Deer hunting in Pennsylvania just got a little easier, and it has nothing to do with regulations or firearms.
On Thursday, with about three weeks until Pennsylvania's firearm deer season, Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law a state Senate bill that will enable hunters to buy antlerless deer licenses wherever hunting licenses are sold, including over the internet. Previously doe tags could be purchased only from individual county treasurers' offices by postal mail or in person.
The law will go into effect with the sale of 2023-2024 hunting licenses, available in mid-June. Sponsored by Republican Sen. Dan Laughlin of Erie, chairman of the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee, the legislative agreement was years in the making. In September, the Senate approved Bill 431 by a vote of 45-5. Last week it passed in the House 127-24.
Part of the debate concerned the counties' cut of the profits. Counties get $1 from the sale of each antlerless deer license. That's a pittance in a county like Allegheny with a $1 billion annual budget. But in some rural counties where hunting tourism is vital, doe tag sales make up a significant portion of their annual income.
The National Deer Association joined the Game Commission in support of the law's passage, as well as the Pennsylvania Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen and Conservationists and others
Bryan Burhans, executive director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, suggested that removing the complicated county-based process will remove a lot of red tape.
"Our mission here at the Game Commission is twofold, to manage and protect wildlife and their habitats, but also to promote hunting and trapping for current and future generations," he said. "Modernizing how we sell antlerless licenses helps us achieve both."
Does are referred to as "antlerless" because nature is messy. Males born in the spring are not likely to have visible antlers in the fall. Some bucks lose their antlers prematurely, through an accident or didn't sprout them at all. It is not common among whitetails, but some deer with female organs grow antlers. To avoid hunter confusion, deer are considered antlered or antlerless.
Last year, hunters in Pennsylvania harvested an estimated 231,490 antlerless deer.
The current county-based system of doe tag distribution has been in place for about 40 years, a vestige of the days when wild animal populations were managed according to political divisions. In it, hunters had to first purchase a general hunting license (adult resident $20.97, nonresident $101.97) from any approved issuing agent or online. An antlerless license (resident $6.97, nonresident $26.97) could not be purchased at a licensing location or online. Applications had to be submitted only in a special pink envelope included in the Hunting and Trapping Digest, the rule book provided with the purchase of each general hunting license.