PA Hunting License Blunder

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Each year, mid-June brings excitement to people all across the nation. The sun is starting to shine, the weather is getting warm, and grills are firing up. For hunters in Pennsylvania, the main highlight isn’t the first day of summer, it’s the day that the annual hunting license goes on sale. This is followed by the time-old tradition of mailing in pink envelopes in an attempt to get an antlerless deer tag for the fall hunting season as well. This year, the Pennsylvania Game Commission changed all that by deciding to become more modernized in their licensing system and switch to doing everything online. This year, it was a complete disaster. 

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The PGC gave hunters plenty of heads-up that the new system would be happening, and most hunters were over-prepared for it. The pink envelope was no more, and now, you could buy your antlerless deer license right over the counter at the same time you bought your annual license. Hunters formed lines outside of stores and waited for hours to get in. Hundreds of thousands were online waiting in a queue to get into the site to buy their license. The thing is, Pennsylvania boasts roughly 900,000 license sales on average over the last 12 years, putting Pennsylvania as one of the top hunting states in the country. Now that people could buy an antlerless license on the first day, they became nervous that they had to get one right then and there before their favorite WMU (wildlife management unit) sold out of antlerless deer tags. 

I personally got into the queue around 10:30 AM and was 85,000th in line, with roughly 79,000 ahead of me still. The local sporting goods store had reported that their system was down as well and they couldn’t do any licenses for a couple hours. Their system was down due to the high volume of traffic on the new website to purchase licenses, as in-person sales and online sales used the same website now. Around 2:00 PM, I decided I’d try my luck and go in person to the store as they had reported the website was now up and running again. I waited in line for roughly 2 hours to purchase my license. The online portal had an option for it to email you when your turn was coming up to get access to the site. I got my email around 8:30 PM that night. That’s 10 hours that I was waiting in the online queue to get my license. 

In prior years, the opening day of sales was pretty laid back, as you had about two weeks to get your antlerless deer tag application in the mail in the famed pink envelope. Now while yes, I got my license, it was a struggle to get it this time. For those of us that rely on wild-game meat for sustenance throughout the year, I had to ensure I got my license that day. What are your thoughts on the new license system in Pennsylvania? What effects will we see from it? I think PGC will attempt to find a better solution for next year, however, when the average is 900,000 licenses per year, it’s very hard to find a way to control that type of traffic on the internet. Will this blunder cause an increase in poaching due to dissatisfaction with the new system?

Roughly 3 years ago, the average age of a hunter in Pennsylvania was 55, many of which were very traditional based on their mindset, heading to the store to get their license. I heard several disgruntled customers complaining about the new online sales and they were mostly older hunters. While I agree that Pennsylvania needed to get more modernized in its license system, I believe they could have found a way to make it easier for everyone for the opening day of sales. We will see if they make any changes to the non-resident sales day on July 10th, which averages 55,000 sales per year.

Update – July 13, 2023: It appears that the non-resident sales day went fairly smoothly. I attribute this to the lack of traffic on the website. The lack of negative posts in various social media groups supports this as well. With many doe tags left throughout the state, July 24th is the next date we may see a disaster happen again when the second round of doe tag sales goes live that day. The same thing may happen on August 14th when the DMAP (Deer Management Assistance Program) tags go on sale as well. These tags typically sell out within the first couple days, so I’m sure there will be a rush to get these tags as well. If you plan to hunt PA and want to get a doe tag, you better snag one now!

Gunnar Emberg

My love for the outdoors made its way into my home and onto my plate! I strive to make dishes that create a long-lasting memory that keep that animal living forever in your mind! To me, food is great way to bring everyone together for a common goal, to share the eating experience! I started The Hungry Huntsman as a way to teach people that these dishes are doable at home but also to travel as a camp cook to show people that anyone can do this!

2 thoughts on “PA Hunting License Blunder

  • I didn’t really have any issues getting my license or antlerless tags as none sold out the first day as far as I could see. I am a “older” hunter (61), but have worked in IT my entire career so technology and the limitations at times don’t cause panic.

    I happened to have a major work event that day so I didn’t/couldn’t watch the queue all day or wait in line – which I would have done neither anyway. I got in the queue the first day at 9:30 at night and before 9:50 my transaction was successfully completed.

    With the first day of unsold antlerless tags, I got in the queue at 10:15 in the morning and had my transaction completed by 10:45. I saw some units sold out that morning and at least one a day or 2 before.

    I’d rather be able to purchase this way – as I do licenses for NJ and Colorado, and have used in the past for my PA license (I don’t go to the store) – than with the pink envelopes that go into the “black hole” of County Treasurer’s and you have no idea if/when you might get your license. The county treasurer where I live is notoriously slow so I could be 85,000 in line and never know.

    As with any IT solution, optimizations and improvements should be continuous to make it easier for the user. I’ve used similar queue solutions for signing up for the Total Archery Challenge and other things. The queuing systems actually prevent the unmitigated disasters.

    One suggestion I would have is to separate the first day of general license sales from the first day of antlerless license sales. It takes far longer to purchase the general license if you get multiple options than to purchase the antlerless license. This longer purchase time directly increases queue time. Also on the first day of antlerless sales, I would run those who didn’t already get a general license through a different queue so those only buying antlerless tags can move faster. Yes, it could be viewed as a penalty for the procrastinators. If you separate the general license sales first day from the first day of antlerless by 2 weeks, that should help with the panic and the length of the queues.

    In my opinion, this was not an unmitigated disaster and I prefer it over the old “system”.

  • Brian Deneen

    The only license blunder I’ve seen is the Game Commission over selling antlerless tags in order to decimate the overall deer population to control CWD. The CWD “thing” has been useful as a tool to wipe out the deer herd in the name of management. I’ve spoke to numerous hunters from zone 4a and none of them have found as much as one dead deer afield that they could attribute to CWD. No carcasses, no remains, nothing. CWD may be present in 4a but I have to question the severity of it. I hunt private property and I am use to seeing as many as 40 plus deer a day. I hunted everyday this year and saw an average of 4 deer per day. I have been hunting PA for 50 years and this is the worst I’ve seen.


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