Advocates who want to change Montana’s non-resident hunting license system and end the issuance of preferential outfitter set-aside big game tags have received approval to begin collecting petition signatures to place the issue on the November 2010 ballot.

Currently, Montana non-residents have two options for obtaining big game tags; they can hire an outfitter for $1,500 and are guaranteed a hunting license. Their other choice is to enter the drawing process for $400, where they have about a 60-percent chance of getting a tag.

Some Montanans believe the process is unfair, including Kurt Kephart, the primary organizer behind Initiative 161.

“There’s no sense giving the outfitting industry the tools they need to take our privileges and our opportunities away from us,” Kephart told The Missoulian newspaper last week.

Kephart says Montana’s system of guaranteeing hunting licenses for outfitted hunters privatizes and commercializes Montana’s prized big game.

But Montana outfitters beg to differ, claiming the set-aside tags give them the stability they need to run a viable business in rural areas where the economy is highly dependent on big game hunting. In order to qualify for the November 2010 ballot, Kephart and other supporters of Initiative 161 must gather more than 24,330 voter signatures before next summer.