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The value of having a hunting license

On the second day, without realizing I’d made the decision, I found myself packing, hooking to the camper and looking forward to getting out of Dodge – which in my case was Columbus Junction, Iowa. I’d been camped in the yard of an abandoned ranch house, which shared the address of the outfitter I’d sent my money.

I’d spent two uncomfortable nights virtually held hostage and sleepless by a tribe of hungry raccoons and a band of thirsty, tire-spinning locals. Both tribes enjoyed the secluded location, but I was happy to abandon it, even it was to parts unknown. I wanted to sleep someplace where I didn’t feel the need to prop a shotgun against the camper door.

I don’t know what the outfitter did with my money, but he had not used it to fix the flat tires on the vehicle in the driveway or stave off the shut-off notices from various utility companies, which fell out when I opened the storm door. I was still optimistic then – maybe his lawn mower had broken, maybe that was just a spare vehicle. The next morning, I drove to the local police station, where I was told I’d been just one of more of more than a dozen out-of-state hunters who had been burned.

I was able to salvage the precious Zone 6 Iowa deer tag. A friend from Illinois, who I called, told me his sister-in-law lived nearby. They had a farm, a glorious, 400-plus acre mix of hardwood and creek bottoms. I hunted from my climbing stand and eventually arrowed the biggest buck I’d ever shot.

But the best part of the story is that the outfitter was eventually caught and arrested – for a different wildlife crime. He’d been stealing racks from taxidermists in eastern Iowa and western Illinois, even stealing a finished mount – the one that did him in.

Last week I picked up my Pennsylvania hunting license and assorted extra tags and doing that called up memories of the Iowa hunt, other out-of-state hunts, and license costs. Even if I hadn’t been fortunate enough to bag the Iowa buck, I’d had an amazing experience – going from being utterly dejected to being incredibly happy, as the Iowa farm family welcomed me to their dinner table that first day.

Throughout the week, various people dropped by my camper to see how the hunt was going. One man dropped off a UTV for me to use. The host family took me out to a small restaurant/bar combination, where every guy who asked me to dance was wearing some article of clothing with the John Deere logo on it. I saw those farmers around town, parking their enormous tractors with crazy triangular wheels at the local diner – I got to ride in a giant combine harvesting corn. There were horses tied up outside the elementary school.

So, there’s a value in a license in that it allows you to harvest an animal. But if that’s the only value you get from your license, you’re really missing out on the whole experience. I was fortunate to take two deer last year, but one of my favorite memories was watching young pileated woodpeckers on their gangly, awkward flights.

I also spotted a fisher. The fisher – I think – was trying to kill something it had trapped in the root bowl at the base of a huge fallen hemlock. I had investigated because I’d heard an odd splashing sound, and it had turned out to be the fisher, jumping around in the water, parrying whatever was hiding in the roots. I crept closer – I really wanted to get a picture of the fisher – but it either smelled or heard me. I was treated to a truly malevolent stare down – Move along, nothing to see here, move along now – and I did.

“Price is what you pay, and value is what you get,” said Warren Buffett. He’s right. No matter what the cost of a hunting license, it’s up to you to value the experiences the license allows.

This year I purchased my hunting license in the county courthouse, with the assistance of Schuylkill County Treasurer Linda Marchalk. The treasurer’s office offered extended hours so that hunters could more easily use the treasurer’s office services after normal working hours. PHOTO COURTESY OF LISA PRICE/TIMES NEWS