In the last issue of BUGLE magazine, published by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, I noticed that Colorado has made the same mistake that Montana and a number of other western states have made.
In the past, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) required full license fees up front when hunters applied for limited entry permits, then after the drawing, they sent a refund to unsuccessful applicants. That amounted to more than a thousand dollars in some cases, $1,800 in the case of bighorn sheep. This year CPW changed things in that they now charge only a nominal application fee—$13 to apply for special elk tags—and only charging the full price to those who were lucky in the draw.
As a result CPW saw a 33-percent increase in limited entry elk applications, a 279-percent increase in bighorn sheep applications and a 567-percent increase in moose tag applications. To give you an idea of some hard numbers, looking at those bighorn sheep applications, in 2017 some 3,728 nonresidents applied for 28 tags. This year, after implementing the nominal fee rather than the entire license fee, which is almost $1,400 for a Rocky Mountain bighorn and more than $2,000 for a desert bighorn, there were more than 14,000 applicants for the same 28 permits. So with a $13 application fee everybody and his grandma and little sister and brother have applied for a special permit.
Montana fell into the same trap during the last 20 years. It used to be that you had to come up with $125 and a few non-refundable bucks for an application fee. But then the whiners began crying loudly that it was too painful for them to come up with $125 for a sheep application. (The same fee is required for resident moose and goat permits.) So about 20 years ago Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) changed the requirements. Applicants only needed to come up with $50 along with their non-refundable application fee. Hunters who drew permits would have a certain time period, I think it was thirty days, to come up with the other $75. Well, that increased the odds markedly. The odds of drawing a moose, sheep or goat permit were already insane. (My opinion is that if you are so penniless you can't come up with $125 for an application fee, maybe you ought to stay home and watch TV.)
It took me 22 years to draw a moose. I never did draw a Montana mountain goat or bighorn sheep permit . I must have applied about 20 years for goats. I know I applied 32 years for bighorn sheep—two years as a non-resident and 30 as a resident.
Then, within the last decade or so, FWP started requiring only a $10 application fee, similar to what Colorado has done. Well, you know what happened—every person with ten bucks in his pocket applied for a special permit! Most of Montana's bighorn sheep districts now have odds running 200-to-1 and 300-to-1 and more.
Meanwhile, whining hunters also pushed through a preference system so that older guys who have applied for 25 years get their "names in the hat" 25 times. The poor dummy who just turned 16 or 18 gets his name in the hat a single time on his first application. So young men and women have to be extremely lucky to draw in a reasonable number of years, or they must accept the fact that they may be 60 years old when they first draw a special moose, sheep or goat permit.
It's all a screwed up situation and it is not the fault of the wildlife agencies. They are just listening to their constituents, a relative handful of whining hunters, and responding accordingly.