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December 2018
Author: Isaiah Joner & Stanton Upson

HF STAFF REMARKS - As the youngest Hunt Advisors on our team, Stanton and Isaiah represent a new generation of Huntin’ Fools. They inherited the hunting bug in an era where coveted draw tags can be expensive to pursue and rare to obtain. In light of that, we asked them to tag team an article that outlined a “dream tag” strategy while making sure that plenty of tags were notched along the way. — Jerrod Lile, Huntin’ Fool CEO


Growing up in Montana gave me enough opportunities each year that I never thought of looking at out-ofstate hunts. I really didn’t know where to begin, and I figured it was just too hard or too expensive to pick up tags in other states. Eventually, I got to the stage where I wanted to hunt more and have a chance at hunting limitedentry areas. After very little research, I figured out that there were more options in other states than I could handle each year. I decided to put a strategy together that would allow me to hunt over-the-counter hunts every year in multiple states while building points in other states for better units that would take less than 10 years to draw.

From a non-resident perspective, there are only a handful of states that offer true over-the-counter tags for deer and elk and most states require an application for antelope. I leave the states with true over-thecounter tags as a backup in case I am lucky enough to pull an awesome tag in the random draw game. Some states require up-front tag fees, some require you to buy a non-resident license before applying, and some just require an application fee up front. It’s hard to throw money at multiple state draws on a limited budget, but it can be worth it.


Arizona requires you to purchase the $160 non-resident hunting licenses to apply for special draw permits. Once you purchase the license, the application for each species costs $15, so it is worth it to me to apply for all species. I know my chances at drawing the best tags are very slim, but they do allocate random tags. If you are not after the top units in the state for deer and elk, you have a good chance at drawing a permit within 10 years of applying. On top of that, Arizona offers some late s e a s o n archery over-the-counter tags for deer and elk that are worth a look when you are waiting to draw a better permit and already have a license


With the new point and fee structure in place, it’s really a no-brainer to apply for points in Colorado. The reason I do points here is because it is a true preference point state and they allocate tags to whoever applies with the most points. Therefore, you are able to look at previous data and determine when you can draw out in a unit. Colorado has a pile of great options for both the archery and rifle hunter. They also have true over-the-counter elk tags available, so at the end of the day, you can pick up a tag and go hunting.


Idaho is a great state to keep on your radar. You have to purchase the $164.75 hunting license to apply for any species in the state. Idaho’s draw process is purely random, so you could get lucky and pick up a tag your first year. The deadline to apply for deer, elk, and antelope isn’t until June, so you should know if you have drawn any other tags and decide if you should apply. You can also pick up true over-the-counter tags for deer and elk in Idaho. Several of the units that offer general archery tags are a draw for rifle, so in reality, you are hunting units that are being managed for quality animals. Even several of the better deer units have a general hunt during October but a limited-entry hunt in November. You are in an area where there is good trophy potential, but the dates you get with the general tag make it a bit harder to turn up a big deer. Idaho is my backup state if nothing else falls into place.


Montana used to be my home state, so I will probably hunt it every year. There are no over-the-counter tags available in Montana for non-residents. General tags for deer and elk must be applied for by March 15th and for antelope by June 1st. If you happen to miss the elk drawing deadline, all leftover tags become available first-come, first-served after the draw. The past couple of years, they have sold out extremely fast. Montana offers a six-week archery season and a five-week rifle season, so it gives hunters plenty of time to harvest. If you are unsuccessful during the archery hunt, your tag can still be used during rifle season in any open general area. There are only a couple of special draw deer units that are even worth applying for in Montana, but your chances of drawing are pretty slim. If you are an archery hunter, Montana has several good special draw areas for elk that are worth taking a look at that only require 1-5 points. Most special draw rifle elk hunts are tough to draw. For antelope, if you are an archery hunter, you can draw a tag almost every year and there are a lot of units you can pick up a rifle tag in that only take a couple points.


New Mexico is a state I apply for every year. There are no points that go into play, so everything is a total random draw with them issuing 6% of tags to the non-resident pool. They do require you to front the full cost of the tag, but they have a fast turn around and will issue a full refund minus $13 for an application fee. I typically only apply for elk due to the out-of-pocket cost you have hanging out there for the four to five weeks it takes before they draw. There are other states I would rather pursue deer and antelope in. If you can afford it, there are other species in New Mexico you might consider applying for.


Nevada is another state that requires you to purchase a $156 hunting license if you plan on applying to build points or hunt. Once you purchase the license, it’s only $14 per species to apply, except for elk, which is $19. Nevada is more of a long-term state for me as it is extremely hard to draw any of the better tags. If you are an archery hunter, they have several decent mule deer units you can draw with only a couple points. Nevada has a random draw process, but they square your points. They also give you five choices on your application, which they look over before moving to the next applicant.


South Dakota is more of an opportunity state for me. Archery tags for mule deer, whitetail, and antelope are over-the-counter for the whole state. There are draws in place for rifle mule deer and whitetail that take a few years of applying to be in the running for a good unit. There is a lot of private land and finding big sections of public land to hunt can be a little difficult, so planning ahead and looking at unit maps before you pick up a tag will be beneficial. South Dakota is a good backup state for archery hunters who just want to get out west and hunt.


Utah is now my home state, so I have started applying and building points for all that I can. From a non-resident prospective, Utah is an extremely hard state to get a good tag in. They allocate a portion of tags to the random draw, but your odds are very low. You have to purchase a $65 hunting license just to apply and then pay $10 for each species. They offer several good general deer and elk units across the state. The general elk tags are true over-the-counter tags, but the deer tags are by application only and can take a few points to draw, depending on your weapon preference. Utah is a state that I look at as a long-term investment with short-term deer tag opportunities.


Wyoming is another state that has a wide range of opportunities. If you are after any of the top units for deer, elk, or antelope, you will probably be applying and building points for several decades. However, if you are an opportunist, you should be able to hunt Wyoming every year for deer and antelope and every couple years for elk. Currently, I have just been purchasing and building points in Wyoming due to all the other states I hunt each year. It’s one of the states I am waiting until I have enough points to draw some of the better units in. Once I burn my points, I will go back after easy-to-draw units. Even though you may be at the bottom of the pile in states with points, you should still have some type of strategy in mind. Like I mentioned, a lot of these states are a random draw, so it’s worth it to have your name in the hat. You will donate a lot of money each year to these states, but one day, it might be worth it. At the end of the day, you have to pay to play, and I know that one day the thousands of dollars I spend over the years will eventually reward me with experiences that I can’t put a dollar amount on.

States & Species Isaiah Applies For
State Species Over-the-Counter Tags Points Random
Arizona All Species Yes Yes Yes
Colorado Elk, Deer, & Antelope Yes Yes No
Idaho Elk, Deer, & Antelope Yes No Yes
Montana All Species No Yes Yes
New Mexico Elk No No Yes
Nevada All Species No Yes Yes
South Dakota Deer & Antelope Yes Yes No
Wyoming Elk & Antelope No Yes Yes


Once you’ve made your strategy for obtainable permits, you may be wondering about the once-in-a-lifetime species as well as the species that add that cool factor to your trophy room. A majority of western hunters want to harvest some of these once-in-a lifetime species but have little to no points and are on the far end of the drawing potential curve. If you fit this category, the first question you should ask is where do I apply to have the best chance of drawing a tag? The easy answer is everywhere you can fit into your budget, but the right answer is that it depends. With the demand for once-in-a-lifetime permits, every hunter should look financially and realistically at their application strategy. I’m going to focus on my personal application strategy to give you an idea of how I’m playing the once-in-a-lifetime permit game, but everyone’s application strategy will be different.


When it comes to the random draw, there are no states more random than Idaho and New Mexico. There is no point system in either of these states, which is very convenient for those of us who have no points across the West or for those who just want to apply in the years they have an opening in their schedule. The problem with these states for me and my budget is the amount of money needed to front the fees.
In Idaho, you must first purchase a $164.75 hunting license and then you will also have to choose between moose, sheep, or goat as you may not apply for all three. Once you have chosen which species you would like to apply for, you will be charged $2,308.25 if you apply online. If unsuccessful, you will be refunded all but $206.50. The positive thing about Idaho is that the rest of the field has to choose between moose, sheep, or goat as well, so you could potentially get away from some applicants who are forced into other applications. With goat and sheep odds less than 5%, the best choice here is moose.

The other big random state is New Mexico. This is where the cool factor comes into the game as they offer tags for oryx, ibex, aoudad, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, and Desert bighorn sheep. First, you have to purchase a refundable $65 hunting license and then pay your application fee. For sheep, the application fee is over $3,000, which is a deterrent for me to apply, the application fee for oryx and ibex is around $1,600, and the application fee for aoudad is $373. That is a lot of money to have out there, but with a low interest credit card, it isn’t terrible because New Mexico is very fast to send you a refund. If you are unsuccessful in the draw, you can return your license and be refunded all but a $13 application fee per species. If you wait until the last week to apply, you should get a refund to your card in less than four weeks.

Big California bighorn sheep come from Oregon each and every year. Once you choke down another non-refundable license of $167, it is a very minimal barrier of entry to actually apply for sheep and mountain goat. Sheep and mountain goat don’t have a point system, so, ideally, you could draw a permit your first year of applying. Oregon offers a great opportunity to hunt deer and elk, but I can’t see myself using the $167 license each year, so it doesn’t fit into my hunt budget.

If you are looking to hunt bison, don’t look too far past Montana. Unlike their sheep and goat draw, the bison draw is completely random with no points associated. The base hunting license is fairly inexpensive, and a $50 application is a good, cheap way to have your name in the hat for a great free-range bison adventure.

Another good bison state is Wyoming. A point system is used for other species here, but not for bison. There is a bull bison as well as a cow/calf option when applying, and you must front the fees at $4,402 for bull and $2,752 for cow/calf. These hunts can be tough between weather and the bison not cooperating in and around the National Parks. Nevertheless, it is an awesome opportunity for a freerange bison hunt. In addition to bison, Wyoming also allows hunters to apply for mountain goat with no points, while requiring an up-front fee of $2,162.

In Colorado, you can play the weighted point game for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep or you can choose to apply for Desert bighorn sheep. You have to choose between the two, and for Desert sheep, there are fewer options for non-residents. Each year, there is one non-resident permit available for one of their Desert sheep units. The draw does not use points, and the unit alternates each year. Recently, Colorado changed it to where you do not have to front your fees, so for a cheap $3 application fee, it is a no-brainer to apply for Desert sheep. The icing on the cake is that it is also cheaper once you draw Desert sheep than it is to purchase the Rocky Mountain sheep permit.


Montana is the mecca for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, so it only makes sense to start with Montana sheep. All species that require points in Montana are on a squared point system, which means you get more chances. If you have 2 or more points, they will square your points plus give you an additional chance for the current year. For example, an applicant with 2 points will essentially have 5 chances. When we’re talking about the biggest sheep in the United States, I like to have my name in the hat as often as possible. It is a minimal fee to apply at $70 each for moose, sheep, and goat and you will not be charged the $1,250 fee until you are successful in the draw. Another option in Montana is unlimited sheep. These hunts are difficult both physically and for quantity of sheep, but on most years, the quotas are filled in a timely manner.

Although it’s ridiculous to apply for deer and elk in Washington as a non-resident, they offer a pile of opportunities, especially for youth, to have your name in the hat for moose, sheep, and goat. As far as cost goes, you are looking to be in $110.50 for each application. I have other things in mind, such as raffles, that I spend that money on, but you can bet that once my daughter is old enough, I will be applying her for Washington as it is dirt cheap for youth to apply. The cost is $3.80 for an application and only $57 if they are successful. They can apply for moose, sheep (ram), sheep (ewe), mountain goat, and the conflict reduction permit that Robert Hanneman’s son, Connor, drew in 2017.


Nevada, much like Montana, is a squared point system, but it is also a must-apply-for state once you purchase a license. A unique thing for Nevada is that you have five choices and all five matter. If your application is pulled, they will look through all five of your choices before moving on to the next applicant, so make sure you make them count. With that being said, make sure you arrange your choices in order of quality/preference because the first one they come to in order that has an available permit is your permit. The license is $156, and each application after that for points or for the draw is $14. Nevada issues the most Desert bighorn sheep permits, and with the randomness of the draw, you should definitely have your name in the hat. They also issue some great California bighorn permits. Currently, non- residents are not eligible to apply for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. A low point option that Nevada allows you to apply for is ewe sheep. You still have to pay the full tag price of $1,200, but we had a blast this season in sheep country with just two ewe points burned! Another hunt that is great to apply for is mountain goat, when they have it. Nevada has been back and forth with offering this hunt, and even though the hunter did not kill in 2017, they still believed the population wasn’t great enough to have the hunt in 2018.

To apply in Utah, you have to purchase a $65 hunting license. A cool trick with Utah is that you have to have a valid license to apply, so as long as you apply the following year before your license expires, you can usually stretch one license for two years. As far as permits go, it is worth applying for all species you are interested in. Utah has great quality once-in-a-lifetime hunts for moose, Rocky Mountain sheep, Desert sheep, bison, and mountain goat, and at $10 per application, you can’t not get in on these draws. Non-residents can apply for all once-in-a-lifetime species, but residents can only apply for one of these species each year. I apply for mountain goat because I feel that it is the most attainable once-in a- lifetime permit for me. However, I highly recommend that non-residents apply for all species. Another thing that makes Utah intriguing is the way they allocate permits. If there is only one non-resident permit available for a given hunt, the permit is allocated randomly through all applicants. If there are multiple permits available to non-residents for a given hunt, they will split the quota 50/50, with half of the permits going to applicants with the most bonus points and the other half being allocated randomly.

Last month’s Cover Story came from the great state of Arizona. It is known for giant deer and elk, but they also have great Desert sheep and Rocky Mountain sheep populations. In Arizona, 80% of the permits are allocated through the random draw, although most of the permits go to residents. Up to 10% of permits can be issued to non-residents, and of that, up to 5% can be in the bonus pass, which leaves 5%-10% of the permits potentially being in the random draw. That’s not bad for a mere $15 once you've purchased the $160 hunting license for the year. Nevada, Utah, and Arizona are must apply- for states. Once you have purchased the license, there is a chance with minimal cost to draw a highly sought-after permit. I would advise you not to apply for points in these states unless you have restricting time conflicts for the year as it will cost you the same to apply for the draw as it will to purchase a point.


Unlike deer, elk, and antelope that are purely preference, Colorado runs a weighted point system for their Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, mountain goat, and Shiras moose hunts. Colorado changed it to where you no longer have to front your fees on paper to apply, so for a total of $9, you can be in the draw for moose, sheep, and goat, but you must first apply for three years. You must accumulate 3 weighted points before you start to gather your preference points. When applying, you will be assigned a random number and then that number will be divided by your points. At the end of the day, the lowest number wins the permit. There is a chance that you can draw the first year after you accumulated your weighted points, so for $3, it is definitely worth applying for all species that interest you.


Texas is a must-apply-for state. The odds are terrible, but for a minimal fee of $10, your name is in the hat to draw a fantastic guided Desert bighorn sheep hunt. Besides your $10 application fee, you will not be charged anything until you are successful in the draw, and at that point, who isn’t willing to purchase a $315 hunting license? You will receive a bonus point for each year you are unsuccessful, but you are eligible to draw your first year.

South Dakota offers a trophy and a non-trophy bison hunt in Custer State Park. These animals are eligible for B&C, and for a $10 application, you better believe all of us at Huntin’ Fool have our names going into that hat.

With Vermont cancelling their hunt for 2018, opportunities to get a Canadian moose permit in the lower 48 are getting slimmer and slimmer. However, Maine and New Hampshire both offer a low cost option to get your name in the hat each year. Draw odds are not in our favor, as is to be expected, but there is plenty of good moose hunting in both of these states if you get lucky and draw a tag. In New Hampshire, you are going to be looking at $25 for an application. Maine runs their draw a little different and allows you to purchase multiple chances from $15 for 1 chance up to $55 for 10 chances. I always have $40 heading back east for that longshot that I will get to hunt a big ol’ swamp donkey.


I do not currently apply for sheep, bear, moose, and goat in the Last Frontier. However, I have been flirting with the idea of throwing my name in the hat for muskox. The best part about Alaska is that there is no point system, so it is a great state to be able to come in and out of, depending on the year. One thing to note about Alaska is that if you are applying in the draw for sheep, brown/ grizzly bear, or mountain goat, you must have a Guide-Client Agreement signed prior to applying. Unlike most situations in the lower 48 where it will likely save you money to obtain your permit in the draw, in Alaska, you can book a hunt with a guaranteed permit with one of our Endorsed Outfitters and it will be about the same price. For more information about Alaska and the draw, check out the Alaska state section on page 42 of this issue.

As mentioned before, Wyoming does not have a point system for their bison and mountain goat hunts, but they do have some awesome moose and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep hunts that have a point system. In Wyoming, 75% of permits are allocated to the guys with the most points and then the rest are allocated through a random draw. Wyoming is pretty unique when it comes to their random draw as it truly becomes random. What I mean by that is that in the random draw, your points don't mean anything to you, everyone goes into the draw with an equal chance to draw the permit. It does you no good to purchase points as they will not do you any good until you are on top of the points board, and with the current supply and demand curve, that will not be anytime soon.

As a non-resident, I have a hard time applying for California and recommending other non-residents apply for sheep there. To apply, you must first purchase a $169.05 license and then there is a minimal application fee of $8.13. For nonresidents, California issues one sheep permit, and I do not like those odds for the amount of money that I am out of pocket. With that being said, it is very situational in my book. As I grew up in California, I have aspirations of returning to hunt deer with some of my friends, so on the years I am slating to hunt deer there, I will purchase the license and apply for sheep.


One of the most underutilized tools in our application arsenal is raffle tags. Each year, multiple states offer limited permits that can be acquired through a raffle drawing, most of which offer you the opportunity to have your name in the hat multiple times. We write an article about these permits, along with the Commissioner and Reservation permits, each year in our January issue. This gives another option to those of us who play the random game as you can take the money you would normally have sunk in the draw and purely put it into raffle drawings or have an additional budget to supplement the state draws with raffle opportunities.

To get yourself going in the right direction, the best first step you can do is allot yourself a budget that you are willing to have invested into these draws each year as it can be overwhelming when you look at your statement after the fact. Another point I can’t drive home enough is to not be what we call a point collector who always applies for points but never applies for the actual hunts. Yes, there are situations each and every year that give our hunting season dates restrictions, but at the end of the day, you cannot draw one of these permits unless you are in the draw. Also, in some situations, it will cost you the same amount to be in the draw as to be building points. There is a lot to think about, so give one of the Hunt Advisors a call and we can go over an application strategy that is specifically catered to you.
States & Species Stanton Applies For
State Species Points Random
Arizona Sheep Yes Yes
Colorado Sheep, Moose, & Goat Yes Yes
Maine Moose Yes Yes
Montana Sheep Yes Yes
Nevada Sheep & Goat Yes Yes
New Hampshire Moose Yes Yes
South Dakota Bison Yes Yes
Texas Sheep Yes Yes
Utah Goat Yes Yes