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New Oklahoma hunting, fishing license fees are now active

A white-tailed deer buck walks past a doe on a frosty Osage County morning.
Kelly J. Bostian
A white-tailed deer buck walks past a doe on a frosty Osage County morning.

The fireworks wrapped up this year before July at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

The rush was on after Gov. Kevin Stitt signed the Oklahoma Wildlife Modernization Act in late March, especially for cheaper lifetime licenses for residents and big-game licenses for non-residents before the July 1 effective date.

“People saw they could save a couple hundred dollars, and a lot who may have been putting it off said, ‘now is the time,’” said department spokesman Micah Holmes.

Final sales at the previous prices closed on Friday at the end of business.

Holmes said lifetime combination hunting and fishing license sales through May were up 213 percent over the same period last year. The price went up from $775 to $1,021.

“It sounds like a lot, but don’t get too excited,” he said. “The total sold through the end of May was 442 licenses. It’s a lot relative to what we usually sell, but I just don’t want to give you the wrong idea about that big percentage change.”

However, Holmes said the Act means more than a last-minute sales rush.

He said it is one of the most significant changes to Oklahoma wildlife management in years because it impacts everyone who enjoys the state's wildlife. If projections by independent analysts hold, it could mean a boost of up to $10 million for the department, which reported an annual total revenue near $60 million for 2023, with just over $20 million from license sales, not counting lifetime licenses.

“For non-resident licenses, it brings Oklahoma more in line regionally with Texas, Arkansas, and Kansas. Oklahoma was a real bargain for non-residents given its great resources, especially for deer and waterfowl hunters,” he said.

Wildlife Commission members have wondered aloud in meetings about the sustainability of the department's current level of operations and ability to take full advantage of federal grant funding, which requires state matching funds, given the current revenue picture and nationwide trends that show younger people turning away from traditional outdoor pursuits.

The Act also requires price reviews every five years, perhaps preventing another 20-year gap in price structures as business costs increase.

Most people asking about the price increases asked, “Why now?” Holmes said.

“After explaining it’s been so long and that we’re simplifying the system, too, most people understand why,” he said.

Colin Berg, a longtime Communication and Education Section supervisor at the department’s Tulsa office, remembered the last increase 20 years ago and said the new system would simplify and make getting a license less expensive for families. The Act consolidated more than 50 license categories into 15.

“I can remember so many times parents coming in saying, ‘this all I can afford right now,’” he said.

What families will most enjoy moving forward is the Youth Annual Super Hunting License, which is a single $26 license for anyone under the age of 18. It covers a variety of hunts that used to require separate licenses or fees and removes the requirement for $20 tags for each deer taken.

“Now you have the one license for every hunter under the age of 18, and that’s it, you’re done. For turkeys for all the deer in a season limit, for everything,” Berg said.

He said simplifying the rules is essential for “R3,” recruiting, retaining, and re-activating hunters and anglers. He said attracting people into hunting and fishing or bringing them back to it is critical to the department's mission of protecting wildlife.

“It was understandable; people would look into the regulations and see this long list of licenses is the first thing they have to try to figure out, and then it’s, “Well, we need this one, and we need two of those, and, ahh, let’s just go to the ballpark, that’s easier,” he said.

Holmes said all new license fees and FAQs are posted on theWildlife Department website and license-purchasing portal at gooutdoorsoklahoma.com.

The Oklahoma Ecology Project is a nonprofit dedicated to in-depth reporting on Oklahoma’s conservation and environmental issues. Learn more at okecology.org.

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