Antlerless deer

Two does are captured on a trail camera sneaking through the woods.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission is “guaranteeing” at least one doe tag to most resident deer hunters, in the Wildlife Management Unit of their choice, for the 2024-25 season.

The agency can make such a promise, officials said, due to changes in the way antlerless deer licenses will be distributed this summer.

The hope of this guarantee and planned system changes is to avoid the rush and subsequent long waits hunters experienced last year on the first two days antlerless licenses went on sale.

Last year was the first year licenses were sold online through the Game Commission’s licensing site and over the counter at retailers across the state, rather than through county treasurers offices, as had been the case for decades.

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On the first day of sales, hunters flocked to the Game Commission’s site and to retailers for the 8 a.m. start, and the electronic licensing system quickly bogged down, leaving many hunters waiting for hours to buy their licenses.

The worry among hunters was that, if they didn’t get in line at the start of sales, they wouldn’t get a doe license in the WMU of their choice, since doe tags are sold first come, first served, and WMU license allocations are limited.

What the Game Commission learned is that tags in WMUs 2G, 1B and 3A sold out the fastest. In the other units, there was no need to rush to buy tags, because there were plenty to go around.

But everyone rushed to buy anyway, which caused the backup.

So this year, tags for WMUs 2G, 1B and 3A will go on sale before all other units. And in these units, where competition for tags is the fiercest, the Game Commission is not guaranteeing tags to resident hunters.

Tags for WMUs 2G, 1B and 3A will go on sale beginning at 8 a.m., June 24. They will remain on sale to resident hunters alone for three days.

Beginning at 8 a.m. June 27, tags in the other 19 WMUs will go on sale to resident hunters only.

Each hunter can buy only one tag in this first round.

Nonresident hunters can begin buying their first tags at 8 a.m. July 8.

As long as resident hunters apply for antlerless licenses before nonresident sales begin, “they’ll be guaranteed to get one” in the unit of their choice - except 2G, 1B and 3A - Game Commission officials stated in a news release.

The competition for tags in 2G, 1B and 3A essentially will be as hot as it was last year, since only 2G saw a slight increase in its tag allocation.

WMUs 1B and 3A will have 37,000 and 21,000 antlerless licenses up for grabs this year, which is the same number each received last year.

WMU 2G will have 37,000 licenses available, which is 2,000 more than last year.

In the remaining 19 WMUs, ten will have more licenses for sale this year, while allocations will remain the same as last year in the other nine.

The allocation for WMU 5B, which covers nearly all of Lancaster County, is 67,000, which is up from 60,000 last year.

The allocation for WMU 5C, which covers the remaining sliver of Lancaster County that’s not in 5B, plus parts of several counties to the East, is 79,000, which is up from 70,000 last year.

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So how can the Game Commission guarantee a license to any resident seeking a license in any of the WMUs that aren’t 2G, 1B and 3A?

Travis Lau, the agency’s spokesman, said data shows that license allocations in those 19 WMUs historically last beyond the first round of sales.

“There is an extremely low probability of selling more than the allocated number of licenses in any of these WMUs, because available licenses outnumber the people who have lined up for them in the past,” he said.

“In each guaranteed WMU, the allocation exceeds the number of unique resident license buyers on record in those WMUs.”

The goal of the license guarantee and separating the three most-sought WMUs from all others is to hopefully ease the pressure on the electronic licensing system in the early days of license sales.

Why stand in line at a store, or sit in a queue online, for an extended period if you know you can wait a couple days and still get your license?

“For the hunters seeking a guaranteed license, I can’t see many willing to stand in long lines when they know they don’t have to,” Lau said.

“Especially for licenses in WMUs that always make it to a second or third round.”

Last year, when sales were open to all WMUs starting at 8 a.m. the first day, the Game Commission sold about 275,000 doe tags the first two days.

This year, only 93,000 in the three separated WMUs will be up for grabs the first three days.

Then, once sales in the other 19 WMUs open to resident hunters only, those 93,000 hunters will be out of the pool of applicants, and all other hunters will know they have 11 days to buy their licenses in units with ample allocations before nonresident sales begin.

Even with these measures, though, it’s likely there still will be pushes of large numbers of hunters seeking antlerless licenses through the multi-round process.

The new measures announced by the Game Commission only address the first round of sales.

There are four rounds of sales scheduled, with the second beginning at 8 a.m. July 22, the third at 8 a.m. Aug. 12 and the fourth at 8 a.m. Aug. 26.

Hunters can buy one tag in each round. Then, starting with the fourth round, hunters can buy however many they want without exceeding the personal holding limit of six.

The free-for-all rush on the electronic licensing system is sure to return for the second and third rounds of sales as allocations dwindle.

Lau said improvements to the licensing system have been made since last year to hopefully handle such rushes.

“Going back to last year, there have been a lot of adjustments along the way that have made the system better,” he said. “More recently, we have pinpointed through testing specific areas where we could scale up the server environment.

“So yes, the system is improved and we are working to improve it further.”

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