New Beginnings

Published on Wednesday, 13 August 2014 23:19 - Written by Steve Knight Outdoor Writer

With hints like extra trips to the sporting goods store, game camera pictures to show and even the occasional oak leaf floating to the ground, it must be about time.

In fact, it is closer than you think. The 2014-15 Texas hunting and fishing year officially begins Friday.

Shots won’t be fired until Sept. 1 when dove season opens, but it is officially goodbye summer and hello fall with the first day of licenses sales.

With a two-week window, there is no excuse for last minute lines. Heck, you don’t even have to go to the store if you don’t want to. You can just sit at your desk and order your license online, but it is not as much fun as going to the store and being surrounded by others hauling out ammo and camo or worms and crankbaits.

The modern era of computerized license sales is in contrast with the old days when every license was filled out by hand.

“It was the biggest mess in the world,” recalled Alan Haynes, former president of The Sportster in Tyler.

Haynes said in the 1970s, retailers would have to guess at the number of various licenses they thought they would sell, put up a bond and order them from TPWD.

“If you ran out of (license) books, you couldn’t sell any more licenses,” Haynes said.

In those days, the stores didn’t get its licenses until just days before dove season opened. There was always a rush on the day before the opening of dove season, duck season and deer season.

“It was unbelievable. We set up a couple of tables and assigned employees to fill them out. There were lines of people out the door,” Haynes said.

So customers could get in to shop, there were a couple of years the license tables were set up on the sidewalk at the French Quarter store to alleviate the crowd inside. There were also years the store opened in the early hours before the opening of duck season for those who forgot to buy their license or shotgun shells.

“Back in those days, Lake Palestine was such a wonderful duck lake because the trees were still standing. We had a lot of duck hunters,” Haynes said.

Last year, Texans bought about 1.2 million hunting license and almost 2 million fishing license, including combination packages.

“Compared to 2012-13, license sales increased 2.9 percent. Compared to 10 years ago, the increase is 3.9 percent. Long story short, we are showing a very gradual increase in sales,” said Mike Hobson, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s license coordinator.

Texas has been in the hunting license business since 1925 and has been selling fishing licenses since 1927, but initially only for those fishing with artificial lures. Saltwater fishermen were not required to have a license until 1957.

Texas was only selling about 450,000 resident hunting licenses a year in the 1950s. Sales number grew to more than 500,000 in the 1960s and made a big jump from 576,000 in 1965 to 745,000 in 1966. At that time Texas trailed several states, most notably Pennsylvania and Michigan, in total sales.

Texas first crossed the million-hunter mark in 1982. In 1983 it overtook Michigan in sales and in 1987 Texas sold more hunting license than Pennsylvania for the first time.

Through most of the 1990s, Texas lagged behind both Pennsylvania and Michigan in resident hunting license sales, but beginning in the mid-2000s Texas again pulled away and has remained on top ever since.

With a host of license options to choose from, easily the most popular is the Super Combo hunting and fishing licenses. Last year TPWD sold more than 677,000 of the $68 licenses that includes all the state licenses and stamps hunters and fishermen will need. The only thing that could be added is the $15 Federal waterfowl stamp.

However, Texans are still individualist and license sales data shows there are still a lot who just hunt or fish. According to last year’s totals, the department sold 553,000 hunting licenses and 1.3 million fishing license.

Those buying a resident hunting license that also bow hunt in October or hunt upland or migratory birds are also required to buy any or all of the appropriate stamps.

Those going with just a fishing license must choose from an all water license, a freshwater license or a saltwater license. An additional $5 freshwater or $10 saltwater stamp is also required depending on where a person is fishing.

Youth 16 and under are exempt from having a fishing license or the additional stamps and there are reduced priced packages for those 65 and older.

Good news for the future of hunting in Texas is that the state is currently recruiting more youth hunters 16 and under than it has hunters 65 and older eligible for the seniors’ license options. Last year, the state sold 152,000 youth licenses compared to 114,000 senior hunting and combo packages.

Texas hunters and fishermen will not find any changes from last year when they go to buy their license, including the price. Hobson also noted that at this time there aren’t any price changes being discussed.

Going hand-in-hand with a new license year are hunter education classes that are starting to pop up around East Texas. A class is scheduled Saturday at Athens’ Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center. There are two scheduled Aug. 23 in Tyler — one at The Nature Center and the other at Gander Mountain. There is also a course set that day in Henderson.

A number of other classes will be offered in September and October, but there is also an online option for those who would like to take the class from home.

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