When asked about western hunting techniques or strategy, hunters are usually getting the cart before the horse. Before you can worry about when, where, how, or the multitude of other tactical decisions, one must first get a tag. Many hunters accustomed to purchasing tags at the local sporting goods store are amazed to learn how complicated the western tag application process can be.
Most western states have some sort of program that awards you a better drawing opportunity for each year you are unsuccessful in their drawing lottery. The programs fall into one of two categories—preference points or bonus points. Idaho and New Mexico are the only states remaining that do not accrue any benefit to unsuccessful applicants.
If you do not understand the point game, you are at a huge disadvantage in your attempt to draw a western big game tag. What follows is a brief summary and explanation of these point programs. The programs fall into two categories—preference points and bonus points.
Simply put, a preference point system awards the tags to the applicant with the most points. If you have 10 points, you will be awarded a tag before any applicants with nine points or less. After all people with 10 points are awarded a tag, then tags will be awarded to those with the next level of points, continuing down the point ladder until the tag quota is met. Each applicant who is unsuccessful is awarded another preference point for the following year drawings.
Preference points are beneficial to those who have been in the point game the longest. This system also lets you predict which year you will be hunting, as many states publish how many points it took to draw a tag for your unit, giving some reliability to your hunting schedule.
Bonus points should be looked at as raffle tickets. For each point you have, you get an additional “raffle ticket.” If you have eight bonus points, you have eight random numbers assigned to you, making your drawing odds four times greater than the applicant with only two bonus points.
The beauty of a bonus point system is that even if you have no bonus points, you have a statistical chance of drawing in any year. Some states multiply or square your bonus points, weighting the advantage even greater to those with more points. For example, Nevada squares your bonus points so, if you have five bonus points, you are awarded 25 random numbers, plus the current year application, giving you 26 random numbers.
Some states issue only a portion of their tags based on the point system, allowing the rest to be drawn based on random application, without regard for points. For example, Utah awards half of their tags to those with maximum bonus points, with the rest of the tags awarded based on a bonus point drawing. Wyoming issues 75 percent of their non-resident tags based on preference points, while the remainder are drawn without regard to any point system.
The table below summarizes many aspects of western state drawing processes. Use this as a guide, but go to each state for the specific information.
|State||Non-RefundableLicense Cost||Point System||CreditCardApplications Accepted||All Fees Paid Up Front||TagsAllocatedTo Non-Residents|
|AZ||$151.25||Bonus||No||Yes||Up to 10%|
|ID||$141.50||None||Yes||Yes||Up to 10%|
|MT||$10.00||Bonus||Yes||Yes||Up to 10%|
|NV||$142.00||Bonus||Yes||No||Up to 10%|
|UT||$65||Bonus||Yes||No||Up to 10%|
Deadlines Unfortunately, most of the deadlines for this season have already come and gone, but this will give you a chance to plan for future season. The number one obstacle that prevents many hunters from obtaining western big game tags and the quality opportunity they afford, is their failure to realize the early application deadlines.
For your reference, I am providing the historic deadlines for each state and species. Understand that states are often tinkering with their deadlines, so I suggest going to the state websites and making sure you follow the changes.
|ApplicationDue Date||MuleDeer||WhitetailDeer||CouesDeer||Antelope||Elk||MountainGoat||ShirasMoose||Rocky Mtn.Bighorn||DesertBighorn||CaliforniaBighorn|
If you are serious about western big game hunting, learn how each state operates its point program. Play the points game and you will get to play the Western hunting game.
New Mexico; http://www.wildlife.state.nm.us/