deer in a field

White-tailed deer feed in a field.

Apparently, writing about Pennsylvania’s unique system for acquiring doe tags is akin to poking an exposed nerve.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about one local hunter’s failed attempt to secure a second antlerless deer license for the upcoming hunting season, and about his frustrations with the existing process.

In that article, I asked hunters to send me their thoughts about the system, and that opened the floodgates.

I received dozens and dozens of comments and stories – mostly from people who don’t like the current process, but there were a few who oppose changing it.

Diane Allison wrote that she only started hunting five years ago, and so she is somewhat new to Pennsylvania’s doe-tag process.

“I have thought from the very beginning that it was a very poor system,” she wrote. “The hoops you have to jump through are ridiculous. You have to use that crazy pink envelope, write up an application and then look up all the dates for the various rounds. Write a check to the county treasurer. It is onerous to say the least.”

Thomas Schneider wrote in that if a license distribution system were designed from scratch today, it would look nothing like the one that exists.

“The current system is cumbersome and antiquated,” he wrote. “It is totally illogical and would not be set up that way by any intelligent person today.”

For the uninitiated, here are the highlights of how the Pennsylvania Game Commission sells antlerless deer licenses:

•The Game Commission sets specific tag allocations for each of the state’s 23 Wildlife Management Units, based on deer populations and the quality of the habitat.

•The agency sets three rounds of dates establishing when hunters can apply for tags, which are awarded on what should be a first come, first served basis.

•Hunters mail printed applications to any County Treasurer’s Office in the state. State law dictates only County Treasurers can sell doe tags.

•Employees at those offices award licenses as they process applications and as long as allocations exist. Some offices process applications faster than others.

As many readers noted in their letters to LNP, there are a lot of hands involved in this doe-tag process once a hunter puts an application into the U.S. Mail.

And that means anything is possible.

Jim Schildt of Elizabethtown on July 30 mailed his application for a WMU 2G tag in the second round. He sent his application to the Clearfield County Treasurer’s Office “in an effort to support the local county treasurer where I do my PA deer hunting,” he wrote.

At the start of the second round, there weren’t many 2G tags left and Schildt knew his chances of getting one were slim, so he wasn’t surprised to learn that his application was rejected on Aug. 3.

However, he was surprised that it then took a month for his check to be returned, when it was postmarked for return on Aug. 4 at the Johnstown Port Office.

“From (Aug. 4) until (Sept. 1), at approximately 12:30 PM, the return envelope, which included my application and personal check was unaccounted for in the U.S. Mail,” he wrote. “My concern was that I did not want my personal checking account compromised.”

Schildt’s account wasn’t compromised, but the experience led him to believe, “the current system is outdated and procedurally incompetent, and requires a complete revision to deliver a customer-friendly, efficient and professional system that other states utilize,” he wrote.

While most hunters who wrote to LNP agreed the current system is a flop, suggested remedies for the situation varied.

Sell them all “over the counter,” John Myers wrote.

“Go back to selling doe tags by county,” Gerald Stofko suggested.

AJ Boyer said, “Buying a permit at license point-of-sale stores would be seamless and numbers of permit sales counted automatically. This would speed up the process for everyone and take mailing issues out of the equation.”

Weston Zimmerman said the current system is “stuck in the 1970’s.”

He suggests a “Simple online purchase. Eliminate the mail-in system entirely. Purchase whatever tags you can buy for your WMU right at the same time you are buying your license.”

While seemingly convenient, making doe tags available for purchase online at one time, some hunters wrote, could cause its own set of problems.

“My guess is if 750,000 hunters all applied by computer at the same time, the system would crash,” one hunter wrote.

Raymond Bates remembers when tags were put up for sale over the counter at County offices, and hunters lined up long before the offices opened to get their permits.

“It’s better to sell doe tags the way they always have,” he said. “If you sell them like you’re buying your regular hunting license, you’re going to have really long lines to get tags and hunters won’t get what they want where they hunt. It will just be a mess.”

I certainly recall heading to the Chester County Courthouse in West Chester back in the early 1990s around 4 a.m. to try to be first in line to get a doe tag. By the time the doors opened, it wasn’t uncommon for the line to wrap around the block.

Maybe by having a system that’s difficult to navigate, “you end up with (doe tags) going to the people who really want them and are likely to use them,” John Haydt wrote.

Tambra Stewart doesn’t see any problem with the current system.

“The system has worked just fine for years and years,” she said. “Leave the system alone. The lesson here is if you want things to go your way, be responsible and get your paperwork in on time.”

John Bledsoe also favors leaving the current system in place. But for a different reason.

“Just leave it alone,” he said. “Has worked for years, and if you mess with it, it will get worse.”