A trip to the deer-rich state of Kansas is going to cost you more this season, a lot more. Starting this year, a non-resident deer license will increase from $315 to $415, and the cost of a required small-game license will rise from $70 to $95, for a total increase of $125, or about 33 percent.
It's the first license increase in 14 years and a necessary move, says Kansas Parks, Wildlife and Tourism spokesman Mike Miller.
"We were able to hold our license fees steady since 2002 thanks in part to the growing number of deer, turkey and waterfowl licenses that were sold over the last ten or 12 years, but it got to the point that we had to increase our agency's revenue more than those other licenses could," says Miller. "Inflation has increased 30 percent since 2002, so we had to do something to keep up. An across-the-board increase was the best solution."
Reactions were mixed. Some hunters were upset with the increase while others were happy to pony up more money under the assumption that it would be used for on-the-ground habitat work or land purchases. A few, however, were skeptical. One hunter, posting as "cityhunter" on bowsite.com's discussion board, wrote, "when will it stop u guys saying well it funds wildlife i say BS, these agencies cry wolf take more and do less."
Generally, though, most hunters either supported the move or were entirely indifferent, says Miller.
"We spent seven or eight months discussing this through the media and through public hearings to gauge public sentiment and overall, there wasn't much resistance," he says. "I think people understood the challenges we were facing."
Licenses fees go up everywhere, of course. And it isn't just non-residents taking a hit in the wallet. Kansas residents will pay more to hunt, as well. Small game licenses will cost $25, or about 33 percent more, and resident deer tags will also go up by a third to $40.
More Money? No Problem
Steep or not, the license fee increase hasn't slowed down interest in Kansas deer hunting. Miller says the number of non-resident applications for the 2016 season, about 24,000, was on par with last year's figures. Southeast Kansas outfitter Gene Pearcy didn't see his business suffer, either. He's getting more calls now than ever.
"Steep or not, the license fee increase hasn't slowed down interest in Kansas deer hunting."
"This was the first year in all the time I've been an outfitter that the units I hunt in have sold out of tags," he says. "People are certainly complaining about the cost, but it's not affecting their decision to hunt Kansas I think because the opportunities are so good and an extra $125 isn't that big of a deal when you consider the total cost of an outfitted hunt."
Even with the price increase, a Kansas deer tag is still less expensive than one in Iowa, where it costs a non-resident $551 to hunt deer. Miller said his agency examined surrounding states' non-resident deer license fees when they considered the fee increase so they would remain competitive.
Iowa actually raised its non-resident tags twice in the last 11 years. The first, in 2005, required non-resident deer hunters to purchase an antlerless-only tag for about $100. Three years later, the total cost for non-residents to hunt deer went up by about $140. Despite the steep price hikes, non-resident tags continue to sell out, says Iowa DNR research biologist Andrew Norton.
"Total non-resident applications went down 14 percent after the fee increase in 2005, but all the available non-resident tags sold for the archery season and most all sold for the gun season," he says. "Applications also went down after the 2008 increase, but again, overall applications have exceeded the quota for both gun and archery every year, so there doesn't seem to be too much of a concern about the cost of a tag."
Kansas is far from alone in its effort to raise more revenue. Mississippi wants to increase resident and non-resident licenses by 27 percent. It would be the state's first license hike in 23 years. Pennsylvania is also proposing an increase, and New Hampshire agreed to raise fees starting this year.
In other words, it's not just the premier deer states that are upping the cost to hunt. You'll likely be paying more bucks for bucks, whether they happen to be the giants that made Kansas and Iowa famous or the run-of-the-mill whitetails found throughout deer country.