How Much Should a Tag Cost?

When FirstLite posted last week about a proposed increase in the cost of an Idaho non-resident elk tag most of the comments were supportive. Many residents feel that out-of-staters have encroached on their hunting grounds and made it more difficult to find quality elk. Essentially, the argument is that increasing non-resident fees would provide a much needed barrier to overcrowding.

How much should a hunting tag cost? And, what factors should determine that price? In this blog I’ll write about the history of non-resident tags, explain the arguments for and against increased fees and provide data for Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho license, tag and permit sales. 

A Brief History of the Hunting Tags

Hunting licenses were originally produced to deter non-residents from capitalizing on the resources of the state (goHUNT.com). Governments “viewed local wildlife not only as their property, but as a financial asset for their citizens” (goHUNT.com).

There have been court challenges in the past to higher-priced non-resident fees. Under the 14th amendment states cannot deny any citizen equal protection under the laws (Marquette Law Review). However, courts have ruled that if the state has a specific purpose or objective in being discriminatory it is allowed. And, because hunting is a privilege not a constitutional right, the challenges to discriminatory fees have not held up in court. A substantial reason has come down to the fact that nonresidents do not pay income or property taxes in the state and their tags make up for that contribution from residents (Marquette Law Review).

By the Numbers

State Average Cost of a Resident License, Permit, Tag or Stamp * Average Cost of a Non-Resident License, Permit, Tag or Stamp ** Non-Resident % of Total License Revenue
Colorado $13,018,692 / 466,449 = $27.9 $48,693,308 / 113,156 = $430.3 78.9%
Idaho $10,977,864 / 1,077,304 =$10.19 $16,824,154 / 161,667 = $104 60.5%
Montana $12,361,151 / 1,711,087 = $7.22 $9,137,209 / 86,067 = $106.16 42.5%
Wyoming $6,554,885 / 179,864 = $36.44 $19,004,047 / 74,048 = $256.64 74.4%
Iowa 13,354,833 / 590,834 =$22.6 7,022,157 / 79,713 = $88.09 34.5%
United States 525,336,401 / 31,230,817= $16.8  371,153,169 / 4,670,096 = $79 41%

US Fish and Wildlife Service National Hunting License Data 2019 

* Avg. Cost = Total License, Fees, Permits, Tag and Stamp Revenues / Total Number of License, Fees, Tags and Stamps Sold

The graph above lists the average cost of a license, permit, tag or stamp for four western states and Iowa. Some rates are much higher than others, but in each case residents can expect to pay around ten times what residents pay. In states such as Colorado and Wyoming residents provide around three quarters of license revenues.

I originally supported higher fees for non-residents as I assumed that residents were carrying a heavy burden with property and income taxes, However, in Colorado 78% of parks and wildlife funding comes from hunting fees and excise taxes (CPW 2019 Fact Sheet, CPW License Fee History). Excise taxes are enforced on goods such as guns and ammo, and as a result residents and non-residents share a proportional amount of the total. Meanwhile, Idaho Fish and Game does not receive any revenues from the general fund (Idaho Game and Fish Director’s Report). Basically, states rely heavily on non-resident hunters to fund their wildlife departments.

What Should a Price be Based On?

The price of a tag could be calculated in several different ways. The department could estimate the value of the animal as a resource by estimating the value of the meat and antlers if sold to consumers. Grass-fed beef costs between $3 and $5 per pound, and a set of antlers costs upwards of $200 (ClawAnterHide, mint.beef-worth). If you were to sell all of the meat and antlers off a good sized bull a hunter could expect $650-$1,200. However, not all hunters have success and price should anticipate the probability of failure.

If a hunter removes an elk from the herd and uses roads and resources maintained by the Fish and Game Department, they should cover that expense. For the sake of argument lets say that all of Colorado’s $232 million dollar Parks and Wildlife budget goes to supporting the elk herd. Since there are 280,000 elk in Colorado the value of each elk would be (232,000,000/280,000)=$828, and a hunter should be charged that much or 10% of that value, since only 10% of hunters are successful ($82.8). Obviously this is an oversimplification, but you get the idea.

Regardless of which method states choose, they should avoid using price as a deterrent to hunters. Such actions lead to only the wealthy having the opportunity to hunt. Draw systems and quotas provide the limits necessary to prevent overcrowding without excluding lower-income hunters.

Conclusion

As hunting declines states will have to search for new ways to fund wildlife departments such as taxing other outdoor activities (NPR). Increasing non-resident tags seems like an easy option for departments as residents will voice complaints and vote against policies that affect their wallet.

Though non-residents carry more than their fair share of wildlife funding, it’s hard to argue that prices are unfair when so many hunters happily hand over $600 to hunt in the Rockies. The sentimental value of a hunt doesn’t fit easily into an equation. And, other expenses such as gear, travel and time off work also provide barriers to hunters. Feel free to let us know what your thoughts are on tag prices.

Thank you for reading, 

Stu

Resources

Wisconsin Hunting License Cost Study

Colorado Parks and Wildlife License Fee History

Colorado Parks and Wildlife 2019 Fact Sheet

Idaho Game and Fish Director’s Report

Idaho Performance Summary

NPR

US Fish and Wildlife Service Ntional Hunting License Data 2019 

Yoeg, Anna, How did hunting fees start? August 14, 2014.

https://www.gohunt.com/read/how-did-hunting-fees-start#gs.c1qe39

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