Like most hunters, I occasionally disagree with how Idaho Fish and Game manages big game, but I agree with F&G’s long-standing policies on allocating big game tags.
That could quickly and drastically change if Fish and Game commissioners approve a proposal that would guarantee some landowners big game tags and allow those prized tags to be sold for a profit.
The foundation of Idaho’s big game hunts is fairness. If you want to hunt big game every year, you can buy a tag and go. Anyone who’s legally entitled to hunt can buy one.
That’s a rarity in the West, and something Idaho hunters should take pride in and protect with the vigilance they’ve shown protecting the state’s wildlife.
If you want a premium controlled hunt, you also have nearly the same opportunity as everyone else, and all residents pay the same price for the opportunity.
There are exceptions: A bighorn sheep tag is auctioned, deer and elk tags are allocated to outfitters, and landowners get a separate drawing for some big game tags.
Outfitter tags are allocated so those businesses have some predictability. Some hunters have heartburn that outfitters are guaranteed tags the rest of us have to draw for, but it’s a tradeoff.
Outfitters are only guaranteed tags in areas limited by controlled hunts. They’re also offering a service along with that tag, and they have plenty of competition from other outfitters.
Landowners who own at least 640 acres in a hunting unit that is limited by controlled hunts have a separate drawing for tags, but they still compete with other landowners.
The landowner program has been around for 27 years, and it’s been controversial because landowners typically have much better odds of drawing a tag than the average hunter.
It’s a tradeoff that allows them an opportunity to hunt on their own land, and the tags also show appreciation for the habitat private landowners provide wildlife.
But guaranteeing tags to some landowners and allowing those tags to be sold is a slap in the face to the average hunter.
It’s also blatantly turning a big game tag, as well as an animal owned and prized by all, into a private commodity that sends a magnum-blast signal that Idaho reserves the best hunting for the wealthiest hunters.
Landowner tags could potentially sell for tens of thousands of dollars — or more — based on big game tags auctioned by neighboring states.
A wealthy Idaho hunter recently paid $305,000 for a Utah mule deer tag. Idaho’s lone bighorn sheep tag has been auctioned for upward of $180,000.
And to have a landowner the recipient of that fat check, instead of the agency charged with managing wildlife? That’s plain wrong, and it undermines the current foundation of fairness for distributing big game tags.
The proposal is so backward of how Idaho works, it’s almost surprising it’s even being considered.
But I’ve spent many years covering the Fish and Game commission, and I’ve seen this idea floated on several occasions. Fortunately, it’s been shot down like a fat, pen-raised pheasant on opening day.
To the commissioners’ credit, they want to get hunters something in return for allowing the sale of landowner tags, such as public access or improved habitat, but it’s simply not worth it.
The citizens of Idaho own the wildlife. That’s how it’s always been, and that’s how it should remain.
So to the current commissioners, and future commissioners who will join in July, think long and hard about this decision, and let it die like your predecessors have wisely done.
The landowner appreciation program is a delicate compromise between rank-and-file hunters and landowners.
It’s not perfect, but few compromises are, so you’re bound to hear some grumbling from both sides.
The basic tenet of fairness regarding tag allocation is one that hunters, F&G and commissioners should view with pride and defend, not change to benefit a few landowners and wealthy hunters.
Don’t upset the balance and topple the equality that’s been maintained for decades.