Nearly 20 years ago, Dan Evans convinced me that it was time to save my pennies and put in for an elk hunt in New Mexico. Who was I to say no to a lifelong friend and elk-slayer extraordinaire? When I sold a hard-earned pile of elk antlers that summer, I stuffed the money under my mattress for my very first out-of-state hunt. Sure enough, we drew the first season archery elk hunt in unit 16B in New Mexico for the 2000 fall season. Dan had done his homework and knew that we stood an excellent chance of drawing this hunt.
It was an awesome trip. We both killed great bulls, passed many more up, and made some memories to last a lifetime. As a side note, thankfully, Dan is a really big, strong dude. Both attributes came in handy on the hunt when we needed to drag my ATV out of a giant wash I drove into in the middle of the night and when it came time to pack my bull out over six miles.
Our odds of drawing that permit back then were excellent as non-residents because at that time, New Mexico would only issue tags to second choices if there were not enough first choice applicants to fill the demand for the permit. Great hunts like 16B early archery elk were easier to draw because most people were still swinging for the fence on rifle tags, muzzleloader tags, and second season archery tags in the best units in the state. Hunters who were willing to work harder and settle for a little lower trophy quality and less than ideal season dates could regularly draw tags.
Sadly, New Mexico changed their system and they now look at the second and third choices of each applicant who is selected in the draw before they move on to the next applicant. This results in applicants listing a “home run” or two for their first two choices and an acceptable third choice. As a result, our calculated draw odds for the early archery elk permit in 16B have decreased from somewhere near 80% back in 2000 to a measly 8.6% in 2017. Granted, there is more overall demand and there was a change in total unguided versus guided permits available, but the multiple choice option hurt draw odds in lower demand hunts far worse than anything else. At face value, multiple choices in states like Nevada, New Mexico, and Arizona seem like a great deal if and when your lucky number is drawn. However, that number won’t come up very often no matter how you shake it. Draw odds would be much easier to understand and plan around if states would force applicants to carefully consider their first choice. If you think about it, applicants who only want the very best tags don’t want people like me applying for them because I hurt their odds of drawing. Conversely, hunters like me don’t want those applicants listing my hunt as a last choice option either.
For what it’s worth, my vote is to have every state go back to a first choice only option where applicants can truly weigh the risk versus reward and understand their draw odds better. If this makes sense to you, I hope you’ll join me in speaking up to state game and fish lawmakers. If you disagree, I’d love to hear your thoughts and have an opportunity to look at this from a different angle. In the meantime, I hope you’re getting some cardio in, getting some reps through your weapon of choice, and daydreaming about the memories to be made this fall!