Fee increase on Boquillas Ranch riles local sportsmen

Unless you've been living under a rock the past week or so, you've no doubt heard all about the new fees that have been proposed this year for those who want to hunt on the massive 750,000-acre Boquillas Ranch in Game Management Unit 10.

The fees were set this year by the lessees of the ranch, Cholla Land and Cattle Company, and permits are administered by a guide.

Though the information on this story is constantly changing, many of you have called and asked exactly what the situation is.

The deadline to apply for an elk and antelope tag is fast approaching (Feb. 9) and many sportsmen are waiting to see what the final decision is on fees before they apply.

Others, me included, dislike waiting 'til the last minute to apply, fearing the system will crash like it has done so many times before.

I have heard the Arizona Game and Fish Department has a proposal on the table right now with the Navajo Nation, which actually owns the Boquillas Ranch, regarding these fees, but as of this time, nothing has been formally agreed to.

I sent two messages to former Region 3 Supervisor Tom Finley, who is now the assistant director of operations for the Game and Fish, asking about this situation, but received no response.

Erin Butler, who is the game specialist for Region 3 said, "We are actively negotiating with the Navajo Nation; the department does not control the Big Bo website and had no prior knowledge of the information posted on their website."

So here is what we know right now. This is what has been published on the Big Boquillas website.

The most controversial aspect of the fees listed is for what are being called "High Demand" tags.

These include hunt No. 2047, archery antelope; No. 2014, rifle antelope; No. 3134, early archery bull elk; and hunt No. 3004, early rifle bull elk.

Those hunts will have a proposed charge of $500 for each hunter, and each assistant will be assessed an $80 fee per person.

There will be limits on the numbers of permits sold on the ranch, however, so that means less pressure on the animals and less competition for those who can afford to pay the extra money.

For archery antelope, hunt No. 2047, Game and Fish authorized 70 tags for Unit 10 and the ranch proposes to sell access permits to only 25 of those with tags.

For rifle antelope, hunt No. 2014, the department will issue 100 tags, though the ranch will only sell permits to 30 tag holders.

There will be 125 early archery bull tags issued, but again, the ranch will limit access permits to only 50 of those hunters.

There are 40 early rifle bull elk tags being authorized by the department in Unit 10 this year, and the ranch proposes to sell just 25 access permits.

For other antlered tags such as general rifle deer, early and late over the counter archery deer, CHAMP elk, muzzleloader bull elk, late rifle bull elk and the bighorn sheep hunter, the fees to hunt on the Boquillas are going to be $80, with an $80 hunter assistant fee.

For those like me who apply for early or late antlerless elk tags, whether with a firearm or a bow, there is good news!

Fees for these antlerless elk tags have gone DOWN from $60 in 2015 to $50 in 2016. Plus, antlerless elk hunters also get one free assistant permit, and other assistant permits are $50.

Juniors who draw antlerless elk or deer permits will pay just $1, while there will be no charge for assistant permits for them.

Prairie dog hunters will pay a fee of $20 per day, while all guides will see their fees go from $300 in 2015 to $500 in 2016.

Again these are the fees that are listed as of today.

Things may change before the draw deadline and if they do, I'll let you know.

Here is my personal take on this. Page McDonald and I, no matter what happens, won't change our application strategy for antelope. Even though we've both been applying for antelope tags in Unit 10 for many years, we decided we are done with it and applied in other units.

I applied for an antlerless elk tag in Unit 10 because that is where I want to hunt and the fees are reasonable. But Page opted out of applying for any kind of elk tags in Unit 10.