Harrisburg – The requisite “back tag” has been a part of hunting
in Pennsylvania for nearly 100 years.
But it looks like the requirement for hunters to display their
licenses will soon be a part of history.
In February, Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-York, introduced House Bill
735, which would eliminate the requirement for Pennsylvania hunters
to display their hunting license on their backs.
The bill passed the House with a vote of 200-0 on June 15, and
moved to the state Senate, where it sat for five months.
At the time of the House passage, Gillespie said displaying a
hunting license was, “an inconvenience for hunters, as well as an
outdated practice that needed to be done away with.”
A bill similar to Gillespie’s was passed by the House during the
2009-10 legislative session, but died in the Senate. But the
results during the current legislative session have been
Now numbered HB 2093, the bill to remove a “back tag” requirement
passed the Senate on Nov. 15, by a vote of 46-3. Only senators
Timothy Solobay, Mary Jo White and John Wozniak voted no.
The House re-voted and passed the Senate version the following
Gary Haluska, D-Cambria, a co-sponsor of the bill, commented on its
“Instead of requiring hunters to hang their licenses off their
backs – where they’re prone to be lost and where they can’t be read
from any kind of distance anyway – it makes more sense to simply
require hunters to have their license with them in a form and place
where it can easily be carried, such as in their wallet,” said
“The law would still require this, as well as require hunters
produce their license, if necessary.”
Displaying one’s hunting license has been a part of Pennsylvania
law since the first hunting license was established in 1913.
“At first the law mandated hunters to display the tag on the back
of their shirtsleeve, between the elbow and the shoulder,” said
Game Commission historian Joe Kosack. The location was later
changed to the center of the back.
Hunters prominently showing their license made it easier for
law-enforcement personnel and landowners to identify hunters in the
field. Of course, that was the logic behind the requirement in the
While this seems “normal” to many Pennsylvania hunters, according
to Haluska, who is a member of the House Game and Fisheries
Committee, the Keystone State is far out in left field.
“Pennsylvania is one of only two states remaining that requires
hunters to display their licenses on their backs while they are
hunting,” Haluska said. “This is an unnecessary requirement that
can be eliminated.”
Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania President Randy Santucci thinks
this change is long overdue.
“The trend continues of Pennsylvania being ‘last on the block’
nearly all the time – I believe we will be the 49th out of the 50
states to enact this rule,” Santucci commented via email.
“Perhaps legislators will see the Sunday-hunting issue in the same
light, and realize when it works across 80 percent of our United
States, it will work here.”
Santucci, who has lost his license several times while hunting in
thick brush, sees other advantages to not displaying a hunting
“One side benefit is now most hunters will be able to carry their
licenses in their wallet,” he said.
“That will naturally create the situation where they will also have
their additional personal identification with them as
“With the separate displayed back tag, often that did not
Ted Onufrak, immediate past president of the Pennsylvania
Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, doesn’t see what all the fuss is
“I don’t think it’s that big of an issue,” he said. “Many sportsmen
I’ve spoken to will continue to carry their license in its holder,
simply because it’s more convenient and it’s also a convenient
place to store your string and pencil and maybe a couple safety
“It’s unfortunate with all the more pressing issues, such as the
need for a hunting license increase, our legislators seem to have
the time to deal with minor things like this.”
The Pennsylvania Game Commission supports the passage of this
legislation. According to agency press secretary Jerry Feaser, HB
2093 was to go back to the Senate when it reconvenes on Dec. 5, and
then on to Gov. Tom Corbett’s office to be signed into law.
“It is my understanding that the Senate signing and the governor’s
signature are formalities, because both have indicated that they
would do so,” Feaser said.
“If signed by the governor, the bill goes into effect 60 days after
The current computer-generated license format will help facilitate
the change, because it fits easily in a wallet. Commission
officials indicated that they are prepared to act on the change
when it occurs.
But there could be possible negative consequences to what should be
an easing of requirements for hunters, warned Dennis Dusza, the
Game Commission’s Northcentral Region director.
“For landowners and law enforcement, hunters having to display a
license made it easy to recognize who had a license and who
didn’t,” he noted.
“I think that the change will be harder on landowners than on law
If all goes as planned, the requirement to display hunting licenses
will be eliminated before the 2012 spring gobbler season.