Talk of hunter boycott fades in light of jump in license applications
Among the topics on the farthest back burner during last week’s Parks and Wildlife Commission meeting in Gunnison was any discussion of big-game hunters boycotting Colorado this fall.
The boycott, you remember, was called in response to the state’s adoption of laws mandating background checks for private and online gun sales and restricting gun magazines to 15 rounds, which is more than twice (six is the limit) what’s allowed for big-game rifles during hunting season.
As was noted in this space Wednesday, the number of big-game license applications jumped this year by more than 17,600 above 2012.
That 4 percent rise, quadruple the 1 percent increase forecast by wildlife officials, is enough to suggest there still is a strong demand for Colorado’s hunting opportunities. The numbers from Colorado Parks and Wildlife say 468,816 people sent in license applications this spring, compared to 451,161 a year ago.
That does not include the over-the-counter license sales that drive participation for many nonresident hunters during the second and third big-game seasons.
An Associated Press story said out-of state hunters last year purchased 86,000 licenses, about 15 percent of the total, compared with 489,000 for residents.
Last year, an estimated 215,326 elk hunters killed 43,490 animals, which includes limited license and over-the-counter hunters.
Parks and Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton emphasized the preliminary numbers might not tell the tale of what happens this fall when over-the-counter licenses go on sale.
“Those numbers might not reflect what we’re going to see in October and November,” Hampton said. “While there was some initial noise about the potential for boycotts, and we don’t yet know the impact, if any, we’ll see this fall, that’s not been reflected in application numbers.”
There wasn’t much discussion of the boycott issue last week in Gunnison, and talking with several outfitters didn’t go much further.
“I’ve got a waiting list, so I won’t see any impact,” said outfitter Sammy Frazier of Monte Vista.
Other outfitters working private land said they heard about a few cancellations but not enough to affect their business.
The talk of a boycott offers another opt-out for nonresident hunters who already have a list of reasons to stay home this fall, including the cutback in licenses, weak economy and the rising cost of gas.
Announcing the increase last week, Parks and Wildlife Director Rick Cables said the rise in numbers reflects what Colorado wildlife officials continue to say: There still is a demand for hunting.
“The message we are sending out is we got 17,000 more customers interested in our product,” Cables said. “I think people realize we have a great product, and Colorado is open for business.”
Hampton said he heard of some opposition to the new gun laws, but he reminds hunters those laws won’t affect their ability to hunt.
Any talk of a boycott “certainly did not affect application numbers,” Hampton said. “There still is strong demand to hunt in Colorado. Strong demand.”
One more item on resident vs. nonresident big-game license allocations, a topic the Parks and Wildlife Commission may consider during the upcoming five-year season-structure discussions.
When licenses are allocated under the current soft-cap (nonguaranteed) system, any licenses not allocated in the computer draw go into the pool of leftover licenses, which may be purchased by anyone.
Under a hard cap, however, those leftover licenses remain reserved for resident or nonresident hunters. Any licenses not claimed as leftovers would get burned and the revenue lost.
Surveys show nearly 78 percent of nonresident hunters don’t purchase leftover licenses, which under the current system offer additional hunting opportunity for resident hunters.
One suggestion heard last week is a modified system, with a hard-cap guarantee during the first round of the computer draw and then a return to the soft cap for the rest of the draw and the leftover licenses.
It’s not perfect, but it’s a start on something the commission may consider during the season-structure discussion.