Jackson Hole High School student Gage Graus captured this striking portrait of a lone bighorn ram on the National Elk Refuge. Lawmakers have pushed along legislation that would set aside 90% of the bighorn sheep, moose, mountain goat and bison hunting licenses for Wyoming residents, leaving just 10% of the pool for non-residents. The proposed changes would apply to grizzly bear hunting licenses too, were such a hunt established.(Gage Graus)

A proposal sailing through the statehouse would boost the percentage of moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, bison and grizzly bear hunting licenses that go to Wyoming residents. 

House Bill 43-Trophy game, big game and wild bison license allocations would cut back on non-resident opportunities to pursue the aforementioned species, making only 10% of all tags available to out-of-state folks. That leaves the 90% to residents, who would see a slight bump in their lottery odds of pulling a tag. Because moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and bison hunting is relatively limited (and modern grizzly bear hunting is yet to occur), the changes afoot aren’t monumental; residents would still face long odds to pull a tag if HB 43 becomes law. 

“They go from really, really bad, to just really bad,” Joe Schaffer, a member of the Wyoming Wildlife Taskforce, said about those odds while testifying in support of the bill. 

The 18-member taskforce Schaffer sits on shaped the bill. The WWT, a mix of hunters, landowners, Wyoming Game and Fish Department representatives and lawmakers, was created with the aim of guiding policy relating to hunting opportunity and sportsperson access. Along with the Wyoming Legislature, the group is conveying recommendations to the Game and Fish Commission and Gov. Mark Gordon.  

The plan to designate 90% of “big five” species licenses to residents and 10% to non-residents — which all 18 members support — was low-hanging fruit. So was making licenses for bull moose and ram bighorn sheep a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — a provision also included in HB 43. 

But the legislation may also be the precursor for changes to how Wyoming issues hunting licenses for the more commonly pursued big game species: elk, deer and pronghorn. 

Bigger changes coming? 

“I think it is a catalyst for the taskforce continuing to work on some very, very difficult issues: landowner allocations, 90/10 for elk, deer and antelope, outfitter set-asides,” Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) said. “All of these issues are swirling out there.” 

Hicks, an avid big game hunter and taskforce member, has repeatedly run legislation that proposed the 90/10 license structure for various big game and trophy game species, sponsoring bills as long as a decade ago. They all failed, but out of the ashes the Wyoming Wildlife Taskforce emerged. 

Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) is hopeful that changes to bighorn sheep, moose, mountain goat and bison hunting licenses currently being considered by the Legislature could help trigger a discussion about modifying the state’s system for distributing elk, deer and pronghorn licenses. (Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle/Wyoming News Exchange)

The Baggs senator is hopeful new-to-Wyoming license structures, like transferable outfitters or landowner tags, could sweeten the pot for stakeholders that have the most to lose from a 90/10 split. Potentially, he said, that type of license carve-out could make outfitters and guides more amenable to reducing the percentage of tags that go to non-residents — their primary clientele. 

As it is, the outfitting lobby is staunchly opposed to reducing numbers of elk, deer and pronghorn licenses that non-residents can draw. Over the last two decades non-residents have received about 16% of the total number of elk, deer, and antelope licenses issued. Reducing that rate to 10% could cause economic “devastation” for the commercial hunting industry, said Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association President Sy Gilliland.

“That’s why we are so willing to put our sword in the sand, and say we move no more,” Gilliland said. “We moved on the 90/10 on the “big five,” but we move no more.” 

Broader, fundamental changes to how Wyoming issues hunting licenses to landowners and outfitters haven’t yet really hit the table, Gilliland said. But they’re about to, he added, and they were identified as high priorities at the onset of the Wyoming Wildlife Taskforce’s 18-month process, which runs through this summer. The group meets next March 22-23 in Casper and April 28 in Pinedale. 

Gilliland agreed with Hicks on the point that outfitters may be willing to forfeit more non-resident licenses if it came in conjunction with a new system of distributing tags to landowners or guides. 

“He’s not wrong,” he said. “I think it’s time to have these discussions.” 

Staying true

Meantime, the Legislature is pushing along a couple of recommendations to emerge from the Wyoming Wildlife Taskforce. One was to fully fund the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resources Trust Fund, contributing no less than $85 million to its corpus. Lawmakers incorporated that recommendation into the original version of the Legislature’s budget bill, adding $75 million to the trust’s corpus and another $10 million that would be appropriated specifically for wildlife crossings and game fences. 

The other recommendation — now HB 43 — has largely stayed intact since leaving the taskforce, though Rep. Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale) did offer an amendment to phase in the changes, giving residents 5% more of the license allocation annually until 90% was achieved. 

“In full honesty, I have got a moose outfitter in my area that’s really dependent on this,” Sommers said in the chamber. “I just think it’s an easier way to break them in, [over] a period of time. Having served on the wildlife taskforce — to also be straight up with you — we never talked about this.” 

Departing from the collaborative group’s proposal didn’t go over well in the Senate Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources committee. 

At Sen. Mike Gierau’s (D-Jackson) suggestion, Sommers’ amendment was excised unanimously.  

“The fact that you all came together had a profound effect on me,” Gierau said, “and I’m ready to vote on this bill the way you all put it together.” 

Mike Koshmrl

Mike Koshmrl reports from Jackson on state politics and Wyoming's natural resources. Prior to joining WyoFile, he spent nearly a decade covering the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s wild places and creatures...

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  1. To see the long-term result of the insanity of every aspect of this proposal, starting with a 90/10 split and then the landowner/outfitter portions, one only has to look at the destruction of hunting this has done to the State of Washington. I challenge anyone to find a viable hunting opportunity for a trophy animal in the State of Washington. Further, the Liberals have fully removed biology from Game Management and it is run by political appointees and environmental activists.

  2. WYOMING RESIDENTS LIVE AND WORK IN THE STATE . WHY SHOULD THEY HAVE TO PROTEST THE HIGH PAID GUIDE AND OUTFITTERS ASSOCITATION? WE PAY FOR THE GROWTH AND PROTECTION OF OUR BIG GAME.

  3. about time. it is ridiculous how low the odds are for residents. they do this for money and the guides. it is BS.

  4. “Big Five Hunting by Nature Photographers Only” – post this sign and watch the dollars flow into Wyoming. The average Wyoming citizen will benefit in every way, especially the eighty per cent that never hunt anything.

  5. Guides and outfitters are a byproduct of game management. Special regulations that benefit these services is unfair to the public and should not occur.

  6. Let’s hope a bunch of these proposals die a swift death! Providing landowner and outfitter license allocations will only increase the amount of public land that gets locked up by landowners and further take Wyoming further down the sleazy and shameful road to privatizing the public’s wildlife.

  7. Better yet, get rid of the welfare Wyoming Outfitters. It’s 2022 and in this day and age, why is this hand stuck out – waiting for the public to give them a dollar outfit still around? Consider this, the citizens own the wildlife, yet these outfitters get to inventory the game for free. How would you like to go down to your local hardware store, with all the items already on the shelves owned by you, but given to the shop owner by your legislature, then you have the honor of buying back your property at the register? The outfitters get to stock their shelves for free, on your dime. Is this capitalism? No, it’s welfare cronyism. While were at it, stop the Governor and Commissioner tags and cut the Game and Fish workforce down to half, or more. As the years progress, we all see more and more of those redshirts driving around in new green trucks, yet the wildlife and the quality of hunting and fishing plummets. Again, it’s 2022 and the model of the subisidized welfare outfitter and over manpowered Game and Fish just doesn’t work, for both the public and the wildlife

  8. As resident hunters we have a big battle ahead of us. While I am all for a higher percent to residents, I am not willing to every explore transferable landowner tags and definitely not in favor of more outfitter well fare. If they pass transferable landowner tags, then we will see the end of the HMA and Walk-in areas. This is exactly what happened in CO when they allowed landowners to sell landowner tags. Instead of allowing such a move, we should significantly improve the HMA and Walk-in programs. Make the programs so beneficial to landowners that they reap the rewards of allowing access while having the populations managed. The program could be huge and a great win for the landowners, the public and the state.

    We already have a huge outfitter well fare program with the wilderness rules. We should all be concerned about the privatization of wildlife for the benefit of a select few. It never ends well in the long run. We can learn from other states, be it the Ranching For Widlife joke in Colorado, or the CWMU mess in Utah, etc.

  9. I’m from Idaho and I hunt big game in Wyoming. The annual fee for preference points jumped from 75.00 to 150.00 for moose in Wyoming. The tag will cost about two thousand for a moose. Nonresidents are funding their share for Wyoming Game and Fish. Now this xenophobic legislatures want to limit us to 10 % of the trophy tags? I understand this isolation-from-the-World-stay-away-from-Wyoming-it’s-all-mine attitude. It’s typical of many rural area residents who don’t possess a larger understanding of broader circumstances/facts. My view is fund your missions yourself. Eliminate ALL nonresident hunters for trophy game. To hell with your hillbilly legislatures. I’ll hunt elsewhere.

    1. Jeff, as a Wyoming resident, can’t say that I disagree with you. That welfare chokehold these Outfitters have on guides required for non residents in Wilderness areas is complete BS. Even though it doesn’t affect me, we’re all Americans and you have as much right to access Federal lands as anyone. Perhaps the Forest Service should eliminate resident and non resident hunting in the wilderness, that’ll wake up our backwater legislators. The welfare outfitter, the welfare Buck’thirty five per month animal unit rancher and the kiss butt legislators….these self servers pretty do what they want. Wyomingites need to wake up and roust these vagabonds out of here.

    2. Mike,

      You make a great point! Nonresident hunters fund a high percentage of Wyoming’s wildlife. (Please note that I’m a resident of Wyoming, my family has been here in Wyoming since 1856). Sadly, Wyoming has elected a number of senators and representatives that care little or nothing for our wildlife and public lands. I see the current proposals as yet more sleazy and clandestine ways to continue to devalue and ultimately kill Wyoming’s wildlife management program. If this is allowed to continue Wyoming’s wildlife will be privatized and public land will be turned over to the state to sell at bargain-basement values to corporate landowners.

  10. Beware of Hicks and Gilliland. It appears to me that they may be on the trail to give control of who gets licenses to outfitters and landowners; something Wyoming has denied for decades. Keep in mind that the legislature has already converted publicly owned sage grouse to private property.

  11. Resident hunters are happy and focused on this bill because it may give them 90 more of these tags, which may be true (only if nothing else changes). This bill only increases a residents odds of drawing by a fraction of 1 percentage point and again (only if nothing else changes). If more residents apply because they think the odds are better now because of the 90/10 split this can actually decreases your chance of drawing. If Wyoming’s population grows, which it will, the illusion of better odds for these new residents will increase the number of resident applications which will drive down the odds as well. Everyone is focused on the wrong number, the whole number of 90 more tags is nice, but if your percentage of drawing does not increase or goes down it makes no difference what the whole number is. Be careful folks!

    1. Interesting coming from Mike Schmid – who is an outfitter in Eastern Wyo and as a G&F Commissioner wouldn’t even fight for resident preference for leftover tags!

      This doesn’t increase the actual percentages much, but odds aside, this change does mean approx 116+ of these coveted tags each year will to Wyoming residents instead of NRs – including 30+ Bighorn Sheep tags!

      It sure means a lot to everyone of my fellow Wyomingites who will be getting Sheep Tag beginning next year because of this change. Good. For. Them!

      Update – Senate stripped the Sommers’ amendment and house concurred. Bill is onto the Gov for Signature!

  12. If you want to do something for resident hunters and game managers get rid of the governor tags. They can screw up the best areas for limited tags in just one season !