Buy 10 gallons of gas – or hunt in Maine for a year

For the price of 10 gallons of gas, you may be able to hunt in Maine for an entire year, all game animals, all seasons, all bag limits. I’ll bet many of you burn up that much gas on the first day of deer hunting, driving to your favorite hunting spot. You certainly burn up more than that on a day of grouse hunting.

Yet some members of the legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee are reluctant to support this proposal, afraid that too many hunters will object. Here’s the proposal, and the problem.

The proposal would eliminate nearly all of DIF&W’s 67 hunting licenses and permits, in favor of a comprehensive hunting license that would cost $38 for residents and $144 for nonresidents. That’s right, for just $38, you get it all. Add $17 and you also get a year’s worth of fishing.

For the cost of a pair of jeans or cheap sneakers, you could hunt and fish all year in Maine. I can barely buy two cases of my favorite micro-brew for that.

Of course, maybe instead of hunting all year, you’d prefer to purchase 3 months of Netflix. But what will you do the rest of the year?

Maybe you’ve set your sights on that Magnum Hunting Stool at Cabela’s for $39.99. Give up a year of hunting in Maine, and it’s yours! Give up 10 years of hunting and you could buy the Primos Doublewide Blind – and use it for birdwatching.

I first heard this idea for a comprehensive hunting license from Bill Swan, DIF&W’s Director of Licensing, who brought it to SAM’s Pickering Commission two years ago. I thought it was a great idea then, and I submitted it to the legislature this year with the help of Rep. Dennis Keschel, my local Representative, who sponsored the bill.

At yesterday’s work session on the bill (LD 153), Swan did a superb job of explaining the costs and benefits of the license. The $38 price is designed to assure that his agency raises the same amount of money from the single license as it now does from the hunting licenses and permits it will replace.

Here are the concerns expressed by some members of the IFW Committee. Right now 69 percent of residents and 66 percent of nonresidents buy only a single hunting license, with no additional hunting licenses or permits. Most purchase the license only to hunt deer. That means they currently pay $25. To get the new comprehensive license, they’d pay an additional $13.

There is no question about this: some hunters will be unhappy. Swan projects that 10 percent will give up hunting. I think that is on the high side, but I also know that every time DIF&W’s license fees increased in the past, sales decreased – for a short period of time. Eventually sales returned to the same and higher levels.

In my mind, someone who gives up hunting over $13 is not much of a hunter. Really my friends, aren’t your hunting opportunities and experiences worth $38 a year?

Rep. Stan Short’s comments reflected the thoughts of several committee members. Stan said he can’t support the proposal because of his concern over the $13 increase for some hunters and the possibility that Maine would lose some hunters.

I think this is simply a matter of how the issue is presented. $38 is a bargain for a season of deer hunting – even without all the other hunting opportunities that will be included in the comprehensive license. And there are two other factors that should be considered.

I’ve been trying to find ways to encourage hunters to try new opportunities like rabbit hunting and turkey hunting. We know that the future of hunting will not be defined by a big increase in the number of hunters. It will be defined by a lot more hunting by those who hunt. If all hunting opportunities came with the license, I am sure many hunters would expand their hunting interests. And Maine needs to move in that direction.

Upland bird hunters might take a turkey in the fall, incidental to their grouse hunting. A deer hunter might get out for a winter’s day of rabbit hunting with a friend. A lot of hunters might spend a Saturday morning harvesting a turkey (and we all know a lot more turkeys need to be harvested).

This is exactly what happened to me when I purchased the Superpack license. I got out duck hunting one day – because it was included in my license. And I went rabbit hunting too, for the first time since I was a kid.

There are also great benefits in this proposal for DIF&W and its licensing agents across the state. Eliminating five-dozen individual permits and licenses simplifies the MOSES online system and will save the agency a lot of money. Every line in the MOSES system costs money. And it will be a whole lot simpler for agents to sell hunting licenses if there are only a few licenses to sell.

This is a big win for all of us. DIF&W raises the same amount of money but lowers its licensing costs. Most hunters get many more hunting opportunities and are likely to try some of them. The cost of a comprehensive license will be a bargain for anyone who enjoys hunting in this state. And we’ll be able to hunt a lot more – with no additional cost.

If you only hunt small game, or if you hunt with a bow and not a gun, Swan has revised the proposal to accommodate your interests. Here is how the new comprehensive hunting license would be structured and priced:

Guns                            $38

Bow                             $38

Small Game                  $27

Hunt/Fish Combo $55 (applied to either guns or bows)

There are other benefits to this proposal. For example, IFW Committee member Steve Wood, a Maine guide, noted that the $144 for the nonresident hunting license will make us more competitive with Quebec for big game hunts. I know that I pay $100 for 5 days of pheasant hunting in North Dakota. The price of the license is the smallest cost item for anyone who travels away from his or her home state to hunt.

Aliens (the term used for those outside our country) will be folded into the nonresident category, eliminating that offensive term all through the statutes.

Fees for junior and armed services personnel will not change.

Sportsmen will save on agent fees that are now applied to each and every license and permit (even by DIF&W).

Those with lifetime licenses would no longer have to purchase some of the additional permits and licenses.

The database maintained for game wardens who spend a lot of time checking for licenses and permits will be a lot simpler and smaller.

The separate course for those who wish to hunt with crossbows will be eliminated, in favor of a single course covering bows and crossbows (another cost savings for DIF&W and a savings of time for those who wish to hunt with both).

Legislators Wants Opinions

A number of legislators have posted information about this proposal on their Facebook pages, seeking opinions. Senator David Dutremble, Senate Chair of the IFW Committee, actually posted this on his page while the work session was going on, and read some of the responses he got almost immediately. They were all very positive.

I’ve been writing about this proposal for months, and asking sportsmen for their opinions, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. It would be a shame – and a big missed opportunity – if this proposal fails.

SAM’s Dave Trahan told the committee he’d survey the 3,000 SAM members who are in the organization’s database and report the results next week.

They want to hear from you!

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.