Editor’s note: The following blog was written and submitted by Jason Brooks.
By Jason Brooks
I have been hunting Idaho since 1991, including a stint as a resident for a few years while stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base. So when the state Department of Fish and Game announced late last year that they would be changing how nonresident tags would be allocated and sold, it came as a bit of a surprise.
A search of the internet will show threads on various hunting forums with complaints about Idaho’s popularity with nonresident hunters. But it is not the nonresidents who were the driving force behind the recent change. It was the influx of residents and those who prefer to hunt. Complaints were being filed with IDFG by “locals” who were being overrun by out-of-state hunters. While those out-of-state hunters are an economic boon for small towns during hunting season, IDFG had to do something.
What they did might have actually hurt other nearby states such as Montana and Wyoming and possibly Idaho itself as hunters are forced to find new states and might not return. IDFG decided to cap nonresidents to a 10 percent allotment for deer tags using the average number of hunters per unit. This had previously been done for the elk zones and there was a special permit system already in place. However, they added a new twist: You had to choose which unit to deer hunt and the tag is only good for that unit.
Until now, if you bought a deer tag in Idaho, it was valid for any open season in the entire state. The regular deer tag is good for any regular and whitetail season, the whitetail tag good for any whitetail-only season. Now, you have to choose one specific unit and are stuck with that unit.
QUESTIONS AROSE, SUCH AS, “What happens if my unit is burned up in a wildfire during summer?” or “What if my unit sells out before my entire group can get their tags?”
The former question is yet to be answered but the latter was answered within a few hours of the December 1st tag sale, and it wasn’t just the deer hunters who got shafted that day. The new “first come, first serve” sale for a specific deer unit created a mad rush to purchase tags, including elk tags.
You had to log into your account early, before the 10 a.m. “live” sale. Then you were given a random place in line and when it was your turn to purchase your tags, you would get a notice.
I did just that and got in line somewhere around the mid-4,000 mark. About two hours later, I finally got my chance to purchase my tags. I selected the deer tag and unit I wanted, and then the elk tag I wanted. I hit the “checkout” button in “my cart” and nothing happened.
My keyboard wasn’t working, nothing, until I got kicked completely out of the system and lost my place in line. By the time I got back in, several hours later, and after I called the support line (and was told I would get a call back which happened late that evening), the elk tags were gone. In fact, the regular deer tags for my unit weren’t even available, but luckily I planned on hunting whitetails and there were a few of those tags left.
Meanwhile, my hunting partner got his elk tag, but I did not. Instead of a pre-planned backcountry elk hunt where we were going to backpack into a unit for a week, he was stuck going solo. Sure, I could go along as a packer, but he insisted I find an elk hunt of my own.
This is where the new system will hurt surrounding states, and possibly even Idaho itself. Other hunters took to the online forums and reported the same issue I had. Now, threads and topics popped up about going to a new Idaho unit, which means other’s “honey holes” will be discovered, and even more about applying for other states such as Montana and Wyoming.
This included myself. For the first time ever I plan on applying for a Montana nonresident tag. Two years ago you were almost guaranteed to draw Montana; last year it was around 76 percent; and now this year, if the forums are correct, even more hunters are planning on applying.
A FEW HOURS LATER my phone rang. It was the vendor calling me back about my support center call earlier in the day. The person on the other end admitted that the system crashed and there was nothing they could do about the tags being sold out now.
At first the representative tried saying it was because I was trying to buy a deer and elk tag at the same time. That led to my next question: “Have you ever hunted Idaho?” I have bought both tags at the same time in the past. He admitted he had not, and in fact was in Florida and had never even been to Idaho. He was honest and polite and I understood the tough position he was in, and I understand the tough position Idaho is in.
I don’t fault IDFG, unlike most others on the hunting forums and even a few YouTube videos with venting and complaining sportsmen. The agency is in a tough spot. People, especially outdoor enthusiasts including hunters, are flooding to Idaho. IDFG sees a problem coming and is trying to keep residents satisfied, manage wildlife and still provide a good hunting opportunity for nonresidents.
It is a tough job, and one that I foresee will go to a drawing system, like neighboring Montana and Wyoming. At least that way nonresidents will have an equal chance to get that tag, and even allow for a group application so as to not split apart families and friends who hunt together.
Regardless of how Idaho goes forward, let’s just hope lessons have been learned and it is better than last December 1. Until then, I will hunt whitetails with my son in Idaho, and hopefully explore Montana for the first time ever.
Editor’s note: For more information, see these November 2020 Idaho Department of Fish and Game press releases: