hunting license

As it seeks to double its license fees, The PA Game Commission says its hunting license is second-cheapest in the U.S. A closer look at the various license fees seems to indicate that's not true.

Quit your job.

Pack up all your worldly possessions and ship them off to Hawaii.

Make a home for yourself there.

And then, and only then, will you be able to purchase a resident hunting license that costs less than Pennsylvania’s.

That’s how the Pennsylvania Game Commission began a news release Sept. 4 in which it makes its case for basically doubling hunting license fees over the next five years.

The agency compiled a state-by-state chart of resident adult hunting license fees which placed Pennsylvania at the No. 2 spot on the low end.

To many hunters – including me – that just didn’t seem right.

Immediately, I thought of South Carolina, which charges its residents $18 for the basic hunting license, and Georgia, which charges $19.

Both are less than Pennsylvania’s $20.70.

The news release states the agency’s chart lists fees for hunting deer, small game, turkeys and migratory game birds. It doesn’t tell you that hunting must occur on public land.

Agency staff told me about the public land factor.

Well, that component hikes the Georgia license by another $19 and South Carolina’s by $30.50, since both states charge those fees to hunt public land.

But residents of those states don’t have to pay either fee to hunt private property. (Even in Pennsylvania, it’s estimated that 80 percent of all hunting is done on private property.)

And because of that, it seems a bit arbitrary for the Game Commission to include those fees.

It’s especially arbitrary if the agency isn’t going to spell out what many other states give their hunters for the fees listed that Pennsylvania hunters must pay extra to get.

A GOOD BUY

Let me say here, I think Pennsylvania’s hunting license fees are a bargain. The Game Commission owns 1.5 million acres of Game Lands, and aggressively adds more every year at a time when land prices are soaring.

Is any other state wildlife agency doing that? And without any general tax revenues?

But the license-comparison chart created by the Game Commission is titled “How does Pennsylvania rank in terms of cost for resident hunting privileges?”

Why didn’t the agency answer that question?

(I was told by agency spokesman Travis Lau that the privileges selected “cover the most hunters.”)

What is the full cost of “resident hunting privileges” here, and what do you get for those fees? How does that compare to other states?

MARYLAND COMPARISON

Pennsylvania’s $20.70 license gets you all the small game hunting you want, plus one deer tag for use during the two-week firearms season, one fall turkey tag and one spring turkey tag.

In Maryland, the basic license fee is $24.50. But that gets you at least two deer tags ‑ it’s 11 tags in more than half the state – one fall and two spring turkey tags and the right to hunt small game.

To equal that amount of hunting in Pennsylvania – using the two-deer scenario ‑ you’d have to add $6.70 for an antlerless license and $21.70 for the third turkey tag.

All of a sudden, Maryland’s $24.50 fee compares to $49.10 here in Pennsylvania when you match the hunting opportunities.

Is it fair to say you charge less for a pack of apples when your pack includes two apples at a cost of $5, while your neighbor charges $6 for a pack of six apples?

OTHER STATES

Let’s take a look at just a handful of states, and compare their resident adult license fees to Pennsylvania’s, while also examining what you get for those fees.

All of the licenses listed include small game and migratory bird hunting. I wanted to know what you’d pay – and what you’d get – to hunt those animals plus all deer seasons, and for turkeys and furbearers, since many states seem to include furbearers in the basic license fee. Pennsylvania does not.

That query covers all Pennsylvania resident hunting fees, except for the special licenses required to take antlerless deer, bears, otters, fishers and bobcats. Not all states offer hunting for all those animals, and not all states require extra payment for all antlerless deer.

In Georgia, residents pay $19 to hunt for two antlered and 10 antlerless deer, three turkeys and the right to hunt furbearers. (They also get two bear tags for no additional cost. To do all that hunting on Georgia’s version of our State Game Lands, they must add $19.)

South Carolina residents pay $23.50 to get several antlered and antlerless deer tags – the number varies across the state, but it’s a lot – three turkey tags and the right to take up to five furbearers. (To do all that hunting on our version of State Game Lands, add $30.50.)

North Carolina residents can pay $46 to take up to six deer and two turkeys, and for the right to hunt furbearers.

Maryland hunters now pay $50.50 for three buck tags, anywhere from two to an unlimited number of doe tags, three turkey tags, and the right to hunt furbearers.

In West Virginia, residents can pay $55 to hunt all deer seasons with two buck tags; they also get three turkey tags, and the right to hunt furbearers. (They can add two bear tags to their license for a total additional fee of $10.)

In New York, residents pay $62 for three deer tags, three turkey tags, and the right to hunt furbearers. (Plus, they also get a bear tag for no additional charge.)

Virginia residents can pay $92 to shoot five or six deer, depending on which part of the state they’re hunting, three turkeys and for the right to hunt furbearers. (Add $23 to do all that hunting on Virginia’s version of State Game Lands.)

In Pennsylvania, residents now pay $93.50 for one deer tag across all seasons, three turkey tags and the right to hunt furbearers.

Under the Game Commission’s fee-hike proposal, residents here within five years would pay $176.50 for one buck tag across all seasons, three turkey tags, a bear tag, and the right to hunt furbearers, small game and migratory game birds.

No doubt there are states where residents pay more than Pennsylvanians for similar hunting opportunities. But there’s clearly more than one where they pay less.

I didn’t examine all 50 states. But if the Game Commission wants to make the case for a license fee hike based partly on a comparison of its fees to other states, then it seems unfair to pick a few random fees, while ignoring others, and not mentioning at all what you get for your money.

Give hunters a full analysis of hunting license costs, and then let them decide if Pennsylvania deserves a bump based on the comparisons.

SURVEY SAYS...

On a related note, LancasterOnline two weeks ago launched a poll asking readers if they support the Game Commission’s proposed hunting license fee increase.

Since then, 495 readers have cast votes, and, by nearly a 4-1 margin, the answer is “No.”

A total of 382 said “No,” while 113 said “Yes.”