Big game tag auctions raise big bucks for Western states

 

In the West, big game hunting can be big business. In January, a New York man shelled out $300,000 at auction for a tag to hunt Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in Montana this fall -- almost equaling the 1994 bid record of $310,000 for a bighorn tag.

All Western states have similar auction programs for big-game tags. Nevada calls its licenses "Heritage tags," Wyoming goes with "Commissioner's tags," and Idaho prefers the stately sounding "Governor's tags." Details differ but the gist is the same: Wildlife departments award a handful of license tags for sought-after species to conservation and sportsmen's groups, which then auction them to the highest bidder.

Critics say the practice puts statewide, extended-season hunts and other perks well beyond most hunters' means. But raffle programs -- in which hunters pay a small fee to enter a drawing for the special tags -- help equalize things. Meanwhile, depending on the state, 75-100 percent of the revenue generated by the tags goes to fund big game-conservation projects. In southwestern Colorado, wildlife officials recently used auction-tag funds to transplant desert bighorn sheep into the Dolores River drainage to enhance the genetic variability of existing herds. Below are some of the highest bids paid for such tags.

Total auction and raffle revenue returned to selected states

$3.9 million
California
(2001-2012) 

$5.8 million
Colorado (1989-2011)

$19.5 million
Arizona (1984-2011)

$5.2 million*
Montana (1986-2012)

$2.9 million
Washington
(1994-2009)