for Pennsylvania’s hunters,” he said. “Currently, hunters apply for antlerless deer licenses by sending an application to a county treasurer or similar applications in a timely manner. Because of recent updates to the Automated Licensing System, hunters can have access to a more convenient and efficient way of applying for and receiving hunting licenses.”

The 2021-22 general hunting licenses will go on sale June 14, with the first round of antlerless deer license application process set to begin July 12 for Pennsylvania residents and July 19 for nonresidents. Any hunter who wants to apply for a second doe tag can do so starting Aug. 2, and the third round of sales — for counties that still have permits remaining — will kick off Aug. 16. Over-the-counter sales at county treasurer’s offices, for any licenses then leftover at that point, will begin Sept. 13.

Automated system easier: As someone who has hunted in several states over the years, I can testify that applying for and or/purchasing deer permits via the automated license systems is much easier and efficient than the method currently in place in Pennsylvania.

In fact, a number of states such as Virginia and Maryland include the ability to harvest a specific number of antlerless deer as part of the general license or deer permit. In other states, such as New Jersey, antlerless harvest limits are set on a deer management zone basis, but the ability to harvest doe is included with the zone permit when you purchase one for the permit bow, permit muzzleloader or other season.

Not surprisingly, the game commission supports the legislative change allowing it to accept and fill applications for antlerless deer via its online system. When the agency announced on its Facebook page June 3 that hunting licenses will go on sale June 14, the post included the following:

“Tired of the pink envelopes? Contact your state representative or senator to support Senate Bill 431, which if passed, would allow for the sale of antlerless deer licenses at any issuing agent in the state, as well as online.”

Senate Bill 431 was approved by the Senate Game & Fisheries Committee on May 24 and now heads to the full senate for a vote at a to-be-determined date. If the legislation is ultimately passed, the ability to apply for and purchase antlerless deer licenses would be possible both via the Game Commission’s online license portal, as well as by visiting any approved license issuing agent, such as a sporting goods store or Wal-Mart.