The West has too many visiting hunters

By Andrew Carpenter

Hunting may be losing popularity nationally, but in the West the number of hunters is climbing.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in 2022 there were 10% fewer hunters across the country than there were when hunting peaked in the 1980s. At the same time, four Western states — Colorado, Montana, Idaho and Utah — saw more hunters than ever before.

A key driver of this trend is out-of-state hunters who have run out of luck in their home states: elk, deer and other big game species have declined precipitously in many parts of the nation.

“Opportunities to hunt elk are very limited where I live,” said Wisconsin resident Erik Rollefson. “My home state only has a few hundred elk and issues fewer than 10 elk hunting permits per year. I have a better chance to get a license in any Western state.”

Out West, big game hunting licenses are distributed in state-run lotteries. While most are reserved for local residents, some can be allotted to non-resident hunters. Hunter numbers are down 8% in New Mexico, but the state still reserves 16% of its licenses for non-residents.

Contrast that with Colorado, where as many as 35% of the licenses go to out-of-state hunters. Colorado also sells unlimited “over-the-counter” licenses that do not require a lottery entry to purchase. Policies like this have contributed to a whopping 26% more hunters in the state than there were in 2008.

It’s not surprising that many local hunters resent losing hunting opportunities to visitors. “Many residents depend on hunting for food,” said Rebecca Bradley, a bow hunter from Colorado. “I’d prefer that the state reserve licenses for locals that want them before setting any aside for non-residents.”

Consider Montana, where hunter numbers are up almost 4%. Big Sky Country sold slightly fewer hunting licenses to residents from 2008 to 2021, but non-residents bought 35% more licenses over that same period. With more out-of-state hunters pressuring game, some residents tell me they’d rather stay home.

“The non-resident (hunter) numbers have gone up like crazy,” said Joe Perry, a Montana rancher and founding member of the Montana Sportsmen Alliance. “That excludes residents.”

Though hunting tourism may discourage some locals from hunting, It’s a windfall for state wildlife agencies while subsidizing license prices for residents.

Except for Utah, which reserves just 10% of its tags for non-residents, Western states such as Colorado, Montana, Idaho, New Mexico, and Wyoming receive more than 60% of their license revenue from non-resident hunters.

That’s because non-residents pay so much more to hunt than residents do. The Wyoming Legislature recently passed a bill to increase certain kinds of non-resident elk licenses from $576 to $1,258, while a resident pays just $57.

Increasing costs for hunting licenses and what many say is crowding in the outback may finally reduce the ranks of out-of-state hunters. “It’s a big expense, and you don’t get to experience the wilderness if the mountains are overrun with hunters,” said Rollefson, the hunter from Wisconsin. “I’d rather go less often but have a higher-quality hunt, with fewer hunters and more animals.”

Joe Livingston, a public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said the agency’s approach is that “the animals take priority,” although “crowding has become a factor.”

The agency is considering reducing the non-resident license allocation from 35% to 25%, a change expected to cost the state $1.4 million. 

I live in Colorado, but I no longer hunt locally. I support allocating fewer hunting licenses for visitors so that locals don’t feel locked out. I believe resident hunters and a local hunting culture that’s invested in public land and its wildlife deserve to take priority over hunting tourism. Those of us who live in the state are the ones who pay taxes, vote and volunteer to clean up trails in the mountains.

If locals lose interest in hunting because wild places have become crowded, and animal populations drop because deer and elk are over-pressured, the next generation of hunters will be seasonal tourists rather than year-round stewards of their local area.

We need to preserve the wildness we’ve got left in Colorado along with the wild animals that depend on it. To do that, local hunters need to come first when it comes to issuing licenses to hunt.

Andrew Carpenter is a contributor to Writers on the Range,, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He lives in Colorado.

Dan Vigueria, Paonia, Colorado, Grizzly Longbows LLC

This column was published in the following newspapers:

10/30/2023 Explore Big Sky Big Sky MT
10/30/2023 St. George Spectrum St. George UT
10/30/2023 Wallowa County Chieftain Enterprise OR
10/31/2023 Steamboat Pilot Steamboat Springs CO
10/31/2023 Yahoo sunnyvale ca
10/31/2023 Montrose Daily Press Montrose CO
10/31/2023 Wenatchee World Wenatchee WA
10/31/2023 Vail Daily Vail CO
10/31/2023 High Country Shopper Paonia CO
11/01/2023 Jackson Hole News & Guide Jackson Hole WY
11/01/2023 Salt Lake Tribune Salt Lake City UT
11/01/2023 Cortez Journal Cortez CO
11/01/2023 Colorado Free Press Denver CO
11/01/2023 Wyoming Tribune Eagle Cheyenne WY
11/01/2023 Durango Herald Durango CO
11/02/2023 Aspen Daily News Aspen CO
11/02/2023 Gunnison Times Gunnison CO
11/01/2023 Taos News Taos NM
10/31/2023 Craig Daily Press Craig co
11/03/2023 Denver Post Denver CO
11/03/2023 Idaho Mountain Express Ketchum ID
11/03/2023 Laramie Boomerang Laramie WY
11/04/2023 Carlsbad Current-Argus Carsbad NM
11/04/2023 Yahoo sunnyvale ca
11/01/2023 Big Horn County News Hardin MT
11/04/2023 Ruidoso Daily News Ruidoso New Mexico
11/04/2023 Farmington Daily Times Farmington NM
11/07/2023 Sierra Vista Herald Sierra Vista AZ
11/08/2023 Greeley Tribune Greeley CO
11/09/2023 Daily Interlake Kalispell MT
11/09/2023 Miles City Star Miles City MT
11/13/2023 Bandon Western World Bandon OR
11/26/2023 Boulder Daily Camera Boulder CO
5 1 vote
Article Rating
Notify of

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
5 months ago

Didn’t Colorado DOW saw they were going to change the res/non-res allocation? Don’t think it matters due to the ratio not enforced for leftover tags. Or is it?

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Once a week you’ll receive an email with a link to our weekly column along with profiles of our writers, beside quirky photos submitted from folks like you. Don’t worry we won’t sell our list or bombard you with daily mail.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x