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Survey finds near even split in opinions on buck limit

ROANOKE, W.Va. – A recent survey of West Virginia sportsmen found a nearly even split on the idea of making changes to the current deer hunting privileges allowed under the annual resident Class X Sportsman’s license. The survey also revealed those changes could be costly to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. However the same research found there would be favorable acceptance among West Virginia sportsmen to a “Super Sportsman’s License” even if it were to lower that limit from three deer to two. The survey further revealed hunters and anglers would look favorably on the creation of a three-year hunting and fishing license.

Southwick Study License Structure and Pricing Options

The revelations were part of an overall examination of a potential restructure of West Virginia’s hunting and fishing license. The West Virginia DNR commissioned the survey through noted outdoor research company Southwick Associates. The results were explained during the May 31st meeting of the Natural Resources Commission meeting at Stonewall Resort in Lewis County.

One scenario presented to survey participants would change the privileges for deer hunting on the Class X license. The change suggested would allow one either sex deer in any season plus one antlerless deer in any applicable antlerless season. Researchers also varied the price points to the current $35, with a 10 percent increase $38.50, and with a 20 percent increase at $42.

Rob Southwick

Researchers wrote: “Changing to the proposed set of deer privileges, but leaving the price unchanged would likely reduce the number of Sportsman licenses sold and revenue by nearly seven percent. Raising the price 10 percent or 20 percent will result in lower sales and revenue.”

Southwick’s research concluded if deer hunting privileges were reduced and the price was unchanged the result would be a loss of roughly 6,300 licenses sold and a loss in revenue of more than $220,000. Raising the price of the license by 10 percent under the same circumstances would translate to a loss of roughly 40,000 licenses sold and a reduction in revenue to the DNR of more than $1.2 million. If the price was raised by 20 percent the reduction was even more stark with a loss of 63,000 licenses sold and a reduction in revenue $1.9 Million.

The question of whether sportsmen in West Virginia want the change was almost evenly split. Southwick reported 47.5 percent of those surveyed liked the idea of changing the deer hunting allowances on the Class X license. But 52.5 percent favored no changes to the deer hunting privileges.

“That’s common in ongoing public debates. If there was a clear answer and if people generally agree with one direction of another the decision would have been made a long time ago,” said Rob Southwick, author of the study speaking on West Virginia Outdoors.

“But we saw very clearly in the data several times, from several different angles, it’s a split opinion on what people want to do,” he added.

Super Sportsman’s License

One area where that decision to lower the number of bucks from three to two which might be a little more acceptable was in the creation of what Southwick termed a “Super Sportsman’s License.”

Such a license is basically all of the privileges included in a Sportsman’s Class X license plus a trout stamp. The scenario used by Southwick in their test allowed for only two deer–but allowed them to be killed in any of the three available hunting seasons gun, archery, or muzzleloader. The survey revealed 54 percent of those who bought the Sportsman’s License also bought the trout stamp.

“As we saw in the first study, about half the hunters liked the idea of going to two deer from three and the flexibility. Most of that group also liked the idea for a Super Sportsman’s license. But even some who preferred normally three deer, said if you gave them the overall package they’d be okay with it. There are a lot of people in the middle are just not sure.” Southwick said. “People liked that extra bundling with the trout fishing and people are willing to spent a little extra money if they are getting a better value.”

Adding the trout stamp to the Sportsman’s license without an increase in the price would result in a revenue loss of more than $400,000. However, adding the trout stamp and raising the price to $45, which is the combined current cost of each of those permits, would be a favorable bundle.

“We strongly recommend offering the suggested resident Super Sport License at the $45 price point,” researchers wrote.

Three Year Resident License

Southwick called a three-year license a “definite winner” and recommended it be instituted. With no change to the price, sportsmen would enjoy a savings on processing fees for two of the three years. The DNR would be more insulated from what is commonly called “churn” where some sportsmen skip a year or two of buying a license for a variety of reasons. Under the three-year structure they would be counted in the collection of federal aid programs which are a life blood of the agency’s budget.

“Three year licenses are a definite winner and should be instituted. These licenses should be priced at the face value of their corresponding annual license times three. No discounts or incentives are necessary beyond the reduced transaction fees and greater convenience of buying a license once every three years,” wrote researchers.

Other Conclusions

The Southwick study was extremely detailed and addressed several potential changes and how they would impact revenue. Researchers recommended fishing license continue to be sold separately from trout stamps.

“Requiring all licenses to have a trout permit will reduce participation and revenue,” wrote researchers.

The study concluded increasing the price of a non-resident hunting or fishing license would probably boost DNR revenue, such a change needed to be approached cautiously due to the potential impact on tourism related business.

“We suggest careful consideration on the potential impact on guides, hunting lease revenue, tackle shops, hotels restaurants and other commerce when new prices are considered that could decrease the number of visitors to West Virginia.”

The study gauged the opinion of sportsmen on changing the license structure from the current calendar year to the fiscal year (July 1-June 30). About half of the results hunters and anglers preferred the current calendar year license, 30 percent favored the fiscal year and 21 percent had no preference. Non-residents were a little more evenly split, but Southwick recommended no change since there was no overwhelming opinion.

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