Proponents of HB 635 - the bill that would give nonresident deer and elk tags to out-of-state landowners owning 2,500 acres or more - claim it’ll move 2,550 hunters from public to private.
Is that really the case?
Last year, more than 59,000 nonresidents hunted deer and elk in Montana; will 2,550 – or 4.3% - make any difference in crowding, especially while many nonresident licenses are still unlimited. Unlikely.
But 2,550 won’t be moved from this. Not even close.
We hired a GIS analyst and found 554 parcels >2,500 acres owned by nonresidents. But once we remove duplicate owners and the properties in permitted areas, we find only 213 landowners who would be eligible.
And then, of these 213 – which are mostly LLC, corporations, partnerships, and timber companies – how many would qualify for an individual license or ones they could transfer to family members? Not all of them.
And how many of those nonresident landowners actually hunt? Not all of them.
For those who do hunt, how many of them aren’t already drawing tags? Draw odds for nonresidents – regardless of preference points – is better than 50% for elk, even better for deer. So most are already drawing tags anyways.
Finally, how many of these out-of-state landowners are currently hunting public land who would then be moved to private if this bill passes? Our guess is that most who own this much property are likely hunting their own private oasis already. So we can't count all of them as hunters who would move from public to private.
All in all, the number of hunters this would move to from public to private is nominal, likely just a fraction of 1% of the 59,000 existing nonresident deer and elk hunters.
We agree that nonresident hunter crowding is an issue, but it’s wishful thinking that HB 635 will have any noticeable impact. The precedent we set and the doors we open for other guaranteed tags in the process, well, even when we plug our nose, this still stinks.
Senate Fish & Game is expected to take action as early as Tuesday, March 21st, but there's still time to speak up and make your voices heard. Letters are great, but phone calls on Monday March 20th will be most effective: call 406-444-4800 and leave a message with the switchboard operator for members of the Senate Fish and Game asking that they vote NO on HB 635.