Dorothy Mutter, a cashier at Hepler’s Hardware in Youngwood, was met with a line of hunters waiting for the shop to open when she came to work Monday morning.
It was the opening day of hunting license and doe tag sales and hunters across Pennsylvania eagerly waited either in line at storefronts, or in front of their computers to buy their licenses for this hunting season.
This was the first year that antlerless deer licenses were available online and at retailers instead of by mail-in application.
Everything was going smoothly at Hepler’s until about 9:30 a.m. when the site experienced a statewide slowdown that had customers waiting in line for over an hour, Mutter said.
“At about 9:30, the site went down for about an hour and a half,” Mutter said. “I called the Game Commission to see if it could be fixed, but it was just a matter of waiting until things were running again.”
Some hunters chose to stick it out and make the best of waiting in line with other people with similar interests. Frank Diani, of West Leechburg, said hunters were taking the delays in stride.
He got his license and doe tag at Dunham’s Sports in Harrison after about an hour wait. He said about 20 were in line when he showed up.
“I guess with the overload that’s going to happen,” Diani said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how many doe licenses they did sell.”
Shultz’s Sportsman Shop owner Debbie Shultz barely had timebecause she was busy tending to a line of hunters seeking hunting licenses at her store in Kiski Township.
Shultz’s is normally closed Monday’s but opened in anticipation of the surge in demand from area hunters.
“I was very pleased with how patient the customers were this morning” Shultz said. “Some of my customers waited for more than two hours until the system came back on. Hopefully by the end of the week it will be business-as-usual.”
Jim Morgan, 56, of North Apollo wasn’t interested in going online for his hunting license needs.
“There’s still a big part of the world out there that don’t deal with computers. I refuse and I don’t have to worry about anyone stealing my information (online) because they’re aint nothin’ out there,” Morgan said.
Kim Held of Kiski Township has hunted since she was 12 years old.
Held said the online rollout is long overdue.
“It didn’t affect me because I got off of work and came here to Shultz’s but I think the online is a lot better that having to fill out those pink tags, mail them in with a check and you had to wait for the second round,” Held said.
Game Commission spokesman Travis Lau said that the site did not crash, but experienced a major slowdown because so many people were using it at once.
“There are a lot of people that just want to get in early because they just want to get their license as quickly as possible and we can’t blame them for doing that because we can’t guarantee that if they wait they’ll still get them,” Lau said. “All we can do is release the numbers and information from this year and tell them to do what’s best for their hunting season.”
He pointed out that the difference between a slowdown and a crash may be a moot point for in-person customers.
Neal Oplinger, of Allegheny Township, said he first tried getting his license and doe permit at a Dick’s store, going at 10:30 in the morning to avoid the opening rush. But he went home without them after waiting an hour during which none were processed.
Later in the day, he also went to Dunham’s in Harrison. Oplinger said it took about a half hour to get his hunting license, one doe tag and archery privileges.
“I didn’t mind the wait because I didn’t have to fill out the pink envelope for the doe tag,” Oplinger said.
A hunter since he was 12, Oplinger isn’t nostalgic for the old way.
“This is way more efficient,” he said.
Despite the complications, the game commission was able to make sales to online customers during the slowdown.
System testing prior to the start of sales established thresholds for how much traffic the system can handle and has led to procedures that will help prevent the system from experiencing significant delays.
With high sales volumes, customers experienced longer waits. After an influx of users on the site, built-in security measures activated a queue where some customers were told they were one of tens of thousands in a virtual line for sale.
Lau said that the daunting numbers could be deceptive as some customers were using multiple devices to wait in the line. Though he is unable to determine how fast the queue is moving, he said that so far, three to four times more licenses were sold this year than in past years.
Mutter said that once the site was running again, there have been about 15-20 people in the checkout line since.
Lau said that Commission members hope to release sale information to give hunters a better idea of how to handle the first day of sales next year. Remaining Wildlife Management Unit allocation is available on the website, and is a recommended way to keep track of how many tags have been sold.
The next round for residents and nonresidents to get a second antlerless license begins at 8 a.m. July 24. The third round starts at 8 a.m. Aug. 14. The fourth will start at 8 a.m. Aug. 28. Hunters are limited to six active antlerless deer licenses per person.