During my odyssey to hunt all 50 states for deer, I often traveled to a state alone and unannounced, preferring a DIY (do-it-yourself) hunt rather than being guided. In one state, I walked into a large department store to buy my nonresident license. I had done some research and settled on a particular Wildlife Management Unit (WMU). I had no clue where it was or the lay of the land. Part of the excitement of these hunts was the unknown, and sleuthing out the details. I purchased my license and asked the clerk if I needed anything else. I told him I was hunting a WMU. He said I was good to go, and I walked out to my rental vehicle. Now then, I'm the type of person who believes nothing of what I hear and half of what I see. Before driving off, I checked the official regs provided by the state wildlife agency. And there it was. I needed a special WMU permit. I walked back into the store and confronted the clerk, politely telling him he needed to be aware of the regulations before selling licenses. He apologized, and I bought the permit. We've all heard that ignorance is no excuse when dealing with laws, but had I gone hunting without that permit and been interrogated by a game warden, I would have been in trouble.
On another occasion I walked into a store to buy a black bear tag. I was accompanied by a writer friend, and both he and the clerk insisted that I didn't need to buy a bear tag—just a nonresident deer tag. I would also be hunting deer, and they explained that the bear tag was included with the deer tag. I believed them. This was a small sporting goods store, and I assumed my friend and the clerk knew the laws. It turned out they didn't. That evening, the night before the hunt, I thumbed through the regs and saw where I had to buy both tags. The next morning, I waited for the store to open to buy the bear tag before going hunting, of course. I believe that since I was a nonresident, the clerk and my friend were unaware of the laws. Whatever the case, I would have been cited for a wildlife violation had I been confronted by a game warden.
Here's a story about a hunter who was given a bum steer by a clerk and paid dearly for it. The man walked into a department store and bought an elk license. He didn't know where to hunt and asked the clerk for some ideas. The clerk pulled out a state hunting map and pointed to a spot where he claimed there were plenty of elk. The man thanked him profusely and went to that spot the next day. He was astounded to see a big bull after only a few hours of hunting. He put it down, and met a rancher in the area who helped him drag the elk down to the highway with his tractor, and helped him load it in his truck. A game warden drove by, saw the man with his bull in the truck and pulled over to check it out. The hunter joyfully showed the warden where he'd tied the tag to the elk and gave the warden his license. The warden frowned, and told the hunter there was a serious problem. Unbeknownst to the hunter, he had taken the elk in a limited-entry unit that required a tough lottery draw to get a tag. Hunters who drew the tag typically applied for many years before being successful. The hunter had a general bull license, requiring him to hunt only in "general areas." The warden issued the man a citation and confiscated the elk. The hunter took the case to court and lost. He was fined heavily, and the judge ordered the store to display a sign indicating that the store was not responsible for information passed on by employees.
Most of us tend to be trusting when buying a hunting license. After all, the clerk selling it should know the laws, right? Unfortunately, that isn't always the case. In many of the large department stores, clerks know nothing about hunting. Worse yet, the clerk normally assigned to the sporting goods department might be on a break and the substitute may come from electronics or women's wear and know even less. Clerks in small "mom and pop" stores are more likely to know the regs, but that's not always true, either.
Another issue is the often complicated and confusing hunting regulations. Some hunters joke that it takes a Philadelphia lawyer to figure them out a times. That might be so, but the warden won't be sympathetic if you commit a violation because you don't understand the laws. Solve this dilemma by calling the given state’s game department. Rather than call the state headquarters, call the regional office such as the one closest to the area where you will be hunting. You're more likely to speak to a live human being, who also will be savvier about the laws in that area.
Bottom Line: There should never be a gray area when you go hunting. Make sure it's black or white and you're positive you're right.