CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Once on the leading edge of the technology curve, West Virginia's fish and wildlife agency has now fallen behind.
Division of Natural Resources officials want to remedy that by making sure all future fishing- and hunting-license purchases are made by people using computers or smartphones.
"The idea is to do away with our old-fashioned paper license system," said Curtis Taylor, the DNR's wildlife chief.
"We think electronic license sales are faster, more efficient, more cost-effective, and would serve our sportsmen much better. Most states have gone to electronic licensing already. We're lagging behind."
Agency officials recently took the first step toward putting an electronic system into place when they requested proposals from companies that specialize in electronic licensing.
"Basically, we're trying to find out if the off-the-shelf systems these companies have can be tweaked to suit our needs and, at the same time, benefit our sportsmen," Taylor said.
If the DNR effort succeeds, hunters and anglers would no longer need to suffer through the time-consuming process of filling in circles on paper license applications, a la using a number-2 pencil to fill in the answers on a standardized scholastic achievement test.
"A few clicks of a mouse, or a few taps on a smartphone touch screen, and they'd be able to get any kind of license or stamp they would want - and they'd never have to worry about a license agent being out of trout stamps or doe stamps or anything," Taylor said.
As recently as a decade ago, official agents handled all of the state's hunting- and fishing-license sales. Every single license required purchasers to fill out an in-person application on an official form. The agent then had to mail the applications to the DNR, where workers ran them through an optical scanner to get the information into language that computers could understand.
"The old system dates back to a time when mom-and-pop sporting-goods stores and hardware stores were where people got their licenses," Taylor said. "Over time, the big-box chains came in and started replacing the mom-and-pops."
Today in some parts of the state, DNR officials have trouble finding businesses that want to handle license sales.
"Most of our [agent-based] license sales come from Walmart and Kmart stores," Taylor said.
Large-volume license vendors went to a computer-based system years ago. In March 2005, DNR officials launched "point-of-sale" licensing, for which they issued computers and printers to agents that sold more than $30,000 worth of licenses each year. The computers allowed agents to process applications much more quickly, and provided licenses that could easily be replaced if lost or destroyed.
"And with point-of-sale, agents never ran out of licenses or stamps," Taylor said.
The next step in the DNR's evolution came in 2006, when agency officials started selling licenses online from its Go Wild! website. Online sales were slow for a couple of years until sportsmen caught on.
Soon, though, resident hunters discovered how convenient it was to purchase licenses online.
The number of resident licenses sold online has increased steadily ever since.