By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
Prices could rise dramatically for nonresident hunters wanting to get to the front of the line to draw Wyoming big game hunting tags.
The cost for some nonresident elk tags could scrape the $2,000 mark under a draft bill forwarded Tuesday by the Wyoming Legislature’s Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Joint Committee.
The price hikes were recommended to the committee by the Wyoming Wildlife Task Force. The bill is set to go before the Legislature during its next general session, set to begin in January.
If passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor, the new fees would take effect in January 2024. That’s the month in which nonresident hunters would have to apply for fall 2024 hunting tags.
There also was some discussion about possibly hiking nonresident fees for Wyoming’s “big five” trophy game species: moose, bison, mountain goats, bighorn sheep and grizzly bears. However, that motion died.
Paying To Be First In Line
The fee hikes would apply for “special application” tags, which would make up 40% of nonresident tag applications for Wyoming’s primary big game species – elk, deer and antelope. The price hikes would not apply to the other 60% of out-of-state hunting tag applications.
Nonresident hunters willing to shell out the extra bucks for special application tags would move to the front of the line to draw tags. That means they’d have better odds in the drawings.
The draft bill would boost the special application fees that are tacked onto the base price of nonresident hunting tags. Nonresident hunters willing to take their chances in the general drawing pool would still pay only the base tag fees.
For example, the current base price of regular nonresident elk tag set by state statute is $690. The current special application fee for that tag is $576. The draft bill would raise that fee to $1,258. That means the tag would cost hunters entering the special draws a total of $1,948.
The end cost for special draw privileges would hit $1,208 for deer tags and $1,198 for antelope.
Matching The Market
Those cost hikes would bring Wyoming’s special draw tag fees for nonresidents more in line with other Western states, Wildlife
Task Force member Sen. Larry Hicks, R- Baggs, told the committee.
The price hikes shouldn’t discourage nonresidents because of the allure of hunting in Wyoming, he said.
“Just because you draw a license, that doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to come out here and shoot something. We’re selling an experience,” he said.
Committee member Rep. Jeremy Haroldson, R-Wheatland, was skeptical of hiking the fees so much. Some of Wyoming’s premiere mule deer herds have been hit hard by drought and chronic wasting disease, which has made hunting tough this year, he said.
“If a guy spends that much money to come out here and doesn’t see anything bigger than a 2-year-old buck, we’ve got a problem,” he said.
However, two hunting outfitters who sit on the wildlife task force told the committee that they don’t think the fee hikes would hurt their business. Plenty of nonresidents are still willing to pay whatever it takes to hunt in Wyoming, said Lee Livingston and Sy Gilliland. Livingston is an outfitter and Park County commissioner. Gilliland is president of the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association.
One Wyoming hunter said that he doesn’t think the proposed fee hikes are a good idea. The proposal is “too narrow” because it covers only the special draw tags, Rob Shaul of Hoback told the committee via Zoom.
If legislators are to reconsider the nonresident tag prices, they should consider them across the board and for all game species, he said.
That’s because all of the state’s nonresident hunting tags are below market value, said Shaul, president of Mountain Pursuit, a hunter advocacy group.
If the Legislature doesn’t consider nonresident fees as a whole during the next session, it will have to keep revisiting the matter, he said.
What About The ‘Big Five’?
Some members of the committee said the task force should consider fees for the “big five” during its next meeting Nov. 18 in Casper.
Tags for the big five are generally considered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for resident and nonresident hunters. And currently, hunters may pursue only four of those species – mountain goats, bighorn sheep, moose and bison.
Grizzly bears remain under federal protection and may not be hunted in Wyoming. However, state statue has put a $6,000 price on nonresident grizzly tags if and when a season opens here.
That price could be hiked to $7,500, some committee and task force members said, adding that fees for the other four species could be raised significantly.
Still, such a move needs more consideration rather than being done “on the fly,” said committee member Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper.