You can’t win if you don’t play. This adage is applicable to countless aspects of life. In this case, I’m talking about coveted western hunting licenses. Most of the states out west offer special, limited hunts that one may only participate in if they draw a special license from the state’s annual lottery. If you want to hunt a moose, mountain goat, or sheep in the lower 48 states, you have to apply and play the odds.
Last fall, I experienced the greatest hunt of my life thus far when I took a moose from the mountains of western Montana. It took 18 years of applying to finally draw a license. Over those nearly two decades, I was often questioned by friends as to why I kept wasting money trying to draw a license I’d likely never hold. Truthfully, I questioned myself at times too. It takes dedication and an annual allotment of money to stay in the game with only a faint hope of actually ever winning a tag. Until you do.
In most of the East and Midwest, residents and nonresidents have the luxury of buying hunting licenses over-the-counter. This means, at any time before or during a hunting season, anyone can walk up to the counter of a local sporting goods store or go online to purchase their hunting privilege. Such is not the case in regard to many western hunting tags.
Drawings, or “draws,” are used to distribute licenses for many of the premier western big game hunting opportunities. The rarer species, like those noted above, are all draw only tags. Elk, antelope, mule deer, and in many states whitetails, are also draw tags. Most of these drawings are rather difficult to win. For some, just getting in the drawings is difficult.
Many hunters apply for decades and never draw the tag of their dreams. In the 18 years I’ve been applying, prior to last year, I had yet to draw any special tag, and I apply in numerous states each year. In most cases, if you don’t draw, you are still gaining an advantage for the future the by accumulating bonus points or preference points. These points are a rating system of determining who has been applying longest, thus giving them preference or a better chance at winning. A tag. For each year you apply, and are not drawn, you can accumulate one point.
For example, if there are 100 tags available for a special hunt and 500 hunters apply for those tags, it doesn’t equal out to a hunter having a 20 percent chance of success because of points. If one hunter has four points and another hunter has seven points, the hunter with more points has a better chance of drawing a tag.
Figuring out the application process in numerous states is a chore. I personally created and manage a spreadsheet of all the tags I apply for. To figure out where I want to hunt, I scour the internet, contact fish and game agencies, talk to people who’ve done it, attend sport shows, and sometimes put boots on the ground. There are numerous service providers who will do the work for you for a fee.
Many of the western tag application windows are either open now or are about to open. If you hope to haunt. A special species or area, you need to get busy putting your plan together. It was daunting to dream of hunting a moose for nearly 20 years while year after year being disappointed after receiving an email announcing I was unsuccessful. But each time I bite into a moose steak, of hand a friend a moose burger, I’m remind that you can’t win if you don’;t play.
See you down the trail….
Pic: If you want to have a special hunt out west, you have to play to win a tag.