High profile keynote speakers such as Taya Kyle and Donald Trump Jr. graced the stages of the 10th annual Western Hunting and Conservation Expo held in Salt Lake City, Utah this weekend. The growing popularity of this event attracts hunting and outdoors enthusiasts from across the Western United States and industry stars such as Cam Hanes and Eva Shockey, among others take the time to meet and greet with show-goers.
Aside from the star-studded keynotes and appearances, the show is also known for its annual auctions in which rare tags and permits, trips, firearms and other products and supplies are sold to the highest bidder.
The most recent auction featured the sale of a coveted, yet controversial mule deer tag for the Antelope Island State Park in Utah. The park is well known for its genetically pure herd of an estimated 700 bison, roughly 130 bighorn sheep and about 500 male mule deer, many of which are considered to be of world-class calibre.
“Antelope Island has uniquely large genetic antlers so we get large deer and people want the opportunity to get the largest antlered deer,” Division of Wildlife Resources Director Greg Sheehan said.
Much the same as similar auctions held around the United States, the proceeds from these rare permit auctions always heads straight back to the animal’s habitat. That isn’t to say that this particular auction does not come without its fair share of controversy.
“Antelope Island is controversial because it’s a state park, but it’s a resource-based park and the resource is wildlife and it costs to manage wildlife,” Sheehan said. “People say ‘no hunting’ and I understand the concern about hunting at a park. But you have wildlife growth that needs to be managed.”
Misconceptions regarding the allocation of auction dollars are another topic of controversy surrounding this and other auctions like it. Ninety percent of the proceeds from both the mule deer and bighorn sheep permits sold for Antelope Islands State Park are placed back into the island through habitat projects.
“What I want to get through to everybody and what is probably the biggest misnomer out there is that that hunt money is used to run the park,” Shaw said. “I’ve read the forums and I’ve got online and read the fact that people say, ‘Oh thank goodness that these people come buy these high dollar tags and save Antelope Island. They are using that money now to run the park.’ And that’s very, very far from the truth. We aren’t allowed to spend that money on any park function. We strictly spend that money on habitat for bighorn sheep and mule deer.”
The mule deer tag sold for a record $410,000, just beating out last year’s record of $390,000 that was paid for the permit. British Columbia hunter, Troy Lorenz penned the winning bird in Friday’s auction and was also the winner of the 2015 auction and killed a 231” mule buck using that tag.
“It’s a good organization and the money goes for a good cause,” Lorenz said. “And it’s a fun hunt.”