antlerless deer

A doe wanders through the woods in front of a trail camera.

Pennsylvania hunting licenses for the 2021-22 hunting year went on sale last week.

So that means it’s time to start thinking about doe tags. The process is a bit different this year, thanks to a change in the per-hunter tag limit.

It’s kind of complicated, so let’s dissect what used to be allowed before talking about what is now allowed.

(We are talking about regular antlerless licenses here – not deer management assistance permits.)

Prior to this year, an individual hunter could apply for and receive no more than three antlerless deer licenses anywhere in the state outside the Special Regulations Area wildlife management units.

Those are WMUs 2B, 5C and 5D.

In those units, a hunter could hold an unlimited number of licenses in addition to the three allowed for the rest of the state.

In applying for tags prior to this year, a hunter could mail in an application for one tag per round over three rounds.

However, if the hunter didn’t mail in for a tag in the first round, he could apply for two tags in the second round and so forth.

Also, that hunter could apply for as many tags as he wanted for the Special Regulations Areas starting in the second round.

Come Sept. 1 in prior years, a hunter could have three doe tags for non-Special Regulations Areas plus as many tags as he wanted for the Special Regulations Areas.

Now we come to 2021 and the new tags-rule changes.

First, the rules for applying for tags and per-hunter tag limits now apply statewide. There is no exception for the Special Regulations Areas.

A hunter can now hold up to six tags at one time, provided he can get them. As that hunter fills a tag during hunting season, he can then go to a county treasurer’s office and replace it in those units where tags still remain.

Technically, this system means that doe tags are now unlimited per hunter, but all hunters are limited by the tag allotments.

Each Wildlife Management Unit is allocated a set number of antlerless licenses, and once those licenses are sold in a specific unit, then no more sales can happen in that unit.

The first round of antlerless license sales will begin July 12 for Pennsylvania residents. County treasurers’ offices will begin processing applications on that day.

Nonresidents can begin applying July 19.

The second round of sales begins for everyone on Aug.2 and the third round begins Aug. 16.

Hunters can apply for one tag per round, including in the Special Regulations Areas. So come Sept. 1, a Special Regulations Area hunter can only have a maximum of three tags.

Over-the-counter license sales begin Sept. 13. On that date, treasurers’ officers will sell any leftover tags right there on the spot. Or, hunters can apply by mail for leftover tags beginning on that date.

So let’s assume a hunter has three licenses come Sept. 13. On that date, that hunter can buy up to three more licenses on the spot to reach the six-license personal limit.

If a hunter has no tags come Sept. 13, he can buy six on the spot.

Now there’s no question many units will be sold out come Sept. 13. But there will be several, including all of the Special Regulations units, that are sure to have leftovers.

What’s the purpose of these changes?

According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, this is to prevent antlerless licenses from going unsold.

In the past, there have been units with tags left after deer seasons ended under the three-tag-per-hunter limit.

“In WMUs where licenses remain, enabling more hunters to purchase antlerless licenses increases their opportunity and helps to achieve deer-management goals,” the Game Commissions states.

Let’s be honest. For most hunters in Pennsylvania, these changes change nothing for them. They’d get one, two or three licenses in the past, and fill maybe one or two of them.

Going forward under the new rules, they can still do that as they always have.

But this system will affect Special Regulations Area hunters who also like to hunt outside those areas.

For example, where they might have gotten three tags total between WMUs 2G and 3B, plus four or five for WMU 5C, now they have to prioritize. They can’t count on getting all four 5C tags at once starting with the second round.

They’ll have to figure which ones they want most, and apply for them through the three rounds of mail-in applications, and then hope they can get up to three 5C tags come Sept. 13.

The whole purpose in the past of allowing unlimited tags in the Special Regulations Areas in addition to the three tags outside those areas was to encourage those hunters who can access deer in the suburban Special Regulations Areas to take as many deer as possible.

The Game Commission determined through harvest records that 97 percent of Special Regulations Area hunters reported taking four or fewer deer. So only three percent of all hunters in those areas needed more than four licenses

I know many hunters in those areas who held more than four tags, but didn’t use them all. They got them every year just in case they needed them during the season.

It will be interesting to see how this new system affects tag sales and deer harvests in those units.

ELECTRONIC LICENSES

While we are on the topic of licenses, don’t forget that this year is the first year when you can use electronic licenses. That is, you don’t necessarily have to carry a paper license with you, if you’ve got an electronic version saved on your phone.

If you are hunting a species that does not require a harvest tag – such as small game and waterfowl - you can have just the electronic license. However, for big game and other animals that require harvest tags, you will need paper versions of those tags.

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