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February 2020
Author: Logan Hedges

I was helping to get things ready the other day for an upcoming hunter safety course and got to looking at the booklet. It started me reminiscing on some 30+ years ago when I took hunter safety. A few things have changed, but the basic concept is still the same – be safe. One thing that caught my eye and brought back memories was the five phases a hunter goes through in their hunting life – shooter, limiting- out, trophy, method, and sportsman. I remember the instructor talking about these phases and thinking I just wanted to shoot. I would never be in that last phase. Fast forward a few decades and thousands of miles on the mountain, and here I am, finding myself slowly creeping into that sportsman phase. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy shooting and love trying to outsmart big, old trophy type animals, but just being out there with family and friends is definitely starting to outweigh everything else.

This past fall, I harvested one deer, which was an all-time low (number wise) for me since I was 12 years old. At the same time, it was by far my favorite year of hunting. I was able to watch my two boys harvest four elk, two deer, and three antelope. My youngest even drew a moose tag and killed a great bull. I don’t believe that at any time in my hunting life I have been more excited than watching my boys be successful this past year. Regardless of what phase you are at in your hunting career, get out there and enjoy Mother Nature with the people you care about.

A lot of hunters I talk to are frustrated that they can’t ever draw a tag, and it seems like tags are getting harder to draw every year. With point creep and the reduction of non-resident tags in several states, the frustration is understandable. However, there are several options a hunter can use to get a tag, even if you don’t have many points.

The first and least expensive option is to draw a tag. While this sounds simple enough, we all know it is easier said than done. There are a couple of strategies I use in the draws when I don’t have enough points accumulated for the unit I desire. If there are random tags, apply and cross your fingers and hope your number gets drawn. It is a long shot most of the time, but someone has to draw it, and it might as well be you. I also apply for second choice units in states that don’t burn your points if you’re drawn. Apply for areas that have leftover tags, do your homework, and go hunting in a new unit. You might find a hidden gem that you can draw every year while still building points.

The second way to get a tag is landowner tags. Several state agencies throughout the West grant property owners elk, deer, or antelope tags that they can sell for compensation for wildlife using their deeded ground. Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Idaho are among the states that offer landowner tags. This is a great way to bypass the draw and still be able to obtain a tag. These tags vary in price, depending on species, trophy quality in the unit, and hunt dates.

Another option to place a tag in your pocket is over-the-counter tags. Not all western states have this option, but states like Colorado and Idaho do, and they are a couple of my favorites for this reason. Over-the-counter tags get a bad rap because they are easy to obtain, so therefore, they can’t be good. I have had some great hunts on these tags, though. Hunt density is usually the downside to these tags, but most units have good animal numbers and can be stress-free hunts where you don’t burn points.

If an outfitter is in your budget, allocated outfitter tags are an option as well. A few states allocate a percentage of tags every year to outfitters, so they are guaranteed tags. This is a great way to do an outfitted hunt, but they usually need to be booked a year or two in advance as they are limited in number.

Regardless of your points, budget, or hunting phase, there are opportunities for everyone. If you just want to go on a fun “if it’s brown, it’s down” hunt with family and friends or you want to try to harvest a trophy-of-a-lifetime, there are several options. Don’t get caught watching from the sidelines this fall as none of us are getting any younger!