Montana ballot initiative I-161 seeks to abolish 5,500 outfitter-sponsored big-game licenses.

“Outfitter set-asides” on the line. Will the average hunter benefit?

Is it a fairness issue? Will it serve to improve public access? Will it hurt or help the economy?

There has already been some discussion of I-161 here in this forum.

Is I-161 good for the future of hunting or just bad for business? By Michael Babcock. Great Falls Tribune.





  1. Tilly Avatar

    Is the anti-trapping initiative still on the ballot?

  2. Nancy Avatar

    Didn’t get enough signatures this time around Tilly. But, there’s always hope for next time around.

    Elk, still waiting for your thoughts on 161.

    1. jon Avatar

      It’s only a matter of time before it’s banned. Some say it’s their heritage which I believe is a crock of shit. Traps are inhumane and indiscriminate and people’s pets get trapped and sometimes killed and they wanna preach it’s their heritage to trap?

      1. Save bears Avatar


        I am not a trapper, never have participated in that particular area, but it will be a cold day in hell before a measure of that nature hits the ballot in Montana..

      2. Save bears Avatar

        By the way Jon, how would peoples pets be getting caught if they had them on a leash and paying attention to them?

      3. jon Avatar

        sb, that cold day in hell is coming and the only question is when. Things are changing in America and the people are speaking out loud and clear. Trapping is barbaric.

      4. jon Avatar

        Here is some really good information you should read sb.

      5. Save bears Avatar


        I have read it more times than I care to remember

      6. Save bears Avatar

        An one thing people seem to forget, is just because I make a statement on an issue, DOES not mean I support or condone it, it simply means I have an opinion on it based on being here and hearing and seeing what is going on…

      7. jon Avatar

        I just read the article. I am not one to speak on hunting/outfitter related issues, but I am against this.

        I think either way it goes, you are always going to have some people pissed off. You can’t please everyone.

      8. Cody Coyote Avatar
        Cody Coyote

        I am no fan of fur trapping , but even in my own lifetime I have seen it go from fairly common to exceedingly rare. I can’t think of more than maybe five guys who still do it actively around Cody, whereas in my youth it was many dozens. I knew the guys who bought the hides and kept track of stuff , and my best friend’s dad had the premier taxidermy shop where a lot of the mountain men of the time traded tales and wares. Those were bygone days.

        Trapping has very little future. Only a narrative past on its way to becoming a Lost Art. On the one hand, it’s not the threat to animals it once was. On the other, those grandfather trappers are the reason there are few Bobcat and almost no Lynx or Wolverine to be found in northwest Wyoming.

        Trapping cannot go completely out of style and favor soon enough. I hope it goes quietly , so long as it goes away.

      9. Mike Avatar

        It’s a strange world where pets must be leashed and deadly traps are OK.

      10. ConnieJ Avatar

        Trapping is still a problem. I agree with Jon that it is inhumane and hope that Cody Coyote will take a look at this website that chronicles unintended victims. (I hope this link works.)

    2. Save bears Avatar

      Me too Nancy, I am really undecided about 161 and would be real interested in hearing from others on it..

      1. Nancy Avatar

        SB, The only signs I see on my road asking one to vote No on 161 are located on ranches now “owned” so to speak, by the local outfitter, who also has a sign “vote No on 161” at the end of his driveway.

        Would be interesting to know how much more these ranches are taking in via the outfitter (Plus their kids work as guides for this outfitter) instead of the block management fees they use to take in………..

    3. elk275 Avatar


      In the winter of 1974, I took a course independent of the university called packing “In on horses and mules” taught by Smoke Elser. Smoke spent 50 years as an outfitter in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, retiring several years ago. Before the class Smoke would spend about 15 minutes talking about his business, general wilderness ideas and his philosophy. In those winter months he would drive to Helena each day and lobbied for the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association.

      It had come to the attention of the state that Montana could not continue to sell non-resident hunting licenses over the counter. During the 1973 hunting season the state had sold over 23,000 combination licenses which include a deer, elk, upland birds and fishing. The 1974 state legislator had decided to cap the number of licenses sold each year. How many should the state sell, there were two proposals one at 12,000 and the other at 17,000. Smoke said that the outfitters could live with 12,000 but 17,000 would be better; the state legislator pass the cap at 17,000 licenses.

      In the years after the passage of the law the licenses would sell on a first come, first serve basis. Hunting season would all most be started when the quota was filed and all the guides and outfitters had already booked there clients and there was not a shortage of licenses. Each year the licenses sold out a little bit early but the outfitters were able to get the needed licenses by encouraging early bookings. Soon the licenses were selling out within a month and then the outfitters were starting to lose clients who were booking later.

      Sometime in the early or mid 90’s hunters and outfitters were standing at the front door of the fish, wildlife and parks in the early morning and by mid afternoon all licenses were sold out. If I remember correctly the last year of first come, first serve, the fish and wildlife allowed people to stand in line for others and purchase their license for them. Even before the license deadline individuals were becoming agents and handling hundreds of applications; I knew that this was going to happen and it did. That was the last year for over the counter licenses. The state was going to a lottery system.

      The outfitters and guides proposed that 5500 license be set aside for their exclusive use. The 5500 licenses were to be sold at market value and a economist was hired to determine what the market value was. The difference in price between the guarantee license and a general non resident license was to be use to support block management. The 5500 license generated millions of dollars for block management a very success program. A Montana State business professor did the analyst, once a year I shoot sporting clays with him. Today he is against the idea.

      A state initiative was drawn up and presented to the voters in 1998 and passed. Now a public resource was private property and outfitters and guides had what no other business licensee in the state had, guarantee clients as long as there was demand.

      In late October of 1998. I was financially able for the first time in my life to go on a guided hunt in British Columbia to hunt moose. The hunt was south of Ferrie, BC about 20 miles north of the Montana border. On the last hours of the hunt I killed the largest moose that the outfitter had taken. While on that hunt I was reading the BC hunting regulations. I notice that in my hunting area there were 10 moose licenses issued in a limited entry drawing and the success ratio for BC residents was 10%. My outfitter had 2 moose licenses and his brother who owned an adjacent guide area had 2 licenses; I have always wondered how many other outfitters had guaranteed moose license in that area for their clients. I thought that this was unfair that as a non resident alien I could contract with an outfitter and be issued a license when the residents had a 10% chance of being drawn. It came down to money.

      I returned home late Sunday night and on Tuesday voted against the outfitter set-a-side. There were two reasons: Smoke had said that the outfitters would in good shape if they had 17,000 licenses and what had happened in British Columbia 10 days earlier with my guaranteed moose license.

      I ask Smoke during the class what he charge for a 10 day guided elk hunt in the Bob, it was $400 in 1974. Forty dollars a day. Six years later I was guiding hunters in the Centennial Valley in Montana and there were charging $2500 for ten days. The value of a guide horse back hunt had increased $400 a year; I do not know what the percentage increase is. Today most elk hunts are five or six day hunts and cost around $3500 to $5000 and up depending upon whether its public or private property. Some hunts are going upwards to $15,000 on very good ranches(The Flying D).

      The new initiative will do away with guaranteed licenses and put all 17,000 on a draw. The cost of a non resident license will increase from $628 to $897 and the extra generated will be used for block management. The will be approximately an increase in revenue above what the present system generates.

      My feelings: I feel that $897 for a non resident license is starting to get expensive and there will be a number of non resident hunters forgoing the drawn and an opportunity to hunt in Montana. Last Saturday on opening morning I was ready to leave my truck and up pulls a California truck with father and son. We talked for several minutes and he hunts this area every two years because he is unable to draw every year which is good for him as he said that he could only afford to hunt every two years. He had his young son with him and I would feel bad if he could not hunt at all because of the price. I could not afford a $900 Alaskan moose tag either.

      So what should be done. I feel that the non resident set aside should be done away with and all non resident licenses should be fairly drawn, but the fee should be lowered to $750. The resident license should increase to $150, but that is not going to happen. A $125 license is reasonable and the excess $50 increase should go to block management. It is time the resident hunter pays his/her way. People are going to bitch and bitch about the increased fee. Both Montana State and the University of Montana have raised the price of football tickets, 4 or 5 home game tickets cost more than $125 for decent seats. Two ski lift tickets or several green fees cost that much.

      People can bitch about the cost of a resident sportsman’s license going from $78 to $125 to $150, but that includes fishing, bird hunting and an elk and deer tag. It is hunting season in Montana and every morning before dawn at any gas station trucks are being fueled up and snacks purchased, the cost for 20 gallons of gas is nearly $60 and that is only enough for one day. I spent $150 on gas for one day on antelope hunting and $70 for gas this weekend two days of elk hunting. Before the season is over I will have spent over $500 for gas alone. Therefore, a resident hunter can spend $50 for increased block management, this would allow millions more acres to be enrolled in the program. If Mike had his way at $10 a gallon that would amount to over $1600 in gas and yes the wildlife would be safe.

      If the outfitter set aside is voted out, it will not hurt the outfitters for 3 to 5 years as the increased license fee is going reduce the number of applicants in the draw. I bet there will be licenses available after the draw for several years.

      I am going to vote yes on the imitative. Is it perfect, no, would the general legislators enact a perfect law no. This is a start.

      1. Save bears Avatar

        Thank you Elk,

        That gives me a lot to think about over the next week, even being in wildlife management, this has been a convoluted bill for me, and I appreciate getting the perspective from another hunter in the state of Montana.

      2. Nancy Avatar

        THANK YOU Elk!! As a voter (but someone who does not hunt) I very much wanted someone who hunts, to put 161 into perspective. You did that. Again, thank you!

      3. JB Avatar

        Thanks for your thoughts, Elk.

      4. bob jackson Avatar
        bob jackson

        Every outfitter I patrolled on I caught breaking the law. Most I caught twice. The ones I didn’t was only because they sold the camp before they would repeat. I was charged by an outfitter on a horse once while on foot patrol…by the largest camp outfitter in the valley. Another outfitter sent guides on two diferent occasions to poison my horses at night. Another one spread porcupine quills and covered with soil in the mule roll spot at thorofare. I had to check with a flashlight every time I I rode in after dark.

        I had to check my cinch everytime I was to get on my horse because someone in the camp crew would loosen it while I was inside talking to camp hunters. One time a camp wrangler stole the Park SE corner stone (250#) to show what they thought of the Park boundaries.

        I had guides throw down their plates of food in front of clients when I walked in to camp for inspection. I later caught this dude leaving a blood trail from an elk he and his hunter shot in the Park. I pulled the bloody snow ball out of his coat pocket and threw it to the ground. The guy crumpled on the snow and the head started bobbing with crying trajedy.

        I saw no “greater” conservation effort or thought. It was exploitation for the lot of them. Granted I was on the line where temptation was greater but can there be that much difference?

        Why would anyone in BIG SKY country CONSIDER whether or not this element is good for hunting? The days of the rancher guiding a few hunters in the fall are gone. It is business, I say outfitting is, and it is an exploitive one.

        Of course this is just my modest assessment “based on sound science” ….. of course.

      5. Cody Coyote Avatar
        Cody Coyote

        Fabulous post, Elk! Needs to be read into the annals of mountain lore.

        Alas, the issue of outfitter ( and rancher-landowner) license setasides looks and reads a lot differently down here in Baja Montana , which you might know as Wyoming.

      6. Carl Avatar


        Great post. Thanks.

      7. Rob Gregoire Avatar
        Rob Gregoire

        Thanks for the comments Elk…
        I’m still unsure which way to vote on this because I don’t see how anybody wins.

        1) The outfitters will be stung, but just a tiny bit. Given that it is a one month job to begin with, I don’t think many will go out of business; we’ll still have to put up with them and they will continue to close us out of private property when they lease it. (Although I’ll get a short-lived sense of satisfaction from their pain no matter how small it is.)

        2) The nonresidents will be hit hard, and I expect many will choose other states to hunt.

        3) The decreased sales will impact the revenue generated for block management.

        4) My family will be hit… last year I bought a license for my father-in-law and would like to buy one for my brother next year. At $900 that isn’t going to happen. I guess I could take them fishing if I could find a spot between the guide boats.

        5) And if it “succeeds” as advertised we will see just as many non-residents spooking the elk herd before we can so it doesn’t help there either.

        So who wins here? Nobody as far as I can tell. I really don’t have problem with the guaranteed licenses at a greater price. It seems like a better option would be to allow those to continue but take away the requirement for an outfitter to be used.

        So, I still don’t know which way to go. Nobody I’ve talked to is comfortable with this Initiative.

        Bozeman, MT

  3. Nancy Avatar

    Save bears Says:
    October 25, 2010 at 6:27 PM

    I am not a trapper, never have participated in that particular area, but it will be a cold day in hell before a measure of that nature hits the ballot in Montana..

    SB, If I recall Footloose got pretty darn close to the amount of signatures needed to put it on the ballot. Its not just about pets, it covers species that may or may not be at risk because of unregulated trapping and trapping on public lands.

    1. jon Avatar

      I guess that cold day is hell is coming sooner than you think. It’s only a matter of time, just you watch. Things are changing drastically and I am sure ALOT of people will agree with me that trapping is inhumane and barbaric and doesn’t belong in 2010. Trappers can come up with all of the piss pour excuses they want as to why trapping is needed, but the truth of the matter is trapping traps any animals that come into contact with them. Are we going to let animals be sacrificed because a few are complaining that their “heritage” is being taken away from them? Such nonsense.

      1. Save bears Avatar

        Are you going to answer my question?

        If we are to follow your train of thought the other day, there is no way pets should be getting caught in these traps, you said, they need to be watched and kept on leashes, is that not what you said the other day?

      2. jon Avatar

        sb, yes, dogs should be on a leesh. Are you saying that the only dogs that have been trapped are those that aren’t on a leesh? Even dogs on a leesh aren’t safe from these traps on public lands that are hidden from the public eye!

      3. JB Avatar


        Personally, I don’t particularly like trapping. However, I think it is important that people evaluate issues on the facts; in the case of trapping, there is a lot that can be done to reduce the suffering of animals without outright bans.

        Properly practiced, trapping can be highly selective–traps may catch whatever steps into them, but good trappers catch what they mean to catch. I’ll give you a case in point. A colleague of mine uses trappers to catch coyotes for research purposes in an urban area. In ten years of trapping they have only caught one domestic dog in a snare (and the dog’s owner was nearby and freed him immediately)–despite the presence of numerous “non-target” domestic species, they catch the animals they target.

        It is also important to realize that coyotes, wolves and bobcats won’t walk into box traps, so they have to be caught in foothold traps or snares. So outright bans on leghold traps and snares could bring many research efforts to a stand still.

        Finally, studies show that the use of padded jaw or offset foothold traps dramatically reduce injuries. Another requirement that can reduce animal suffering is more frequent trap checks (i.e., at least every 24 hours).

      4. Save bears Avatar


        Does it really matter what I say? You and I have a very different perspective of things, mine from experience, your’s from reading the media.

        And again, this thread as Ralph agreed, has nothing to do with the I-161 initiative in Montana.


        Thank you for your input, it is a different perspective on the business of trapping and does bring some balance, I agree, the requirement of checking trap’s should be a whole lot shorter than it currently is, perhaps with some time, those reforms will come to pass

      5. jon Avatar

        Your experience means very little when we are talking about trapping sb.

      6. Save bears Avatar

        Means a hell of a lot more than yours does Jon!


        At least I have some, you have NONE, NADA, no way no how..

        And again, this thread is about I-161, not Trapping as Ralph said in agreement to my statement..

        Do you have an opinion on our I-161 Bill?

      7. jon Avatar

        sb, you sure think you’re hot shit you know it all. Remember, you’re the one that was fired from Montana fwp, not me. 🙂

      8. Save bears Avatar


        I was not fired, I resigned, because I would not doctor studies and reports that showed wolves in a negative light..

        You better watch your mouth, because saying what you just did, may get us back in the position we were a couple of months ago.

        But again, I was not fired, I have never been fired from a job asshole!

      9. jon Avatar

        sb, not to change the subject, but I posted this article last night. I take it you checked it out.

        Can you respond to it in the have you seen any interesting news section? I think it’s a great article.

      10. jon Avatar

        I commend you for standing your ground sb. I know it’s not easy to do for some. Some just keep their mouth shut and are trampled on.

    2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      I appreciate Elk275’s long commentary on I-161.

      I hope folks will discuss that and not get off onto an initiative that failed to get on the ballot this year.

  4. Save bears Avatar

    And really when it comes down to it, the trapping bill has absolutely nothing to do with I-161, if we need to discuss that, it stands on its own and should be posted under its own topic heading…!

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
  5. Jay Avatar

    One of the most important tenets of the N. American “model” of wildlife management is that wildlife belongs to everyone, and thus hunting is open to everyone, not just a select few who can afford it. That said, giving tags to outfitters essentially privatizes a proportion of hunting opportunity, which in my opinion is absolutely in opposition to the fundamentals of wildlife management. Outfitters still have their place, but I feel they have gotten greedy, where they feel like they are entitled to a right to profit from a public resource at the expense of the rest of us hunters. The original purpose of outfitters was to provide access into the backcountry, but now they are also taking up hunting opportunity via their guaranteed tags. They should be able to continue to provide their services of transporting hunters, but the tags should be sold to hunters first, who then can have the option of picking an outfitter to take them hunting. Good outfitters will continue to be successful, and bad ones will go out of business; outfitters will have to do a better job, because they no longer would have their own guaranteed tags to sell, and would have to compete to attract and retain hunters that drew their tags fairly through the state’s system.

    1. Ryan Avatar


      If I guaranteed want to go MT now I have the option. I still put in, but for instance next year if I don’t draw, I’ll still be able to hunt with my buddy out there with the outfitter he has booked. Its not that many tags and most states do it and if it will save me 200 bucks when i draw non outfitted.. Then it sounds like a win for me.

  6. Mjollnir Avatar

    Well, I am glad I have read some of these comments, as I am still unsure of how I want to vote on this.

    I do notice that the ranches/outfitters I see around me have big No On 161 signs out along the highway. This alone almost makes me want to vote yes, since these are the same guys I have been observing pushing elk off of public lands onto their private lands, driving ATV and trucks onto non-motorized designated Forest Service lands, and asking my neighbors, “do you know where the ^%$# you are?” in threatening ways when my neighbors are legally on public lands. I am thinking it’s time for these guys to get a shot across the bow that a lot of us are sick of their games.

    I keep getting asked in town how I will vote, and so far I have to say, “I don’t know”.

    Thanks for the comments, especially the one from Elk. BTW, Elk, I take it you were a 2/75 Batt boy? I was Bco 2/75.

  7. Schedule F Avatar
    Schedule F

    The initiative process in Montana should not be used to legislate.
    I-161, I-105, and I-164 all attempt to do just that, circumvent the legislature and change or create law or regulate business by modifying the state’s constitution based largely on sentiment.

    Deliberative legislative action based on “fact and real numbers” is how we as a democracy are supposed to create law.

    I-161 proposes to “change” the laws about how the FWP sells nonresident hunting licenses.

    I-105 attempts to “create” tax law.

    The subject behind I-164 should be regulated by the same state and federal departments that regulate the banks and savings and loans.

    Vote against all the the initiatives and let the state legislature we elect to do the job, do it’s job, with the correct process.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      Schedule F,

      I guess you are really saying that there should not be an initiative process. Fine. Some states don’t allow it. On the other hand, a ballot initiative’s sole purpose is to legislate, by-passing a state legislature.

    2. Save bears Avatar

      Schedule F,

      Its called democracy, frankly, after the many years of talking to legislatures, even those I have voted for, I have no trust in them at all, I like being involved in shaping the state of Montana and also having my voice heard!

      The initiative process is the only way we can rein in the legislature, and I for one, am damn glad we have it..

      1. JerryBlack Avatar

        Right On, SB!!
        I’ve spent enough time in Helena watching these legislative clowns waste time and $$.
        Yes, thank God for the initiative process.

    3. elk275 Avatar

      If I remember correctly the outfitters and guides could not get the legislature to pass a law allowing an outfitter license set aside so an initiative was created or the legislature deferred the passing the law and allowed the citizens to decide in 1998.

      There are pros and cons on both sides of this initiative.

      1. Rob Gregoire Avatar
        Rob Gregoire

        I’ve decided to vote against it. The initiative will do nothing to benefit in-state hunters, and might even make things worse. There just isn’t any winners with this initiative.

        FWIW, an informed person gave me this little history that people might find interesting.
        There was a long period when there was no limit on the number of non-resident combination licenses in Montana. Initially, there was a stipulation that non-residents had to be accompanied by a Montana resident. The latter provision was struck down – I don’t remember the exact date, but it was in the mid-70’s. Soon, the sale of non-resident combination licenses reach a level of 26,000 – at which time, the legislature established the 17,000 limit – sold first-come/first-served, with a drawing among the applicants whose applications were received on the day that the last license otherwise would have been sold. The 17,000 limit included the provision that outfitters could use power-of-attorney to purchase licenses for booked clients. That system worked reasonably well for a few years but the system broke down when the number of applications exceeded 17,000 on the first day the licenses went up for sale. Thus, it was apparent that a change to sell all of the licenses by drawing was appropriate. The 5,600 “set-aside” was an effort to reserve a number of licenses for booked clients comparable to the number that outfitters had been purchasing for booked clients using power-of-attorney. At the time, there was great concern that absent some measure to ensure booked clients at historic levels, the state would be vulnerable to litigation. By the way, that same concern is relevant today if 161 passes.

      2. elk275 Avatar


        Are you from Bozeman? I know a Rob.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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