Pheasant permit may be required of junior hunters

HARRISBURG (AP) — This probably won’t be controversial. Free rarely is.

Last year, Pennsylvania Game Commissioners created a $25 pheasant hunting permit and required it of adult hunters — all adult hunters — pursuing agency-stocked pheasants.

That included senior lifetime license holders.

That caused more than a bit of consternation. Seniors who thought the commission was breaking a contract with them complained to lawmakers, and at least one introduced a bill to exempt them from the pheasant permit.

That hasn’t gone anywhere, and unless that changes, seniors will need to buy a permit again in 2018-19 if they want to chase ringnecks.

Junior hunters likely will need to get a permit, too.

At their recent meeting, commissioners gave preliminary approval to a proposal requiring junior hunters to get a pheasant permit.

Theirs, though, will be free. Even the add-on fees associated with all licenses — the $1 issuing-agent fee collected by the license seller and the 90-cent transaction fee collected by the operator of the license sales system — will be covered by grants, said Randy Shoup, chief of the commission’s bureau of wildlife protection.

The reason for creating the permit is simple: information.

Commissioners said the idea is to “quantify the number of youth participating in pheasant hunting annually.”

That’s an unknown right now.

Prior to the 2017 pheasant season, estimates of the number of pheasant hunters were just that: estimates.

It now has a hard figure, though. The agency sold 42,767 permits.

That information is as valuable as the nearly $1 million in revenue the stamps generated, said one long-term agency employee turned outsider.

“You finally replaced estimates of hunters with real numbers. What you have done is provided data where there was none,” said Dennis Duza, a retired commission employee who first pushed for creation of a pheasant permit.

Creating a youth permit would provide still more information, he said.

“This is a good move, as once again it allows managers to secure actual data instead of relying on estimates,” he said.

Others support the junior permit, too.

Harold Olay, president of the North Central PA Chapter of Pheasants Forever, said his membership has discussed the idea of a free permit and supports it so the commission can get more details on just how many junior pheasant hunters are out there.

There’s even a chance the permit could bring in money to the commission.

If it can show how many junior bird hunters it has, that data “might entitle the agency to additional funding for its pheasant program through federal hunter recruitment funding initiatives,” a commission release said.

The junior permit is not a done deal. Commissioners must give the idea final approval.

That’s expected, though, likely as early as the board’s next meeting in April.

Some changes — not yet revealed — could be coming to the pheasant program.

But in the meantime, commissioners say they’re happy with how it’s working out.

Early on, the commission estimated it might sell 60,000 pheasant permits, said commissioner Jim Daley of Butler County. But that figure was floated when the board still was debating whether to require junior hunters to buy a $25 permit.

They rejected that idea last year, he said. But the estimate on sales never reflected that.

“The thing is, when that projection was made, there was still the junior pheasant stamp in play, which would have been 15,000 or more people. So once that came off, nobody said, ‘Oh, well that 60,000 isn’t right anymore,’ “ Daley said.

So the projections were actually “pretty accurate,” he said.

Commissioner Brian Hoover of Chester County expects participation to pick up, too.

“I think not getting all of the people involved the first year was a little difficult. But I think we’ll see that number increase as we go on,” he said.

Commission president Tim Layton of Somerset County agreed. All of the hunters he’s heard from — who actually bought a permit and went hunting this past fall — were satisfied with the hunting, the birds and the season, he said. The ones he heard from were all “extremely happy with everything that happened this year.”

“I don’t recall a complaint,” Layton said.

As they talk about the pheasant program, others will want to experience the hunting themselves, he said.

Bryan Burhans, executive director of the commission, said the importance of the permit can’t be understated. It costs money to raise and stock birds, he said.

“This helps us carry that program forward and secure the program,” Burhans said.