As I sit down to write this Soapbox, I am reflecting on my time at Huntin’ Fool. The biggest thing I have noticed in my time here is that nothing stays the same when it comes to the western states’ Fish and Game Departments and how they issue tags. When I started hunting the West, it was very easy to acquire enough tags to fill your hunting season, but with the increase of applications for tags and the restrictions that are being placed on non-resident hunters, you really need to develop a multi-year plan just to make sure you are hunting every year.
Take Idaho for example. It was not many years ago when I could buy an over- the-counter deer or elk tag and just go hunting. If I was successful, I could drive back into town and buy another tag and keep hunting. That all changed two years ago when Idaho decided to limit non-residents to a unit for deer or zone for elk. In the first year this happened, I was still able to purchase a deer and elk tag, but I was online the minute they went on sale. Fast forward to this year when the tags went on sale and I found myself at number 13,000 in the queue looking to buy a tag. After a couple hours of waiting for my turn, there were no elk tags left that I wanted but I felt very fortunate to be able to buy a deer tag. Talking to Idaho, they had over 30,000 non-resident hunters log on December 1st to attempt to purchase tags. In just three years, Idaho went from one of the best fallback states to hunt to being nearly impossible to hunt unless you purchase your OTC tag on December 1st.
Another state I always enjoyed hunting was Oregon. If my schedule was not full, I would pick up an archery deer or elk tag and hunt Eastern Oregon. Well, Oregon in their great wisdom decided to make the archery deer tags on the eastern side of the state a draw in 2021 and is following the same pattern with elk in 2022 for most areas on the eastern side. The thing that made Oregon great was all of their over-the-counter opportunities for a non-resident. In just a few years, that great opportunity will be just another good old day’s story I will tell my boys about.
Montana has had over a 20% increase in non-resident applications for the general combo deer and elk permits. Montana is in their two-year season setting process this year, and the Montana FWP had introduced some radical elk and deer changes. The hot topic was a bunch of the elk units on the eastern side of the state. Honestly, it was amazing to see how involved hunters got by calling and emailing the commissioners. I spoke to one commissioner who received thousands of emails from those who were concerned about the changes being proposed. In all my years of watching commission meetings, I have seen something happen that I never would have expected. There are many groups of people that usually disagree, especially when it comes to wildlife management, but all of these groups asked the commissioners to throw out the plans and go back to the 2021 regulations due to all the craziness. In the end, the commission did not go back to the 2021 regulations. However, they did make a lot of good changes to the elk season.
Sometimes change can be good. A change that my son, Caleb, likes to remind me about is that I no longer have the biggest bull elk in the family. Caleb was able to harvest a great bull in Utah last year and Brady Harang was along to film it for another Hunt Advisor video, which should be out this spring.