State's Most-Popular Deer Hunting Season opening soon

Deer gun hunting season will open Nov. 23, and the state's big game biologist is urging hunters to harvest more antlerless deer this season to improve the white-tailed deer herd structure. (Vonda Barnett/2015 Readers' Photo Showcase)

OKLAHOMA CITY — Lawmakers are weighing streamlining and simplifying the purchase of hunting and fishing licenses.

House Bill 2214 proposes making Oklahoma’s annual hunting and fishing license valid for 365 days from the date of purchase.

Department of Wildlife Conservation officials are also pressing lawmakers to adopt “a more comprehensive effort to streamline and consolidate what is now a very complicated licensing program,” said J.D. Strong, executive director of the agency.

“(We want to) make it easier for our sportsmen to understand what they do and don’t need (to do) to hunt,” Strong said.

Just about every year, lawmakers propose carving-out a new type of hunting or fishing license, Strong said. As a result, the state now has more than 150 different licenses, tags and permits, including seven or eight youth options.

“Over time that just snowballs into a big, hairy mess,” Strong said.

Outdoor enthusiasts must ensure they purchase the correct one.

Strong said he’d like to bundle license options to give hunters more flexibility and set new prices based on surveys of consumers. Some licenses would be priced higher, while the cost of others would decrease.

“It would result in us having a lot fewer licenses and permits out there,” he said.

Strong’s agency is also seeking permission from the Legislature to adjust prices as needed. He said during the pandemic some Oklahomans had requested discounted licenses but the agency wasn’t permitted by law to issue them.

“It doesn’t allow us to be mobile and adapt when everything is locked up like that,” he said.

State Sen. Casey Murdock, R-Felt, the Senate author, said he’s all about making the licensing process easier for hunters.

He said he’s gone online trying to find the license that he’s needed and found it confusing sometimes.

He also said he supports making the state’s annual hunting and fishing license truly annual.

“Me being a dumb country boy, if I buy an annual license, I think it’s good for a year, but the way it is right now, if you buy a license Nov. 1, it expires Dec. 31,” Murdock said. “So you get two months out of it. I think if you buy an annual license, it should be good until Nov. 1, or Oct. 31, of next year.”

But Murdock said he and his colleagues have concerns about giving wildlife officials too much power, including authority to unilaterally set pricing. Still, he said he understands the agency needs to raise licensing fees to combat inflation. State lawmakers haven’t approved increases in decades, Murdock said.

He also said he’d like wildlife officials to draft legislation that clearly states which licenses they plan to consolidate or eliminate and outline the proposed fees in advance. Then lawmakers can give it final approval.

State Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, the House author, said he’s OK with giving the wildlife agency the ability to consolidate licenses as long as the Legislature has oversight.

“I think the Wildlife Department ought to be able to decide, and move a little bit freer as far as what licenses, what prices, all that kind of stuff, as long as the Legislature had some kind of oversight with that,” McDugle said.

House lawmakers though would like license prices set off the national average to ensure that it would be affordable.

But McDugle said he wants to give rural farmers and landowners the opportunity to buy land for sale before the state agency. The state agency buys land in order to expand public hunting ground. McDugle proposes requiring that the state wait up to six months after a property is listed.

“What I didn’t want to do is restrict the private landowner who wants to sell it to wildlife, but I did want them to have to go through the process of at least making it public,” he said. “Then it’s their choice if they sell it to wildlife or somebody else.”

House Bill 2214 now heads to a joint House and Senate working group for further consideration.

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhinews.com.

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