Fish & Game raffling off Alaska big game permits to boost budget

A musk ox walking along the beach
Musk ox near Nome. (Neal Herbert/National Park Service)

Tickets are already on sale for what’s called “Alaska’s Super Seven Big Game Raffle.” If it sounds kind of like buying a lottery ticket for a musk ox — or another one of the other seven most sought-after species in the state including brown bear or a caribou — it is.

Alaska’s Department of Fish & Game is raffling permits for some of the state’s most desirable hunts. Officials hope the earnings will help make up for a decrease in hunting license sales during the pandemic.

“We saw close to $2 million revenue loss in the wildlife division this last year because of COVID, primarily because of the significant or steep decline in nonresident license sales this last year,” said Tony Kavalok, the assistant director of Fish and Game’s Division of Wildlife Conservation.

Kavalok said COVID-19 travel restrictions and the closure of the spring brown bear hunt meant nonresident hunting license sales were way down this year, too.

He said the division also wants to raise money for federal funding matches. States get cash from a tax on firearms and ammunition sales, which are trending way up. But states only get the money if they can match one dollar for every three federal dollars.

“So it’s a very important situation right now because with license revenue flat or declining, and our federal match dollars going up, it’s gonna be really important to have that additional funding,” Kavalok said.

The raffle is the first of its kind in Alaska. But other states like Arizona and Wyoming have similar systems. In Wyoming, the raffle raised more than a million dollars this year.

The Alaska raffle is open to residents and nonresidents. Avid sportsmen say these are once-in-a-lifetime hunts.

“If you’re really looking for a really, really nice animal for that species, these areas are the premium areas in the state to have,” said Louis Cusack, a lifelong hunter who lives in Chugiak.

Cusack is the executive director of the Alaska chapter of Safari Club International. It’s one of the nonprofits that’s partnered with the state to run the raffle. It donated a tag and will sell tickets — most of the money goes back to Fish and Game, but Safari Club International can spend 30 percent on a conservation project of its choice.

For most of these hunts, only a tiny percentage of the hunters who usually put in for a tag get one. And those tags often show up on auction for big money. But a raffle ticket is only twenty bucks. That’s important to Cusak.

“You don’t have to own a Learjet, you know, [or] have to be able to afford to spend thousands of dollars,” he said.

Raffle tickets are on sale through mid-April. Winners will be announced May 1. Hunters age 10 and older are eligible.

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