Big Game Hunting photo

_–Chad Love


How much is a Montana bighorn sheep hunt worth to you? For one New York hunter with deep pockets, it was worth a cool $300,000.

From this story in the Great Falls Tribune:

A New York hunter paid $300,000 for this year’s Montana special auction license for bighorn sheep at the Wild Sheep Foundation convention in Reno, Nev., in January. The price, while not a record, ensures that the bighorn sheep tag continues to be the high interest big money tag of all the special auction tags Montana offers.

James Hens of East Berne, N.Y., bought the tag. He will be able to hunt a sheep in any Montana bighorn sheep hunting district this fall. Last year, James Liautaud of Champagne, Ill., owner of the Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwich Shop chain, paid $295,000 for the same tag. The year before, Liataud bought the tag for $275,000. The highest price ever paid for the bighorn tag was $310,000 in 1994.

Montana offers several big game tags for auction by groups who make pitches to the FWP Commission to sell the tags. The groups get 10 percent of the money the tag brings in and the rest goes to FWP for research and habitat improvement for the species. So far this year, the bighorn tag is the only one to sell. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation will sell the elk and moose tags when it holds its annual rendezvous in Reno. The Mule Deer Foundation will auction the mule deer tag and the Great Falls Safari Club International will auction the mountain goat tag at its annual spring meeting.

So here’s the question: Is this really fair? Is the entire idea of these special auction tags antithetical to the fundamental tenants of our cherished and unique North American model of wildlife conservation? Should our state governments be in the business of giving away, to the highest and wealthiest bidders, a precious public resource that belongs to all of us? Or do the economic benefits these special auction tags bring to cash-strapped wildlife agencies and conservation groups outweigh that perceived unfairness?