A bill passed in the Wyoming state legislature on Feb. 27, 2023, and signed by Gov. Mark Gordon on March 2 substantially increases the cost of the nonresident special draw fee but leaves regular nonresident draw fees unchanged. On the surface, it may appear that nonresident special draw fees will more than double for elk and deer and increase even more for antelope tags — but the math isn’t that simple, and the increases aren’t as severe as they have been made out to be in media reports.
When Free Range American reached out to Wyoming state Rep. David Northrup, who sponsored the bill, to explain what’s really going on with the tag price increases, he declined to give a full statement, claiming only that “there is apparent misinterpretation of the bill.”
This was echoed by Sy Gilliland, president of the Wyoming Outfitters & Guides Association.
“The Wyoming reporters who should know have the numbers all wrong,” he told Free Range American. So let’s clarify what the numbers really are and what they mean.
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New Wyoming Nonresident Fees and How They Break Down
Now that Gordon has signed HB 200 into law, the price increase for the special draw will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024. Here’s what the price differences between the nonresident special draw and the regular draw will look like:
- Nonresident special elk: from $576 to $1,258 – up 118%
- Nonresident special deer: from $288 to $826 – up 187%
- Nonresident special antelope: from $288 to $874 – up 203%
Those percentages are startling, but recent news articles and reactions to the bill have proven that the text of the proposed legislation is a bit confusing when it comes to the exact increases it contains, a fact that’s frustrating legislators and other parties that have worked on the bill for more than 18 months.
First and foremost, this DOES NOT mean that regular nonresident tags are going to rise in price by anywhere from 118% to 203%. Fees for the regular nonresident draw tags available for elk, deer, and antelope have not increased. They will remain the same under HB 200.
This DOES mean that the prices of the special nonresident tags are going up, but NOT by 118% to 203%. Those percentages are the proposed amount of change in the gap between the current nonresident and special tags and the new nonresident and special tags.
Let’s use elk as an example.
Previously, a nonresident special elk tag cost $576 more than the regular nonresident tag, which was priced at $692 — that’s a final cost of $1,268, the current price of a nonresident special elk tag.
Increasing the difference between the special and regular nonresident elk tags to $1,268 is an increase of $692, an increase of 118%.
Under the new regs, a nonresident special elk tag will cost $1,950, plus a $15 application fee, for a total of $1,965, according to Gilliland.
Then there’s a 2.5% credit card processing fee for a grand total of $2,014.12.
Previously, the grand total was $1,315.07.
This results in a total cost increase of $699.05, which is NOT an overall increase of anywhere near 118% — it’s more like 53%.
While HB 200 does not have any impact on the regular nonresident tag fees for elk, deer, and antelope, it does have an impact on regular nonresident tag fees for mountain goats, moose, and bighorn sheep, which will rise by $590, $770, and $682 respectively.
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So Why the Increase and Why Now?
Nonresident hunting licenses have always been more expensive than resident licenses; the draw odds are usually pretty crummy, too, but Wyoming does things a little differently to help improve those odds.
Wyoming hunting licenses for nonresident elk, deer, and antelope are broken up into a first (also called special) and second (also called regular) draw, with 40% of the available licenses being put in the special draw and the remaining 60% in the regular draw.
The licenses are exactly the same, but fees for the special draw are substantially higher. The logic behind this is that fewer people will pay the higher price charged for the first 40% of tags sold; therefore, the odds of drawing successfully are increased for those who do.
Distribution of Wyoming’s licenses has been split 40/60 since 1989, and Wyoming’s outfitter industry was the driving force behind the original bill.
“Our industry needed a way to put licenses into the hands of nonresidents who wanted to use our services but were constantly denied by the random draw,” Gilliland said. “The industry felt our clients would be willing to pay more money for a license if they had better draw odds.
“This worked very well for years, but eventually, the draw odds would worsen, and then a license fee increase would again help with the draw odds.”
After 34 years, the time for that increase has arrived.
Gilliland provided some insight into the actual numbers: In the 2022 nonresident elk application period, the Wyoming Game & Fish Department received more than 30,000 applications for 7,250 total nonresident full-price licenses.
Demand far outstripped supply, and if you paid attention in Economics 101, that means that Wyoming’s elk licenses are way underpriced.
The goal of the price increase for the special draw under HB 200 is to have fewer people applying for the special draw, which will rebalance the odds benefit that was established in 1989.
Like any business, it makes sense to price your product as high as the market will bear. HB 200 will push the envelope of just how much the market is willing to bear.
“We respect the rights of states to manage their wildlife and hunting as they see fit,” Dallas Safari Club’s (DSC) Government Affairs Director Erica Tergeson told Free Range American.
But there’s concern from DSC and others that the price hikes may go too far.
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Even though this will have a so-called negative impact on prospective hunters’ wallets, it will not negatively impact the overall herd health of elk, deer, antelope, mountain goats, moose, or bighorn sheep.
That’s why national organizations like the Wild Sheep Foundation (WSF) stay neutral on the decision.
Free Range American reached out to the WSF for the nonprofit’s take on the situation in Wyoming.
“Consistent with the North American Wildlife Conservation Model, Wild Sheep Foundation will remain neutral on resource allocation issues that do not negatively impact the wild sheep resource,” said the WSF president and CEO Gray Thornton.
“We believe and respect allocation of hunting permits between resident and nonresident hunters is the responsibility of each state, province, or territory, unless it negatively impacts the resource or overall hunting opportunities,” he added.
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Conservation Dollars at Work
When it comes to money, sometimes people equate capitalism with greed, but that couldn’t be further from the truth in this case. Remember, the American hunting model is about conservation — something that the majority of hunters are proud to be a part of.
“Out-of-state hunters generate a great deal of revenue in many states and that revenue goes directly to conservation programs,” said DSC’s Erica Tergeson.
Nonresident hunters who use the services of a Wyoming outfitter spend the most money per license in Wyoming while on their hunt.
According to Gilliland, they spend 4.5 times as much as a nonresident DIY hunter. That means there is 4.5 times as much money being made available for conservation efforts by nonresident guided hunters than by nonresident DIY hunters.
Wyoming Wildlife Task Force member Lee Livingston sent an email to all Wyoming state representatives in an effort to explain the bill to them before their vote. The email was forwarded to Free Range American by Northup.
In the email, Livingston clarified that this bill “is an attempt to bring 40% of the Wyoming nonresident licenses more in line with what other western states are charging.”
Essentially, it’s not that Wyoming is trying to price nonresidents out of hunting in their state. Yes, hunting in Wyoming will get more expensive for nonresident hunters who choose to participate in the special draw, but it’s about more than that.
It’s about taking a model that has worked very successfully for the past 34 years and aligning it with 21st-century economics and conservation, as seen throughout the rest of the western hunting states.
“Outfitting is a very important segment of Wyoming’s tourism industry, which is our second largest industry,” Gilliland said. “It just makes sense to put licenses into the hands of hunters who generate the [most] revenue and tax base for Wyoming, and that’s outfitted nonresidents.”
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According to Gilliland, more revenue means more money for conservation, which means more money to ensure the health of herds in Wyoming so that future generations can enjoy what makes hunting in that state so special to so many hunters, both past and present.
To others, it isn’t so simple.
“However well-intentioned, [this bill] will give the signal to many nonresident hunters that they are not welcome in Wyoming,” Tergeson said. “What I fear is that this effort to generate more revenue from nonresident hunters may instead push them to hunt in other states. That’s truly a shame as Wyoming is an incredible state with many diverse hunting opportunities.”