Year of Award


Document Type

Professional Paper

Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Department or School/College

School of Journalism

Committee Chair

Nadia White

Commitee Members

Ray Fanning, Martha Williams


Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Agribusiness | Business Law, Public Responsibility, and Ethics | Environmental Studies | Historic Preservation and Conservation | Recreation Business | Sports Studies


Every January and February, Montana and other western states auction tags to hunt big horn sheep, moose, mountain goats, bears and other big game species to the highest bidder, at a series of hunting shows in Nevada. Some states call them “governor’s tags,” while others like Montana call them auction tags.

The purpose of the auctions is to raise funds for state conservation programs meant to keep wildlife populations healthy. In Montana, the funds raised are species specific, meaning that the proceeds from a bighorn sheep tag must be used to help bighorn sheep. Yet, the revenue from these tags raise doesn’t get much publicity, nor do the hunters who buy them. Little investigation has gone into whether the money is used as intended.

Across the West, public natural resources have traditionally been used to further a state’s wealth, a corporation’s wealth or an individual’s wealth. At the same time, the U.S. game model is structured around the idea that wildlife belongs to every citizen. Hunting and wildlife are touchy issues that demand transparency from government agencies taking care of the wildlife and the land they roam.

The idea of governor’s tags first arose in the 1980s. In the case of Montana, it allows wealthy people to hunt on any public land (or private, if they get permission) in the state during both archery and firearm hunting seasons. They can chase a “dream” animal without having to “draw” in a lottery program or compete with the general pool of hunters during regular hunting season. States and conservationists say they’ve been incorporating the revenue into their yearly operating budgets and wildlife management strategies.

Essentially, states are selling their “fatted ram” for the good of their Fish and Game departments. The question becomes, what's the trade-off?



© Copyright 2016 Charles Ebbers