HELENA, MT – A bill that allows many of Montana’s non-resident college students to purchase hunting and fishing licenses at a resident rate was signed into law by Gov. Greg Gianforte on Thursday, May 6. In April, HB 647, sponsored by Rep. Steven Galloway (R-Great Falls), passed the Montana House of Representatives on a 71 - 25 vote and passed the Senate on a 33-17 vote. The legislation results from a collaboration between the Boone and Crockett Program at the University of Montana (UM), the Boone and Crockett Club, and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works with Congress and state governments to protect and advance hunting, angling, trapping, and recreational shooting.
“As the hunting population declines nationwide, providing students with a hands-on hunting education is the best way to educate future leaders about the importance of sound wildlife management and the integral role of hunters in conservation,” said Dr. Joshua Millspaugh, Boone and Crockett Professor of Wildlife Conservation at the University of Montana. “Making hunting accessible to students is also our best defense against misinformation about hunting and wildlife management.”
The new statute establishes license-fee reciprocity, by which non-resident college students in Montana can purchase resident-rate hunting and fishing licenses if their state of residence also allows non-resident college students to hunt and fish at a resident rate. If a student in Montana is a resident of a state that does not allow non-resident students to hunt and fish at a resident rate, the license fees remain at half of the full, non-resident license rate, which is significantly higher than the rate provided by the reciprocity provision. The law also expands non-resident student license eligibility to full-time graduate students. Non-resident students will only be eligible for general licenses (not requiring a drawing), and eligibility will be capped at four years. A total of 31 states have statutes that allow non-resident college students to hunt and fish at a resident rate, and the Boone and Crockett Club wants to see this number grow. Students from the University of Montana testified in support of the bill at committee hearings in the Montana House and Senate and they joined Gov. Gianforte for the bill signing.
“Students were involved throughout the entire legislative process – from an idea to a law,” said Jonathan Karlen, a Boone and Crockett Fellow at the University of Montana. “Testifying in the legislature and collaborating with lawmakers to craft a bipartisan bill was an unparalleled learning experience for everyone involved. I hope that college students across the country will identify barriers to recruiting their peers to hunt, and work with stakeholders and legislators to find creative ways to mitigate those barriers.”
The law adjusts a 2015 Montana license restructuring bill that increased the cost of a non-resident student hunting license by 700%, from $70 to $490, and had the unintended consequence of causing a 76% decline in student license sales. A license to hunt a buck on public lands cost non-resident students nearly ten times more than their resident classmates. In 2019, only 77 non-resident students purchased a big game combination license, down from 477 students in 2015.
“I’m excited about HB 647 because it helps reverse a dramatic drop in student hunters that we saw with the 2015 license price hike,” said Rep. Galloway. “Montana’s resident hunting population has been declining, and without action to recruit hunters, we jeopardize our long-term conservation goals and the economic lifeblood of sportsmen-oriented businesses throughout the state.”
The Boone and Crockett Club’s work on the bill comes as state wildlife agencies and conservation organizations are recognizing college students as a demographic essential to reversing the decades-long decline in hunting participation. The UM Boone and Crockett Program has become a leader in campus-based hunter recruitment efforts. Each year, UM students learn about fair-chase hunting and the principles of sound wildlife management through a hands-on Learn-to-Hunt program and a class that students can take for academic credit.
“The Club is supporting efforts at the state and national levels to recruit, retain, and re-engage diverse people of all ages into our great sport of hunting,” said Tony Schoonen, CEO of the Boone and Crockett Club in a statement to the Montana Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus. “This age group is a critical demographic and one of the most promising for ensuring a future for wildlife, wild places and our American outdoor heritage.” Schoonen also serves on the Board of Directors of the Council to Advance Hunting and Shooting Sports.
About the Boone and Crockett Club
Founded by Theodore Roosevelt in 1887, the Boone and Crockett Club promotes guardianship and visionary management of big game and associated wildlife in North America. The Club maintains the highest standards of fair chase sportsmanship and habitat stewardship. Member accomplishments include enlarging and protecting Yellowstone and establishing Glacier and Denali national parks, founding the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service and National Wildlife Refuge System, fostering the Pittman-Robertson and Lacey Acts, creating the Federal Duck Stamp program, and developing the cornerstones of modern game laws. The Boone and Crockett Club is headquartered in Missoula, Montana. For details, visit www.boone-crockett.org.