Taking a hike

March 4, 2011

Faith Outdoors

Those who wish to hunt out of state are starting to make plans now, as they prepare and send applications for license lotteries.

Hunters planning to visit the State of Montana will be in for a shock. Prices for some tags are taking a hike this year — a very big one. Anyone wishing to buy the big game combination license is going to pay $912. That is an increase of 41 percent over last year’s price of $643. That and other tag increases are all part of the state’s Initiative 161 that passed back in November.

Basically, the voters in Montana accomplished two things when they passed the initiative in the fall election: 1. They abolished the tags the state normally gives to outfitters that guaranteed their clients would get a tag when booking hunts with them (5,500 elk and deer tags annually), and, 2. They dramatically increased the price of some nonresident tags to make up for the loss in revenue. The license fee increase is expected to generate an additional $2.2 million in revenue, which the state will use to fund hunter access and habitat improvement.

An article I read online on the website for the Missoulian newspaper gives some background on the previous prices and policy, plus the rationale for proposing the new rule. It was written before the vote, but it helped me understand the issue.

Basically, Montana residents felt like outfitters were locking up too much land, which put a crunch on local hunters wanting access to private land without having to pay the high outfitting fees. Over the last 20-plus years, outfitters have continued to lease more land for their clients, thereby taking away opportunities for those who want to go on self-guided hunts.

I understand and accept the desire to open up more land to hunters, but it seems to me that it’s the nonresidents who will have to pay for that privilege. If it’s the residents who want more land access, why should nonresidents have to pay so much for it?

It’s part of an ongoing philosophy that many states have been adopting in recent years. It goes something like this: We have good hunting in our state, and if you nonresidents want to come here, you’re going to pay through the nose.

It will be interesting to see what the response from nonresident hunters will be. I have heard some comments already. One local conservation leader in Minnesota, Don McMillan (a Catholic, by the way), is outraged over the fee hike and has publicly stated he will not hunt in Montana, even though he has done so for many years.

I do see his point. Someone else argued that sizable chunks of public land in many states belong to the federal government and, thus, to all Americans. Our tax money has gone to pay for and maintain these lands, so why should nonresidents have to pay more?

I’d like to see some balance on the issue. Up until this year, there have traditionally been more applicants than tags in Montana, so the state has been selling all of them. This year, the 5,500 big game outfitter tags will be going into the general lottery, with a total of 17,000 nonresident big game combo tags available in the draw.

I’ll be very curious to see how many hunters apply for these tags this year. I know I won’t. That’s too much money for me. However, my 17-year-old son has applied for the nonresident youth big game combination license, which is sold for half price. We were able to afford it because his grandfather was generous enough to offer to pay for it. Otherwise, he would have planned to buy the $80 whitetail doe tag that I have bought the last two years.

Thankfully, the price of the nonresident whitetail doe (Deer B) license will remain the same, as will antelope tags. There are lots of both in Montana, more than enough to provide some great action. I have filled my doe tags both years, and have seen lots of animals in the process. I enjoy hunting in Montana, and I’m very happy to shoot does.

Residents overwhelming like to shoot bucks, which leaves lots of does left for hunters like me. In fact, the buck-to-doe ratio seems out of balance in my opinion. I’m happy to help solve this problem.

Yet, it would be nice to tag a buck or an elk from time to time. Unfortunately, the high prices of tags are turning it into a sport for the rich, at least in terms of nonresidents.

I wonder if this is what Montana residents want. Maybe so. Or, perhaps more likely, they don’t care what nonresidents have to pay. After all, the fewer nonresidents there are, the less competition for land access they will have.

But, what about all of the businesses that reap financial rewards from nonresidents who come — hotels and motels, gas stations and restaurants, to name a few? They’re probably concerned about a potential drop in out-of-state hunters.

Overall, I’ve been very happy with the Montana hunts I and my boys have had. We’re looking forward to another one this fall. Yet, if I had a chance to talk to people in the state who are responsible for the exorbitant fees, I would simply say:

“C’mon! Is that really fair to charge nearly $1,000 for a big game combination license, when you’re paying less than $100 for it? Please, be reasonable. I like coming to your state and I’m glad to open my wallet to help support your economy. But, I only have so much money to spend. Why not bring the prices back down, so that hunters with more moderate incomes can hunt?”

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About Dave Hrbacek

Staff photographer and writer for The Catholic Spirit. Also, avid outdoors enthusiast with a passion for hunting, fishing and photography. Married to Julie and have four children, three boys and a girl.

View all posts by Dave Hrbacek