PITTSBURGH (TNS) — Deer hunting in Pennsylvania got a little easier, and it has nothing to do with regulations or differents.
About three weeks until Pennsylvania’s different deer season, Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law Thursday a state Senate bill that will enable hunters to buy antlerless deer licenses wherever hunting licenses are sold, including over the internet. Previously doe tags could be purchased only from individual county treasurers’ offices by postal mail or in person.
The law will go into effect with the sale of 2023-24 hunting licenses, available in mid-June. Sponsored by Republican Sen. Dan Laughlin of Erie, chairman of the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee, the agreement was years in the making. In September, the Senate approved Bill 431 by a vote of 45-5. Last week it passed in the House 127-24.
Part of the debate concerned the counties’ cut of the profits. Counties get $1 from the sale of each antlerless deer license. That’s a pittance in a county like Allegheny with a $1 billion annual budget. But in some rural counties where hunting tourism is vital, doe tag sales make up a significant portion of their annual income.
The National Deer Association joined the Game Commission in support of the law’s passage, as well as the Pennsylvania Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen and Conservationists and others
Bryan Burhans, executive director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, suggested that removing the complicated county-based process will remove a lot of red tape.
“Our mission here at the Game Commission is twofold, to manage and protect habitat and their habitats, but also to promote hunting and trapping for current and future generations,” he said. “Modernizing how we sell antlerless licenses helps us achieve both.”
Last year, hunters in Pennsylvania harvested an estimated 231,490 antlerless deer.
The current county-based system of doe tag distribution has been in place for about 40 years, a vestige of the days when wild animal populations were managed according to political divisions. In it, hunters had to first purchase a general hunting license (adult resident $20.97, nonresident $101.97) from any approved issuing agent or online. An antlerless license (resident $6.97, nonresident $26.97) could not be purchased at a licensing location or online. Applications had to be submitted only in a special pink envelope included in the Hunting and Trapping Digest, the rule book provided with the purchase of each general hunting license.
This year, still under the old system, tags for Pennsylvania residents were decided in a drawing July 11. A drawing for nonresidents was held July 18. Doe tags that were not sold were vended in a first-round drawing Aug. 1. A second-round drawing was held Aug. 15. Doe tags that were still available could be purchased starting Sept. 1, but only in person at each county treasurer’s office.
“Allowing for the sale of antlerless deer hunting licenses through other means such as online or through the PGC’s Pennsylvania Automated Licensing System [will] make it far more convenient for hunters,” Laughlin said.
Details about the sale of new antlerless deer licenses haven’t been hashed out, he said. But under the new law, hunting ages and license fees will not change. Doe tags may be sold at all hunting license sales locations, online through the HuntFishPA automated licensing service and through county treasurers.
To help keep tabs on local deer populations, successful hunters are encouraged to submit deer harvest reports, and deer processing stations are required to document the number of males and females butchered each year, as well as fetuses discovered.
Game Commission biologists use science-based deer counts, habitat availability, recent harvest trends and some conjecture to determine the number of does they believe should be eliminated from each wildlife management unit. The number of antlerless licenses annually allocated to each management unit is based on those estimates. Allocations are raised, lowered or kept the same to build the desired population density.
Statewide, 948,000 antlerless deer licenses were assigned in 2022-23, up from 925,000 the previous year. All of the antlerless licenses assigned in Pennsylvania this year have been sold, except in three WMUs.
(c) 2022 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette