To apply or not to apply for tags in the West is one of the most discussed topics every year. I have played the application game for over 20 years and have had plenty of highs and lows. This article will give you an idea of my personal application strategy.
I grew up in Nevada, which is a state where hunters need to apply for big game tags. I learned at a young age that if you are not applying, you are not going to be drawing quality tags. In 1991, I was 12 years old and submitted my first applications ever. In those days, you applied on a paper application and had to wait for your draw results to come in the mail. I was lucky enough to draw both deer and antelope tags that year. I guess you could say that applying and drawing those tags is what started me down the path to where I am today.
Once I got my driver’s license, I knew I would be able to hunt more, but I was still limited by what tags I could draw in Nevada. To increase my time afield, I started researching and applying in other states. Luckily, I had a really good friend whose dad applied for and hunted in the West on a regular basis. Like any kid, I had more questions than he had time to answer and he turned me on to a publication called the Newsletter, which would later be renamed Huntin’ Fool. I devoured all of the information and started applying for all the states I could afford. I focused on the states that had point systems since I was young and broke and wanted to have the points to draw tags in the future when I could afford to go on them.
In 1999, I left Nevada and moved to Montana since it offers more hunting opportunities. With a good paying job, I was finally able to expand my applications to all the western states. That year, I drew another deer and an antelope tag in Nevada. Little did I know, those would be the last quality tags I would draw for a couple of years. From 2000 to 2002, I did not draw any permits and started to second guess if all the money I was spending was worth it. I decided to stick with it because I was in it for the long haul and hoped my time would come. In 2003, I drew my first quality bull elk tag. I beat the random drawing odds and drew Idaho. I was able to take my first out-of-state bull in Idaho. That 312" bull still holds a special place in my trophy room.
One of my most memorable years was 2004 when I drew an Arizona unit 9 archery elk tag, a Montana mountain goat tag, and a Montana moose tag. My wife, Amy, and I had been married just under a year, and this was the first time I used the line, “It’s a once-in-a- lifetime tag.” A lot of people I talk to are afraid of drawing too many quality tags in one year. In 2004, that is exactly what happened to me, but in all the years since, I have never personally drawn that many quality tags in one year again. Even applying as a family of five, we seldom draw more than one to three high-quality tags a year.
Over the years, I have drawn many great tags, but I have also made my share of costly mistakes. A couple of those mistakes still make me sick when I think about them. I started applying for Wyoming back when points only cost $7 for moose and bighorn sheep. I missed a couple applications over the years, and once they increased the price of the points, I had to cut some applications and I chose those. If I hadn’t missed those applications, I would have already drawn both Wyoming bighorn sheep and moose. Now I am a couple points behind and will be lucky if I ever end up with a tag.
Another mistake was in Utah. Back when I started applying for Utah, non-residents had to choose a once- in-a-lifetime application and deer, elk, or antelope. Being a high school kid, not fully understanding the point system, and not knowing what my future hunting goals would be, I chose moose and antelope. A few years later, I switched to Desert bighorn sheep and mule deer only to switch a few years later to elk. If I had started with elk, then I would have drawn a great tag years ago. However, the biggest mistake I made was in Arizona. I started applying when they started their point system for deer, but I missed a couple years when my application funds were low. If I hadn’t missed those years, I would be sitting on max deer points and planning on hunting the Arizona Strip at some point in my life.
At 40 years old, I feel fortunate to have drawn many great tags. I was lucky to be able to get into the application game early in my life and to stick with it. I am really excited for what tags the future holds for me. My wife started the application game in 2004 and has drawn her share of quality tags. When my sons got to the age to start applying, I looked hard at what states they should be applying for since many of the states have very mature point systems. Due to this, I looked more at the states that don’t have point systems, like New Mexico and Idaho. I apply them in states with point systems, but I really pay attention to the states that offer quality youth tags or discounted licenses or points.
Is there light at the end of the tunnel in the application game? The answer is 100% yes for hunters who are looking for quality tags for deer, elk, and antelope. When it comes to once-in-a- lifetime tags, the answer is maybe, and it really depends on your age, how long you are going to apply, and how lucky you are. The once-in-a-lifetime tags are continuing to become more popular every year, and the states have made it a lot easier for people to apply. For a non-resident, there is not a sheep tag in the lower 48 that typically has better drawing odds than 1%. With that being said, there are a lot of non-resident sheep tags issued every year, and if you are not applying, you will never see your name on one of those tags.
If you are not sure about what states and species are right for you to be applying for or you just want to run your personal application strategy by us, we are just a phone call away. Good luck this year in all the draws you apply for!
LIMITED-ENTRY TAGS DRAWN BY MY FAMILY