"In 2007, residents bought 80,000 licenses online. In 2009, they bought 107,000. In 2011, they bought 126,000," Taylor said.
With online and computer-based point-of-sale now occupying huge chunks of the agency's annual license-sales volume, DNR officials believe it's time to jump to a system that does away with paper licenses altogether.
"We actually wanted to do this 12 years ago, but the price tag at the time came in multiple millions [of dollars]," Taylor said. "There weren't many companies [that set them up] then, and those that were in the game were doing it only as a sideline. Now there are time-tested companies that specialize in these systems, and the price has come down."
The system DNR officials hope to set up would not only include license sales, but also would allow hunters to electronically check deer, turkeys and bears they kill.
Currently the law requires that those animals be checked within 24 hours of the kill at an official state game checking station located in the county of the kill or a county directly adjacent.
Taylor said sportsmen often complain that they can't find an open station, or that open stations are located inconveniently.
"We get comments - they can't find a checking station, or a station is too far away, or is closed when they get there," he said.
"Imagine how convenient it would be to check your deer, or whatever, over a computer or a cellphone. The hunter would get a number generated by the DNR's computer, write that number down, attach it to the animal and everything would be perfectly legal."
Checking would still be mandatory; hunters caught with animals that didn't have computer-generated numbers would be fined. Taylor believes the electronic system might even increase hunters' willingness to check their kills.
"In some states that have gone to electronic checking, the reporting rate has gone up," he said.
Taylor said it was too early to estimate how much the new system would cost to install because companies haven't yet made estimates based on the DNR's requirements. He indicated, though, that it should eventually pay for itself by eliminating the ongoing costs of printing paper licenses and handling the applications.
"Right now, we spend between $500,000 and $1 million a year administering the old paper system," he explained.
Past attempts to go to a paperless system have drawn complaints from existing small-volume license agents and from business owners that operate game-checking stations. Taylor said those businesses could easily continue to sell licenses and check hunters' kills, simply by making a computer available.
"We have businesses right now that sell licenses without being 'official' license agents because they let their customers access the Go Wild! system through the business' computer," he added.
Taylor estimated that it would take at least a year to purchase, tweak and implement the proposed new electronic system.
"We've listened to sportsmen's concerns, and we know they're frustrated at how slow the current system can be," he said. "But we can't rush the new system; we have to get it right. We can't afford to waste sportsmen's money."
Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231 or johnmc...@wvgazette.com.