Like many Pennsylvania hunters, Steve Thomas is not a fan of the system that’s in place for getting antlerless deer licenses – or doe tags, as they’re called.
“It’s just silliness,” the Lititz scientist said. “They’re has to be an easier way to do this.”
Thomas, 47, has long disliked Pennsylvania doe-tag process, but he was especially perturbed by it this year, when he didn’t get a second tag for Wildlife Management Unit 3A.
WMU 3A covers a skinny swath of land across the top of Pennsylvania along the New York border, with land in parts of McKean, Potter, Tioga and Bradford counties.
Thomas has been hunting from a camp in the Tioga County portion of WMU 3A for over 20 years, and so that’s where he tries to get doe tags.
HOW IT WORKS
In Pennsylvania, the state Game Commission only issues a limited number of antlerless deer licenses for each of the state’s 23 WMUs.
Those licenses are sold under a unique system that’s sort of first come, first served – but not absolutely.
Hunters mail applications in special pink envelopes to county treasurers’ offices over three rounds during the summer. They can mail in one application per round to get a maximum of three licenses outside the three “special regulations” units of 2B, 5C and 5D.
Several units sell out their allocations sometime between the first and third rounds, especially the units in Pennsylvania’s northern tier, where many hunters have camps.
So far this year, the three rounds of mail-in applications have concluded, and 11 WMUs had sold all of their doe tags as of early last week.
WMU 3A is among those that sold out. (WMU 5B, which covers most of Lancaster County, still had 5,800 for sale).
Tags that remain for sale can continue to be bought via mail until the allocations run out, or hunters can buy them over the counter at county treasurers’ offices beginning Oct. 5.
Hunters can mail their doe-tag applications to any of the state’s 67 county treasurers, regardless of where they plan to hunt. Treasurers offices are the only ones authorized to sell the permits.
As those offices process applications, the pool of available tags draws down.
To get the tags they want, hunters have to rely on the U.S. Mail to get their applications in to the treasurers’ offices promptly, and then on the office staff to process their applications swiftly and accurately.
In the past, there have been problems.
Erie County was publicly criticized a few years ago for slow handling of applications, and Allegheny County for inaccurate processing.
LANCASTER COUNTY'S SYSTEM
Lancaster County has long been seen as one of the fastest and most accurate counties for application processing.
Treasurer Amber Martin brings in a special team of part-time workers specifically to help process doe-tag applications quickly.
Hunters have taken notice of Lancaster’s efficiency. Last year, Martin’s office sold 31,613 licenses, which was more than any other county in Pennsylvania.
As of Aug. 17, the office had issued 25,254 doe tags for this year, according to Martin.
Under the system, dates are set for when county treasurers will begin accepting applications for each round of license sales. The trick for hunters is to try to have their applications arrive exactly on that date or maybe a day earlier.
If they arrive too early, they can be disqualified.
New rounds always begin on Mondays, and so hunters try to get their tags to arrive either Saturday or Monday.
After securing a WMU 3A tag in the first round of sales, Thomas mailed his application from Lititz on July 31 for the second round. He sent it to the Lancaster County Treasurer’s Office in Lancaster.
The first day of sales was Aug. 3.
Thomas checked the Game Commission’s website daily the week of Aug. 3, and watched license availability for 3A drop. It sold out before the end of the week, and he noticed the Lancaster County Treasurer’s Office awarded him a tag for his second choice – WMU 5B – on Aug. 7.
Had his application been processed Aug. 3, Thomas believes he would have gotten a WMU 3A tag.
It’s impossible to know what happened to a single application among the thousands Martin’s office processes she said.
But she has noticed that “mail seems to be taking longer to arrive at our office,” she said. “Changes are taking place at the post office and mail is not being received as quickly as in times past.”
So it’s possible Thomas’ application arrived after the WMU 3A allocation ran out.
Thomas doesn’t blame Martin’s office for him not getting his second WMU 3A tag. Rather, he blames the system.
Antlerless licenses are the only hunting licenses that cannot be directly purchased through the Game Commission’s electronic licensing system, which is available on the agency’s website and at thousands of authorized retailers across the state.
“It would be so simple if we could just get our doe tags just like we do our hunting licenses,” Thomas said.
“Now, we have to count on the Postal Service and the treasurer to get the tags we want. We have very little control over it.”
Since 1952, state law has mandated that county treasurers - not the Game Commission – are the only ones who can sell doe tags.
There have been calls over the years for that to change, but the County Treasurers Association of Pennsylvania has always opposed those calls.
The Game Commission has never lobbied for a change in law to give the agency authority to sell antlerless licenses, but officials have said the Game Commission’s licensing system could handle it.
In fact, at the summer meeting of the agency’s Board of Game Commissioners, Commissioner Charlie Fox asked staff to investigate ways the agency could conduct doe-tag sales without requiring hunters to mail in their applications.
He wants to see what a system would like without the county treasurers and without the U.S. Postal Service.
SHARE YOUR VIEWS
What do you think of Pennsylvania’s current doe-tag system? Do you love it? Do you hate it?
Let me know your thoughts by sending an email to PREILLY@LNPNEWS.COM.