A Dec. 15 update to South Dakota’s Game, Fish and Parks’ website licensing system was intended to offer a superior, streamlined experience for hunters buying tags — but reports of the fledgling system have been mixed.
Local hunting guide Willie Dvorak told the Capital Journal that clients booking big game licenses through Game, Fish and Parks’ website have run into “horrible problems” since the system was last updated.
Dvorak explained the situation by phone on Friday, standing atop a hill while trying to help a client shoot antelope with bow and arrow. Dvorak said it was just about the most challenging type of hunting trip a person can book and found ample time to chat while waiting for the wary animals to approach his hunter.
Big game licenses tend to be the most selective and difficult type, often requiring lottery-style “drawings” which award a limited number of tags. It wasn’t long, Dvorak reported, before he heard of hunters having trouble with small game licenses, such as those for prairie dogs. Dvorak said Game, Fish and Parks implemented a new system in such a way that returning hunters were blocked from creating accounts due to preexisting records.
Game, Fish and Parks spokesman Nick Harrington addressed the issue with the Capital Journal on Monday.
“As far as the blocking returning hunters, if they are trying to log in with their old username and password, it will not work. Every hunter, every camper had to make a new account. All their account info and past history is still there … it’s just simplifying one account for doing business with the state,” he said.
One’s previous licensing profile is pulled up on what Harrington called the website’s “girl-with-the-shotgun page,” marked by the unsurprising image of a girl with a shotgun.
“Now, there are certain hunters experiencing certain issues (with the website) that we’re working really hard to fix, and we have made some great strides,” Harrington continued. “All those people who have multiple profiles? We’re merging them to make sure that all that information goes into one profile … we’ve been working to coordinate tens of thousands of profiles.”
Noah White, Dvorak’s acquaintance and fellow sportsman, may have been one of the early users of the new system to fall through the cracks. Although based in southwest Wisconsin, White often hunts in South Dakota. The experience of filing for tags left a bad taste in his mouth.
“I remember it just seemed like it was a complicated website for what they needed. There wasn’t just a way to go in and pick out what you want and check out,” White said. “I was (in South Dakota) in May with a group of guys and all we were trying to do was buy a predator/varmint license for them. I think it took each guy 15 or 20 minutes just to buy a license, because each had to create an account and do everything else. I just thought it was overkill for a simple varmint license.”
White said online licensing in other states may allow hunters to checkout as a guest, or purchase a license quickly with only name, date of birth and social security number.
“I’ve hunted out in South Dakota for three or four years in a row, and I don’t remember too much of the old system, because it must have worked. I just remember the new system being a little more complicated,” he said.
Hearing of White’s troubles, Harrington said guest checkout options are indeed available on the South Dakota website, at least for park entrance reservations. But the state, Harrington continued, cannot afford to be completely hands-off.
“We need to make sure (licenses) are tied to a real person. That is a license that allows the harvest of an animal so, if you’re going to be hunting or fishing, you need more information than the guest checkout provides,” Harrington said.
Dvorak said he had to spend about two hours getting himself set up on the current website.
“And then I called up a friend of mine who’s been applying for licenses forever. I told him what a catastrophe (the website) was. I said, ‘you try, and see how you like it.’ He spent about three hours on his (license). It’s just a joke,” Dvorak said.
Harrington was informed of Dvorak’s colleague and their challenge.
“So, three hours on the website? I’m not going to say that didn’t happen, because during that game application period, we got 40,000 hunt applications. It’s either right at the start (of the season) or days before (the end) that people seem to do their applications. If they were experiencing some slowness, that likely had to do with just the volume going into the system. We’ve been working with our folks to increase that, and make sure that our servers will be better prepared for high-volume events and ready to rock.”
Dvorak said that Game, Fish and Parks phone representatives are “super friendly” and effective at walking people through the licensing process remotely. But, he contended, the convenience of a website should allow people to work unassisted. Dvorak described the current website as a “trainwreck.”
“I can tell you, I’ve guided over 1,700 people. If you have to wade through a torture chamber in order to get your license, I’d just say ‘piss on it, we’re going to North Dakota,’” Dvorak said.
The Capital Journal attempted to buy a hunting license through the Game, Fish and Parks website. After confirming an email and password, the site requested a full name, physical address, driver’s license and social security number. Non-resident, small game licenses could then be selected and purchased with ease.
The dummy-run, however, occurred as a non-resident, during the off-season for many types of game. Harrington agreed that the trial-purchase would not reflect the big-game hunters’ license going through the website system, but reflected the current pheasant hunting season’s experience.