Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A soldier and hunter's brilliant idea

Some ideas are so obviously good that it's hard to imagine anyone had to do any work to make them happen. Like the G.I. Bill: Serve in our military, and our country will reward you with an education.

Well, duh! Isn't that the least we can do for soldiers who put their lives on the line?

The idea Maj. Darin Harper sent to me in an email last week was just as much of a no-brainer: Current members of the armed services should be able to pay resident fees to hunt in any state in the Union.

Well, yeah! They put their lives on the line for us, and their job requires them to travel all over the country (and world). Isn't it the least we could do to say, "Hey, we'll cut you a break on fees?"

Maj. Harper, an instructor at the Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, isn't greedy about it. Some people think soldiers shouldn't have to pay any license or tag fees at all, but he doesn't agree. "I think states do a lot to preserve hunting rights and lands, and they deserve that money," he said. Read more...
But out-of-state fees can be prohibitive on a soldier's paycheck.

"For most hunters, the additional cost of hunting out of state is just a part of the game, if you don’t want to pay…don’t play," he wrote on Huntinglife.com last year. "Over the past four years I have been deployed twice and have found it challenging and expensive (when I am home) to attend a family quail hunt over Thanksgiving in Oklahoma, summer fishing trips with other family members in Colorado, and Spring turkey hunting with friends I just left in Kentucky."

Well, hell, why should we make it hard for soldiers to enjoy hunting with family and friends in their precious time off?

But we do. So he just hunts on base a lot.

If Maj. Harper wanted to come hunt with me here in California - you know, if he'd like to learn the art of chasing crippled buffleheads, for example, or hunting blacktail for days without seeing a single legal blacktail buck - he'd have to pay through the nose:

- My license fee: $41.20
- His out-of-state license: $143.35 (or $41.20 for a two-day license)

- My tag for a first deer that I probably won't see: $27.55
- His tag for a first deer that he might see with his superior training: $242.80 (and he's gonna need a year-long license if he hopes to get a deer.)

(In case that makes y'all wanna come out here and hunt with me, click here for a complete list of fees.)

When Maj. Harper got his idea posted on huntinglife.com last year, there was an outpouring of support. "100% agreement here!" said one. "I think that we should give all servicemen and women FREE licenses anywhere they are stationed and simply give them a 'military' license that could transferable over any of the 50 states," another said.

But nothing happened.

Why? I can think of two reasons:

1) This can't be accomplished with a single act of Congress. Hunting laws and fees - with the exception of those concerning migratory birds - are set by the states. All 50 of them. Individually. I believe there's something in the Bill of Rights that prohibits Congress from usurping states' power. Like the 10th Amendment.

2) Any time you're talking about reducing fees charged by a state, you are talking about reducing a state's revenue. And I'm sure you've all noticed that the economy sucks right now and states are hurting. Bad. Like I hope I can keep my job teaching at a state university this fall, and that my pay doesn't get cut even more.

But we're talking soldiers here. Soldiers are to politicians what puppies and kittens are to the rest of us - it's very hard to be mean to them.

I called my friends over at the California Outdoor Heritage Alliance to find out how tough this might be, and Vice President Mark Hennelly laid it out for me: "It's a good idea, generally speaking, but timing-wise it's tough because of the budget."

How tough? California actually has a pretty nice deal for disabled veterans from any state: $6.25 for a hunting license. Yes, the same license that would cost Maj. Harper $143.35. Hennelly said there have been several attempts to expand that benefit over the past ten years, but all have failed. Because of the budget.

Given that the current state budget proposal calls for slicing $5 million out of our Department of Fish & Game's budget - the department that can't even fund an adequate number of wardens to patrol our state - anything else that costs DFG revenue just ain't gonna fly.

So yeah, Maj. Harper needs to incur a major disability to get a break here. Sounds like a crappy trade-off to me.

Of course, Maj. Harper raises a good point on this issue: He thinks lowering the fee for out-of-state service members would bring net revenue into the state, because so many of the people who would benefit from it can't even afford to hunt here now. And he's not just talking about revenue from the sale of that license.

"An airman assigned in Nevada can come to California to hunt - come in, buy gas, eat at your McDonalds, stop by Walmart to pick up some ammunition, maybe get a hotel room," he said.

I freely admit I don't have any data to back that up, but it sure makes sense to me. (And I'm not a total rube about state finance, either - I covered state budgets as a political reporter and editor for major newspapers in three states.)

So what would it take to make that happen? In all 50 states?

Brace yourself, Maj. Harper: This is going to take years. That's partly because 50-state efforts always take years. Even one-state efforts can take years. But it's also because we need to pull out of the economic cesspool to make this idea more palatable to lawmakers responsible for meeting their entire states' needs.

But I think it can happen, and here's how you, dear readers, can help.

1) Leave comments here indicating your support for this idea. This will come in handy when you get to Step Three.

2) If you're a blogger, or a member of an Internet hunting forum, feel free to cut and paste this post in your blog or on the forum (I've stripped the usual copyright and changed it to a Creative Commons license). Or write your own post. Or just link to this. If you're on Twitter, tweet this post using the following address (not just the main URL):


Or the address of wherever you found it. No need for me to hog the traffic.

3) Email a link to this blog (or any other place you see this material) to your state lawmakers, adding your own note of support for this idea. Or if you like, print it out, and send it via snail-mail. Adding your own note, even a short one, matters: Lawmakers don't like anything that looks like a form letter because it lacks sincerity; personal notes, even with misspellings or sketchy grammar, mean a lot more to them. If you're a soldier, or know one, add a personal story.

In most states, you have two state representatives - a senator and a member of the lower house. You can find out who they are by plugging your ZIP code into Project Vote Smart's website. What the hell, contact your governor too.

4) Follow up. If you get an email or letter in response to contacting your lawmakers, save it. Put it on the fridge. And every once in a while, get back in touch to say, "Anything going on with that?" Remember, it's an election year in most states. These folks want and need your votes. And if your sitting lawmaker doesn't buy into this, find a candidate who will and get him or her on board.

5) Why do this alone? Contact the NRA or the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance to ask them to throw their weight behind this effort. Your state may have additional lobbying organizations, like our California Outdoor Heritage Alliance, but these two groups are active in every state.

Those of you who are regular readers here might wonder why I'm taking up Maj. Harper's cause - it's not like I do something like this every week. Or ever.

The reason is very simple: It's a good idea. It is a minor kindness to extend to soldiers who are willing risk their lives to serve our country. And I think Maj. Harper is right: It will help soldiers who aren't hunting in our states at all now, meaning more revenue for our states, which means more revenue for habitat.

So, wanna join me? You know what to do.

Note: The views expressed here by Maj. Harper are his own and are not the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government. But they are definitely consistent with the views of NorCal Cazadora.

Links to other blogs and websites on this topic:

- Phillip Loughlin - The Hog Blog, Feb. 24
- Arthur - Simply Outdoors, Feb. 24
- Hilary Dyer - Grand View Outdoors, Feb. 25

Email me if there are others I should list here.

Creative Commons License "A soldier and hunter's brilliant idea" by Holly A. Heyser is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.


Barbara Baird said...

Thanks, Holly. I will post a click-thru to you article today at Women's Outdoor News. As usual, methodical and well constructed and compelling post by you.

Phillip said...

Excellent! I'm pretty sure a couple of states already make special arrangements for soldiers currently stationed in that state, but I don't know of any who set aside non-res fees for visiting soldiers. It's a great idea!

SimplyOutdoors said...

It sounds like an excellent idea to me. I think the more we can do for our soldiers, the better......no matter what the state of the states' budgets.

Hil said...

I know several states already do this; it might be for active military only. Pretty sure Wyoming does? Anyway, I'll share the blog. Fantastic idea.

Albert Quackenbush said...

This is a fantastic idea! The military gives us something many of us cannot even fathom. Holly, thank you for sharing this. I aim to share it with my readers as well as my friends in the military.

oldfatslow said...

When my Army boy is home
in Florida on leave,
he can hunt without a
license. We had hoped
to get him out in the
marsh on his Christmas
leave, but he had
broken his ankle in
Basic Training and
didn't want to risk
getting the cast wet.

Military folks posted
to Florida and their
families are considered


HK_USP_45 said...

I agree with you, and when I was serving, that's a lot of the reason I didn't hunt at some of my duty station. If you're stationed there for 3 years, and you're pumping your paycheck into the local economy, you certainly should be considered a resident.

As it is now, it is up to the state. Last summer when I was in Oklahoma (my wife is Army Reserve, and was activated for 3 months), I just had to bring in a copy of my wife's orders, showing she had been activated, and they gave me a resident license. Even though she was only activated for 3 months, AND I was the dependent, they still did that for me. I think it was wonderful.

Blessed said...

I'm not a soldier, but I know lots of them and this is a great idea... I'll have to see what I can find out about the law here in Missouri

Anonymous said...

I wholeheartedly support the suggestion that military personnel pay no more than resident license fees in any state. The expense of nonresident licenses is prohibitively expensive, and I think this gesture is entirely appropriate. Further, I think any veteran with a Purple Heart should not be charged at all.
Edward J. Palumbo

Matt Ames said...

Hey Holly,

I breezed through this post pretty quick, but I wanted to add fishing licenses to this as well if it wasn't already stated. I do know that military personel that are stationed in a state other than their home of record do automatically qualify for resident prices in the state in which they are stationed. It does not include qualifying for the resident price when hunting or fishing in another state while travelling or on vacation, etc. When I was in the Marines I was stationed in California, but went on vacation to Idaho with a girl I was dating that was from there. We wanted to do a little trout fishing, but I would've had to pay through the nose for the non-resident fishing license. It was sad, and I didn't fish. Thankfully I didn't buy the license anyway because we decided to take a hike at the lake where we were going to go trout fishing, and it was totally frozen! :) haha. So that wouldn't have worked out at all.

I'm on board with this 100%, as I'm sure you would expect from me. So if you need another lobbyist for the cause, count me in!

Holly Heyser said...

Thanks, everyone! Please spread it around - to your legislators too.

And Matt, you're right - this should apply to fishing licenses as well.

Sure would be nice to see this happen!

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Good idea! I'll pass the word...

Bpaul said...

I'd support it 100%.

gary said...

Timely. I was just about to break tradition at bcl and give our local rep. some back pats, so now I can give her links to both your blog and ours.

As an old vet, this would be excellent.

Anonymous said...

Private land owners/hunting reserves should chip in for this effort, since the question of tags/state fees becomes moot. Reserves should be created specifically for .mil vets. I knew a rich Dr. with a farm on the side as one of his investments. It just sat there and he let a guy raise hay if he maintained the property, for his cows. That would've been perfect for scheduled hunts.
I'd like to see a military version of "Hunter's Harvest", giving game meat to the surviving family members (wives/children) of killed/wounded iraq and afghanistan vets, and any other .mil service. Instead of feeding welfare cases or illegals, bums, etc.

I'd never give a penny to the state of CA. I went to a CSU and they refused to give me in state tuition after 2 years: actually looking for reasons to deny me, though I did all and more than others. Couldn't afford the tuition, left the state, and they thanked me with a ding on my credit record that I hadn't paid income tax on my claimed in state residency !!!!! (that they'd never given me) 10 years later the ding was still there as I went to purchase my second property in 10 years, and calling them to remove it, and the credit bureaus..I had to give a special explanation for the 2nd property on it, as the bank "didn't like" that ding and needed further query. Now, 12 years later, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if it's still there..

Shy Wolf said...

Minnesota just requires the soldier to have a copy of their leave orders and they're allowed to hunt and fish without a license. Of course, this condition expires upon discharge unless there is a disability involved, then it's free again. Also, MN allows anyone with a disability to hunt and fish free.

Holly Heyser said...

Thanks for letting me know, Shy Wolf! Great to know there's already a model out there.

I don't think Cali would to it the same way, though - if I remember correctly, Minnesota doesn't require a hunter safety course. Cali requires either hunter safety or a license from another state in order to hunt here.

But that's terrific. I'd love to talk to the folks at DNR there to see how that's worked for them.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Here's a way to get around the budget thing: Make it a pilot project in a few counties, like around San Diego or Fort Hunter Ligget. Study hunting license applications, maybe do a survey, and you can then get a better idea about whether it increases revenue or not. WAY cheaper than trying it statewide....

On a Wing and a Whim said...

Alaska requires a signed affadavit that you are, indeed, in the military, but given that, they only charge resident fees for hunting and sport fishing for nonresident military (trapping does cost more). (resident military are residents for ADF&G policies)

They do require that nonresident military have a guide for brown/grizzly bear, sheep, or goat - and the King [salmon] stamp is $20.

All in all, not bad.

On a Wing and a Whim said...


Any person who possesses a military identification card that signifies that he is currently on active military duty with any one of the armed forces of the United States, including the National Guard, or the spouse or dependent of such person, may purchase a license for hunting or recreational fishing in Louisiana for the same fee as that required of Louisiana residents for that same license.

Seems that the Major might need a website with a database, sort of like http://www.handgunlaw.us/ but for fishing & hunting.

Holly Heyser said...

Funny you should mention that - I've been thinking about developing such a database - it's right up my alley.

But I'm really pleased to hear some states have already done this. Makes it a lot easier to make the case in the states that haven't. Thanks for chiming in!

Cork Graham said...

This is a great idea, Holly!

It has been attempted many times in the past. In my own military experience, my Navy ID card did get me on for free at Fort Hunter Ligget Army Base to hunt pigs back in the early 1980s, when there was only a small shack at the base and it was run by DFG, instead of the private concession presently there.

I just put a trackback post on my blog to this one. I hope it gets momentum this time--maybe the country's finally ready for it!


Kirk Mantay said...

I've only lived in heavily-military states (MD, VA, NC), and I believe all three have a heavily discounted hunting license for active duty personnel, or anyone stationed in that state at a DOD installation.

Holly Heyser said...

Hey all, I'm posting this comment for someone who was having a hard time getting his comment through:

As a veteran, an outdoorsman and active member of The American Legion, I wholeheartedly support the idea. Some years ago I indicated to my circle of friends, that I felt there should be a "National Hunting/Fishing License" that would allow senior/retired veterans to travel
during their 'golden years' throughout the nation and pursue their pastimes, without the excessive expense of 'Non-Resident' fees.

Some states have ‘Military’ fee schedules but I cannot understand why every state (let’s include New Jersey, Mass etc.) is not on board with the idea. I would urge all Vets to inquire into such benefits for active duty and senior veterans in their state. And also to consider the possibility
of a National License...

…………..for God and Country... HaydenFalls (eric measles, CA).