Trends in big-game licensing can be as hard to spot as a sunup buck, or as obvious as a sky-lined ram. This is a year for the latter, as states line up to raise license fees, require online applications and adjust their systems for awarding preference points to unsuccessful applicants.
Nearly half the dozen Western states will greet big-game hunters with higher license fees this year.
Some, such as Montana, are limiting their license hikes to resident hunters, who have been subsidized in recent years by disproportionately high nonresident fees.
Other states, such as Colorado and New Mexico, are equal-opportunity inflators, charging both resident and nonresident hunters more for their licenses.
Application deadline: May 31 for most fall permit hunts, including draw units for moose, caribou, brown bear and musk ox.
What's new: Some localized changes for 2006 include restrictions on nonresident caribou and moose hunters along some river corridors, liberalized seasons and regulations for brown bears and wolves in some units and more restrictive black bear seasons in popular Prince William Sound.
Much of Alaska is managed through general season regulations, where hunter numbers are not restricted. But some of the best quality hunting is through permit hunts, the deadline for which is the end of May.
Good opportunities through the drawing include Kodiak Island (Unit 8) brown bear, Unit 17 moose and thin-horn sheep in units 20, 23 and 26.
Application deadline: June 2, 2006.
To apply: Visit California Department of Fish and Game at www.dfg.ca.gov and click on either Hunting or Licenses/Regulations.
You can also call (916) 445-0411.
What's new: This year's regulations won't be final until May, but preliminary indications are that both quotas and season structures will look a lot like 2005. In the A and B deer zones, for instance, 65,000 and 55,000 permits will be available, respectively.
The premium X Zones will be managed for quality, with hunter success averaging about 35 percent. And late deer hunts will continue, with public land hunts for both bucks and antlerless deer.
A new application code will allow you to earn a bonus point for next year's draw without actually entering the lottery.
A few new tule elk hunts have been added to the growing list of units where residents can hunt the restored wapiti.
A few more Klamath elk and a few more Clear Lake antelope but fewer Lassen antelope round out the permit changes.
Fee increases: None this year, but with a $303 resident elk tag (resident deer hunters pay a much more modest $22), maybe there's enough revenue in the Golden State to keep a fee increase at bay.
Application deadline: April 4, 2006.
To apply: Go to wildlife.state.co.us/ RulesRegs/Brochures or call (800) 244-5613.
What's new: The big news this year is the mandatory Habitat Stamp ($5 for most hunters, or you can spring for a lifetime stamp for $200).
Revenue from the stamp will be used to buy and manage public access and wildlife habitat.
Preference points are getting a major overhaul. For instance, points will be awarded only to hunters who properly apply and are unsuccessful. But now deer, elk, antelope and bear points are awarded only if the applicant purchased a fishing, small game or big game license the previous year or paid $25 for the point.
Unsuccessful moose, sheep and goat applicants get a preference point this year.
Sheep hunters get two new units, S33 in Hinsdale and San Juan counties, and S70 in southwest Colorado.
The Division of Wildlife is aggressively encouraging applicants to apply online this year, but nonresidents cannot apply electronically for moose, sheep and goat licenses.
Other changes include categorizing some antler-less deer and licenses as List B licenses, which allows hunters to have more than one license.
Fee increases: Yes. The Colorado Legislature approved a fairly significant fee hike that takes effect this year, hiking both resident and nonresident licenses.
This year a resident sheep tag, for instance costs $251, up from $200 last year.
Application deadline: March 15 for nonresident applicants for deer and elk licenses, including landowner- and outfitter-sponsored categories.
For residents, the deadline for special deer, elk and antelope tags is June 1. And for everyone, May 1 is the deadline to apply for the moose, mountain goat and bighorn sheep drawing.
To apply: Visit Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks' Web site at www.fwp.mt.gov or call (406) 444-2950 to request application materials.
What's new: Montana is joining the ranks of states that offer a raffle for big game licenses you probably didn't draw in the regular lottery.
Tickets for bighorn sheep, mountain goat, moose, elk and deer are each available for $5 a throw and there's no limit on the number of tags any individual, resident or nonresident, can purchase.
You have to buy a Conservation License ($8 for residents, $10 for out-of-staters) to be eligible for the raffle. This SuperTag, as the raffle is being called, will raise revenue for the Block Management program, which compensates landowners who allow public hunting.
Also new for 2006 is a resident fee increase (see below), the first one in 12 years.
In terms of adjustments to season structures, the biggest change is the return to a 5-week elk season in Montana.
In the past 20 years elk hunting has been expanded to boost cow harvest on late-season elk moving to winter range. But FWP wants to expand either-sex harvest on private land during the more limited season.
Look for generally very liberal elk hunting in the western third of the state, and quotas for antelope should be stable to increasing in the eastern two-thirds of Montana.
Fee increases: Resident hunters will see a fee increase for most licenses this year. Montana still has the cheapest big game licenses in the West at least for residents but this increase evens the score.
Deer tags now cost $16, up from $13, and you'll pay $20 for an elk tag. Moose, sheep and goat licenses now cost $125, up from $75.
Next issue: Permit details for Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
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