On Your Own Adventure - Making A Western Hunt Your Reality - Part 2

On Your Own Adventure - Making A Western Hunt Your Reality - Part 2
On Your Own Adventure - Making A Western Hunt Your Reality - Part 2

Entry #2. Obtain your tag or license – No license, no hunt.

Randy Newberg is the host of On Your Own Adventures, airing on Outdoor Channel. OYOA is the first of its kind hunting show that brings reality to the average hunter. No guide, no outfitters, no high fences, all on accessible lands. As some would say, "Real Hunting." It is Randy's approach to bring a dose of realism to the world of hunting television. He exclusively has penned a 10-step series for OutdoorChannel.com devoted to helping hunters across the country turn their Western dream hunts into reality. Below is part two. For more information about his On Your Own Adventures television program, visit the show page here.

Unlike Eastern and Midwestern states, western states have complicated tag application processes. This is probably the biggest hurdle many hunters face.

Besides the complications of these Western state drawings, developing a good strategy is needed to increase the odds that you will be hunting come fall. That strategy is to make sure you get a tag, even if it is not your first choice.

Given that I want to hunt on public land, I am looking to hunt in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, New Mexico, or Arizona. Oregon and Washington allow non-residents to hunt elk, but given the few tags available to non-residents, or the marginal opportunities, I have not considered those two states.

Now, you need to know the details of how to “Play the Point Game.” As explained hereafter, points, both bonus points and preference points, are something you will become very familiar with as you try to learn the process of drawing western big game tags.

When asked about western hunting techniques or strategy, hunters are usually getting the cart before the horse. Before you can worry about when, where, how, or the multitude of other tactical decisions, one must first get a tag. Many hunters accustomed to purchasing tags at the local sporting goods store are amazed to learn how complicated the western tag application process can be.

Here is how it works.

Most western states have some sort of program that awards you a better drawing opportunity for each year you are unsuccessful in their drawing lottery. The programs fall into one of two categories - preference points or bonus points. Idaho and New Mexico are the only states that do not accrue any benefit to unsuccessful applicants. See the table below for the type of drawing and point system you will find in each western state.

If you do not understand the point game, you are at a huge disadvantage in your attempt to draw a western big game tag. What follows is a brief summary and explanation of these point programs. The programs fall into two categories – Preference Points and Bonus Points.

Preference Points:

Simply put, a preference point system awards the tags to the applicant with the most points. If you have ten points, you will be awarded a tag before any applicants with nine points or less. After all people with ten points are awarded a tag, then tags will be awarded to those with the next level of points, continuing down the point ladder until the tag quota is met. Each applicant who is unsuccessful is awarded another preference point for the following year drawings.

Preference points are beneficial to those who have been in the point game the longest. This system also lets you predict which year you will be hunting, as many states publish how many points it historically takes to draw a tag for your unit, giving some reliability to your hunting schedule.

Bonus Points:

Bonus points should be looked at as raffle tickets. For each point you have, you get an additional “raffle ticket.” If you have eight bonus points, you have eight random numbers assigned to you, making your drawing odds four times greater than the applicant with only two bonus points.

The beauty of a bonus point system is that even if you have no bonus points, you have a statistical chance of drawing in any year. Some states multiply or square your bonus points, weighting the advantage even greater to those with more points. For example, Nevada squares your bonus points. So, if you have five bonus points, you are awarded twenty-five random numbers, plus the current year application, giving you twenty-six random numbers.

Tag Allocation:

Some states issue only a portion of their tags based on the point system, allowing the rest to be drawn based on random application, without regard for points. For example, Utah awards half of their tags to those with maximum bonus points, with the rest of the tags awarded based on a bonus point drawing. Wyoming issues 75% of their non-resident tags based on preference points, while the remainder are drawn without regard to any point system.

And most states have some limit on the percentage of total tags that can go to non-residents. If your name comes up, but the non-resident quota is filled, too bad for you.


The table below summarizes many aspects of western state drawing processes. Use this as a guide, but go to each state for the specific information.

Application Due Date
State Mule Deer Whitetail Deer Coues Deer Antelope Elk Mountain Goat Shiras Moose Rocky Mtn. Bighorn Desert Bighorn California Bighorn
AZ June   June February February     June June  
CO March March   March March March March March    
ID May OTC   May May April April April   April
MT March March   May March April April April    
NV March     March March March   March March March
NM April   April April April     April April  
UT January     January January January January January January  
WY March March   March January February February February    

If you are serious about western big game hunting, learn how each state operates its point program. Work those programs to your advantage. Playing the point game is a very important step to obtaining a tag to hunt western big game.

So here is my strategy to make sure I am hunting elk in the fall.

When it is January, three of my states have their elk deadline coming up. Wyoming is January 31st, and Arizona and Utah are in early February. These are three of my key elk states. I have to be prepared.

Wyoming allows for online applications, as does Utah. Arizona require paper applications, and the application must be received by due date; so better allow some time for mailing.

Given the difficult odds in Utah and Arizona, which is offset by the extreme quality, I am using them as my long-shot options. The odds of drawing are very unlikely, so I am looking at Wyoming as my best chance for a good quality hunt.

Wyoming has lots of elk in the western half of the state, and fortunately, that is where most the public land is located. I have decided to apply for the general tag in Wyoming. That tag gives me some really good units to hunt. Not the best units, but every year, huge bulls are shot on that tag, and the odds of drawing the tag are very good. And, I will know of my results by the end of February, before I must apply in Montana, New Mexico, Colorado, or Nevada.

If I draw in Wyoming, I will defer all my other options and apply only for points in those remaining states, knowing those points will be helpful for future yeas. Since I have already had to apply in Arizona and Utah, before finding out my Wyoming results, I will hope to buck the lottery type odds in Utah or Arizona, though drawing a tag is very unlikely. But, if I do draw in one of those states, I will gladly face the problem of too many elk tags.

My fallback plan is to buy a Colorado tag. If I find myself without a tag, after all the drawings are done, Colorado has many units that allow me to purchase a tag “Over-the-counter” by just showing up and finding a license vendor. My elk hunt is not dependent upon drawing luck, as with Colorado, I know I am going elk hunting somewhere.

Do you have a plan to make sure you are going elk hunting in the fall?

To read part one of Randy Newberg's "Making A Western Hunt Your Reality" exclusive series, click here.

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