It’s clicking: hunters here online more than anglers

Springfield — Come March 31, last year’s statewide hunting and fishing permits become nothing more than useless slips of paper.

The big question in Illinois these days is, “Do you know where your new Illinois hunting or fishing license will come from?”

According to statistics provided by DNR, more and more of the state’s sportsmen are purchasing those permits online. Interestingly, growth in online sales isn’t spread evenly among hunters and anglers. Shotgun and muzzleloader deer hunters have been the quickest to adapt to the age of Internet commerce.

Fishermen have been the slowest.

In 2007, DNR sold 176,502 resident firearms deer permits. Only 34,356 of those were sold online, for a ratio of 19.5 percent. In 2012, the agency sold a total of 136,250 resident firearms permits, with 58,823 of them via online sales – or 43.2 percent.

That’s a nearly 25 percent increase over a five-year period.

On the other hand, of the 490,979 resident fishing licenses sold in 2007, only 68,032 were purchased online, or 13.9 percent. In 2012, the state sold 465,058 resident fishing permits, with 78,540 of them sold online – 16.9 percent.

That’s only a 3 percent increase in Internet sales over the five-year period.

At the same time, muzzleloader online sales jumped from 34.4 percent in 2007 to 58 percent in 2012.

But not all hunters are joining the Internet craze. General hunting permits jumped from 17.9 percent of total sales in 2007 to 20.5 percent in 2012 – not quite a 3 percent increase.

Nationally, state wildlife agencies have perceived an increased need to offer stakeholders the ability to view information and purchase licenses through the Internet, researchers with the Illinois Natural History Survey pointed out as it released its study of Internet use by Illinois hunters in 2011.

“Internet Use Among Illinois Hunters: A 10-Year Comparison,” looked at online sales beginning with the 2000-01 hunting season and ending with the 2010-11 season. The subsequent report showed 18 percent of hunting licenses and/or habitat stamps were purchased online during the 2010-11 season through the DNR website, compared to only 7 percent in 2000-01 season.

Despite that 157 percent increase over 10 years in Illinois, “the overall proportion of hunters who purchase their licenses online remains small,” INHS concluded.

For its part, DNR has spent the past five years encouraging the state’s hunters and fishermen to use the Internet to buy permits. Like most state agencies, it sees potential for greater efficiency for both the seller and the buyer.

“The obvious one [reason] is cost savings,” DNR spokesman Chris McCloud aid. “We have been pushing to be more paperless over the last several years. It saves dollars and trees. It’s also a quicker and less burdensome process on the consumer and DNR.”

Not surprisingly, the age of the hunter was a major factor in whether he or she used the Internet to buy the license online. A significantly higher proportion of hunters under age 31 (22 percent) and ages 32-49 (34 percent) purchased their license online, the report stated.

Some older hunters in the state, such as Don Peters, of Clinton County, said he feels left behind by the push to go online. While it is pushing for more residents to buy permits online, DNR does still offer license sales over-the-counter at several retail stores.

“If I had to do it on a computer, I just had one of the grandkids do it … I don’t even have a computer,” Peters, 79, said.

INHS study revealed that 72 percent of those who purchased their licenses on the Internet were between the ages of 32 and 66. Hunters were also queried as to whether they have a computer in their residence, and 77 percent said “Yes.” Seventy-five percent of all hunters surveyed had Internet access at home.

A number of hunters in the study said they were deterred from buying permits online because of past problems printing the permits they had purchased.

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