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Idaho: The Worst Online Application System in The West

April 24, 2008.

Sorry, Idaho. While I've enjoyed my visits to your great state and look forward to drawing a tag and returning to hunt there someday, your online application system is terrible.

None of the online application systems used by western game and fish departments are likely to be held up as prime examples of website usability. Most of them, however, do achieve their bottom-line goal of allowing hunters to successfully submit their applications.

The notable exception to this is the online application system of Idaho Fish and Game.

After two days of trying, I was forced to accept the fact that I could not figure out how to successfully apply for an Idaho mountain goat tag using the online system.

To apply for sheep, goat, or moose in Idaho, a non-resident has to buy a non-refundable hunting license for $141.50. This is a steep price considering you will probably not draw the tag you're after, but this is a common practice in western states and a good source of funding for many Game and Fish Departments. And, it keeps away all but the most serious (and well-funded) of hunters, decreasing the applicant pool and improving the draw odds for those who are willing to stomach the price tag.

I was able to successfully purchase my hunting license, forking over the $141.50 plus a $7.75 "convenience fee" for making an online purchase. The "convenience fee" helps defray credit card processing costs (a few bucks for this purchase), and serves to penalize hunters who help the department by submitting electronic applications, which are much easier and cheaper to process than paper applications.

When you buy your license, you get a confirmation number (a gigantic 20-character mixture of numbers and letters) and a reminder of your sportsman number (a much less overwhelming 8-digit number that IDG&F uses to identify you).

BUT, they do not tell you the license number that you just paid $150 for. Without the license number, you cannot apply for your sheep, goat, or moose tag — which is the whole reason you just paid $150!

At least, during my two days of repeated attempts, I thought this was the case. I kept trying again and again to apply, thinking I was missing something. The website fucntions that should allow you to apply for your sheep, goat, or moose tag are completely confusing to use — there are multiple sets of buttons scattered about the page, and it's unclear whether you have to fill in certain sections or can skip them — so I was convinced I must be missing some subtle detail.

In addition to the confusing screens, the system does not give you any sort of feedback when you press a button. There are no messages saying "Application successfully submitted;" there are no messages saying "Error, license number is required." There is no user feedback whatsoever. You just enter stuff and click on stuff and hope you eventually get to a receipt page. Since I never did, I assumed my application wasn't submitted. But I didn't really know.

I tried contacting IDG&F electronically using the "Contact Us" function, but did not receive a response.

I then tried calling for help at the non-toll-free number listed on the license application site.

The first time I called, I waited on hold for 12 and a half minutes before I gave up.

The second time I called, I got through right away. A very nice lady told me the secret, which I will pass along here:

Your license number is the last 12 digits of that
20-character confirmation number.

After you buy your license and figure out how to get to the Controlled License application, enter those last 12 digits for your license number, and you'll finally be on track.

The deadline to apply for sheep, goat or moose in Idaho is April 30th.

Now that you know the secret, you can apply using Idaho's online application system, if you can stand the license fees, the "convenience fees," and the steep (but refundable) tag fees.

Good luck in the draws.


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