As big game seasons get cranked up around the nation, I started thinking about all the money I have spent over the past four decades on nonresident hunting licenses and tags. It’s impressive.
The year 2015 was one that I didn’t travel to hunt as much as I usually do, yet I still found myself holding nonresident hunting licenses and various big-game tags in 11 states, plus my home state, plus I bought permits on an Indian reservation in South Dakota and some licenses and turkey tags here and there. All told, I spent a tick over four grand on license and tag money so I could chase critters hither and yon. (Nobody said you have to hate your job every day, yo.)
That got me to thinking about some places I have not hunted in years because the cost of a nonresident license has crossed my own personal threshold.
One is Montana, a place I used to hunt almost every year. In 2015, however, a Big Game Combination license (which allows you to hunt elk and deer) cost $996, plus a $10 “Conservation” license and $10 “Bow and Arrow” license are required. An elk-only license is $846. Wyoming is another. An elk tag there runs $591, if you can draw, but if you want to virtually ensure that you do draw you can opt for the “Special” license for just $1,071. Deer tags run $326. And there’s a nonrefundable $14 application fee for each species you apply for.
It’s not just out West, either. Want to hunt one of those giant Kansas whitetails you keep hearing about? You’ll need to buy a $97.50 hunting license, and then draw a $442.50 deer tag. Or you could try the much more reasonable Bluegrass State of Kentucky, where the nonresident hunting license runs $140 and a deer tag will set you back $120.
The difference in price of a nonresident vs resident hunting license and big-game tag is big, as we all know. In Kentucky, residents pay $20 for a hunting license and $35 for a deer license. In Montana, residents pay $10 for a “Bow and Arrow” license, $8 for the “Conservation” license, $16 for a General deer license, $5 for a Deer Permit, $20 for an elk license and $9 for an Elk Permit.
In many states, the regulations governing the issuance of nonresident hunting licenses and tags have become so complicated it almost seems like you need a good lawyer to sort through it all. And they change often, with each state having its own unique application process and deadline dates. And when you start playing the western state bonus point or preference point game, things can get crazy – and expensive – in a hurry.
Most states use a combination of nonresident hunters’ (and, to a lesser extent, anglers’) money plus federal Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson tax money to pay for the bulk of the DNR budget. One example: in 2012-13 in Colorado, of the roughly 575,000 big-game and small-game hunting licenses sold, about 86,000 went to nonresidents. Colorado Parks and Wildlife collected about $38 million in elk and deer licenses from nonresidents, compared with $7.6 million from resident hunters. In Idaho, nonresident hunters are 6 percent of license buyers, but provide 37 percent of all license revenue.
I understand that DNRs have a lot going on these days. Like everyone else, they have been affected by the mounting costs of health care, pensions, energy, vehicle fuel, information technology and other basics. Today, they are essentially responsible for all wild living things, not just game animals and sport fish. They’ve also found that there is a fine line between what hunters are willing to pay and what they are not. Both Montana and Idaho have seen the demand for their pricey nonresident permits drop enough that they are now facing budget shortfalls, with Montana facing a reported shortfall of some $5.75 million in 2017.
What do you think? Are nonresident hunting licenses and tags so expensive that you, too, have reached the point where it isn’t worth it to you? What should state game departments do to woo back those that have not come back? Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your thoughts.