A Closer Look at HB 635: What do Montana Hunters Get Out of This?

Update: On April 21st, Governor Gianforte sent HB 635 back to lawmakers with amendments. One of those was to triple the number of licenses given to nonresident landowners owning 2,500 acres. So instead of one deer/elk license being given per 2,500 acres owned (up to five), Gov. Gianforte wants all nonresident landowners who own 2,500 acres or more to get three deer/elk licenses.

The explanation we got for the change was an attempt to further address hunter crowding by giving more licenses to nonresident landowners to hunt their own ranches.

Ignoring that more than half are already drawing licenses each year and many probably already hunt their own property anyways, our analysis* estimates that only 213 nonresident landowners would qualify for this (own 2,500 acres or more in general units).

Of those, our GIS research shows that under the first version of HB 635, 130 would qualify for 1 license per the current bill (own 2,500-4,999 acres); 36 would qualify for 2 licenses; 13 qualify for 3; 12 qualify for 4; and 21 would qualify for 5 (owning 12,500 or more). This equals 394 licenses coming from the B10 nonresident pot and being set aside for nonresident landowners. It's insignificant in terms of lessening nonresident hunter crowding.

Equally insignificant, however, would be the 639 combo licenses set aside if Gov. Gianforte's amendments on HB 635 are accepted (213 landowners x 3 deer/elk combo licenses each = 639 total), because according to FWP, there were 59,013 non-resident deer and elk hunters in Montana in 2022.

*our analysis isn't perfect, as these numbers are surprisingly difficult to land on. Many lands are owned by the same person but under different names, many tax addresses are out of state but the landowner is still a resident, or vice versa, etc. But this is our best estimate.



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 59,013 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.

About Montana BHA

The voice for Montana's wild public lands, waters and wildlife

See other posts related to Montana issues