Rummaging through drawers on one of the few cold and blustery days of winter, I came across a hidden pocket of stuff. Crushed into the back corners were a few of the "old" paper fishing and hunting licenses I used to buy at a gas station on one of those sneaky warm April days in years gone by.

Instead of some kind of nostalgic rush about the paper certificates with separate stamps that went on the back, I remembered fondly when electronic licensing arrived and I didn't have to wonder, on my way to the first fishing outing of the season, how many casts I would lose in the process of driving to a license vendor, stopping and buying the license.

Paper LicenseThe North Dakota Game and Fish Department first started issuing licenses online via its website 16 years ago. Since then, there's been an incremental shift in the proportion of licenses bought online versus paper, and starting April 1, a new law requires that all hunting and fishing licenses are purchased through an electronic system.

That means paper licensing booklets will no longer be used at any license vendors in North Dakota, though many vendors still will sell licenses through the Game and Fish Department's electronic system.

Randy Meissner, Game and Fish Department licensing manager, said most people won't even notice the change, as more than 70 percent of hunters and anglers already buy their licenses electronically.

"It's the walk-in customer who might see a difference, but only if their vendor of choice is no longer part of our electronic licensing system," Meissner said.

A complete list of vendors who are participating in electronic license sales is available on the Game and Fish Department's website at

In addition to the website or a vendor location, licenses may also be purchased by calling the department's instant licensing telephone number at 800-406-6409 any time day or night. A service charge is added for licenses purchased through the instant licensing telephone number.

Elimination of paper licenses sold at vendors has been in the works since 2013, when the state legislature passed a law requiring each county auditor to implement a computerized online licensing system by March of last year, and each agent or vendor to be part of the Game and Fish system starting with the 2016-17 licensing year, which begins April 1. New licenses are available starting March 15.

One of the major benefits of an electronic license purchase is the ability to reprint multiple copies of a license, or to replace lost or damaged licenses, at any license vendor location or from a personal computer. "Replacing a handwritten license with stamps is a time-consuming process, involving a replacement fee and a notarized form, followed by waiting on the mail for the forms to be received and a new license to be delivered," Meissner said.

In addition, an electronic copy of a license on a smartphone or tablet is just as valid as a paper printout.

The entire Department will benefit from receiving licensing data more quickly, Meissner said. Previously, all license books and stamps were collected by the counties after March 31, and then returned to Game and Fish with payment. All of these were numbered and had to be accounted for, which was a time-consuming process that involved counting each individual book.

After this year, the wait for final license data will be short.

Yes, times have changed and we all are affected. What hasn't changed, is that you need a new license to hunt, fish or trap in the coming year, and again, that starts on April 1.