Posted: Dec 1, 2010 6:36 AM by Kay Rossi (KRTV Great Falls)
Updated: Dec 1, 2010 7:04 AM
GREAT FALLS - Hunting season wrapped up on Sunday and for Montana's guides and outfitters, it may have signified the end to hunting as they know it.
The recent passage of Initiative 161 has outfitters wondering if their businesses have a shot at success in the future as from from 2011 on, outfitters can no longer offer out of state clients guaranteed licenses.
The 5,500 outfitter-sponsored licenses will go back into a general nonresident pool and visiting sportsmen will rely on the luck of the draw.
"It's one of our marketing tools that we're going to lose, being able to have a guaranteed license. The whole business is going to have to be restructured," Outfitter Dick Lyman said.
Outfitters can still work with landowners to lease private lands for hunting, but with a fee increase for nonresident licenses, Lyman wonders if the same interest will still be out there, noting, "We may lose clients just for the simple reason that only part of their party will get licenses."
Fees will go up from $628 to $912 for big game combination nonresident licenses, and from $328 to $542 for deer licenses.
In addition to the increases, Lyman sees the the new system as a deterrent for out-of-staters because it's based on luck. But according to MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Montana has never been in short supply of hunters.
FWP Region 4 information officer Bruce Auchly said, "Hunting is a big industry in Montana. Whether this will affect it or not, certainly remains to be seen."
Lyman is remaining hopeful throughout the transition, saying he believes most landowners will still be willing to work with outfitters.
And in the end, he says outfitters will find a way to keep business moving forward.
"The outfitters are very resilient and they will figure out a way to be able to do business," Lyman said.
March 15th is the deadline for non-resident hunting license applications and Auchly said that it will be about mid-April before FWP will know just how I-161 has affected out-of-state licenses.