Although post-draw hunt opportunities are fading across the West, they are not totally gone. The purpose of this article is to put into perspective the proper mindset going into these opportunity hunts that does not set you up for failure or will determine if the opportunities that are still available are something you can enjoy. At the end of the day, hunting is supposed to be enjoyable, and if the type of hunting you are engaged in feels like a grind, then that opportunity is not worth pursuing.
Throughout the July and August issues, we give you a plethora of hunting opportunities and the proper channels you need to go through to acquire the tags/permits and what the deadlines are to secure them. You will find that there is really no excuse to not go hunting out west this year if you’re not looking for an excuse. I have developed a saying over the years when looking for new hunt areas, “You can always find a problem with a unit if you’re looking for one.” Now I modify that slightly to fit a lot of scenarios, like, “There is always plenty of private land that restricts hunting if that’s what you’re looking for,” and so on. The meaning behind this is closely related to the age old saying, “If you’re looking for trouble, it will find you.” Circling back to finding new hunt areas, try not to find excuses of why not to go hunting and instead look for excuses to go hunting. You will find there are more opportunities than you have time for.
When it comes to hunts that we view as opportunity types, I constantly hear, “These hunts are a waste of my time.” If this is your thought on hunting, then you should find another hobby that brings more immediate gratification or hopefully you have an income that can support purchasing easier type hunts where you control most of the variables. There is no getting around the fact that most of the opportunity type hunts do not come along with trophy caliber animals or low hunting pressure, and this is where the multitude of variables come into play. If you think about it, most hard to draw or expensive hunts eliminate most of the variables around finding animals or having other individuals impact the hunt. If you aren’t comfortable having multiple variables thrown at you on a hunt, then indeed these opportunity hunts are a waste of your time. If you are comfortable with that and want to go hunting, then continue reading.
Somewhere along the way between the 1980s and 2000s, hunting shifted from family gatherings, big hunting camps, and time in the woods to self-guided trophy hunting and harvesting an animal at all costs. This is exactly the mentality you cannot have if you are going to take advantage of OTC hunting and enjoy it. Honestly, OTC (over-the-counter) hunts are made for hunters who just want to get out and realize that time in the woods is precious and should be valued above all else. Harvesting an animal is a bonus, and finding a mature animal is icing on the cake. These types of hunts often do not end with a harvest, so if the harvest is the main thing you are hoping to get out of your hunt, then there are a lot of high fence options out there that offer more of a guarantee of success. I am not saying to go into these hunts with an expectation of failure, rather prepare yourself for the likelihood that despite your best efforts, things just might not fall into place. The only failed hunts are ones that you gained nothing from and did not enjoy the experience. The bottom line is that it is a lot cheaper to buy ground beef at the grocery store than burn $6 a gallon on fuel and pay non-resident tag fees to place the sole value of the experience on bringing home meat for the winter.
OTC hunts are even more important now than they were 20 years ago because back then almost every state had them in one form or another. Now it is whittled down to only a few, and those states won’t last much longer given the current demand for those types of tags. In some cases, hunters might not realize that over half a dozen states still offer OTC tags in some form. They vary from first-come, first- served on a limited quota that sell out in minutes to unlimited tags that can be bought throughout the year and into the hunt itself.
Another benefit that we at Huntin’ Fool have preached for years is the ability to use these tags as a way to get out in the field every year and fine tune our hunting skills against animals that know every trick in the book to elude hunters.
These hunts are an especially important tool in teaching new hunters the skills they will need to be successful in harvesting animals in the future. Hunting pressured animals on public land will humble the most experienced hunter and give them a much-needed refresher course of just how wild and weary public land elk and deer can be. OTC hunts are also the cheapest way to be able to hunt every year without having to purchase high priced landowner tags or guided hunts that in today’s age seem to have an unlimited ceiling on how much people will pay.
After being involved in out-of-state hunting for the past 20+ years, I have seen trends come and go in the hunting world. One trend that has never changed, though, is the downward trend in populations of wildlife (I’m talking ungulate species, not large predators) and the increase in demand for tags to hunt wildlife. I have seen Utah go from OTC general deer tags for residents and non-residents to a restricted draw for both. It blows my mind that at one point in Arizona, archery hunters could hunt both the Kaibab and a portion of the Arizona Strip with an OTC archery tag. Even the kingpin of unlimited OTC elk tags, Colorado, has started pushing more and more units into the draw system because of overharvesting or overcrowding within certain units. It won’t be long until unlimited OTC tags are gone all together for non-residents in every state across the West, and once they’re gone, they won’t come back. At that point, you will not have any options to just throw your gear in the truck and go hunting. I encourage everyone to take advantage of these hunts while they still exist and not get wrapped up in harvest success and fear of failure. The only failure is failure to take advantage of these golden opportunity hunts while we still can.