Planning a hunt out west can be a confusing undertaking if you have never done it, and for many they end up simply moving forward with a hunt that has a guaranteed permit attached to the hunt be it a state where you just buy your tags over-the-counter in states like Colorado, Idaho, or Oregon. Over the counter means you do not have to apply for a draw. You really can just buy a hunting permit or tag. The other way to get a tag without applying in a drawing is to buy a landowner permit like those found in many of the states, but primarily this is found in New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and Colorado, with some other options in Oregon and Idaho.
Buying an over the counter tag usually has poor hunt success.
This isn’t horrible but it’s worth knowing in general if you choose to hunt one of these over-the-counter options on public land, the success rates in these areas are often less than 5% and the age class of animals you tend to find more often than not are typically 1-3 year old bulls and bucks.
Landowner permits are costly but hunt success is usually much higher.
Contrastingly if you choose to invest in some sort of landowner permit option these can add a large amount of capital to your investment ranging from maybe a thousand dollars in less desirable units, and up to $30,000+ in some of the best locations in the country. This does not include the cost of the license you will need to purchase from the respective state and does not always include a guided hunt, typically this cost will also be added on top of the landowner permit you choose to purchase.
Learn to Apply in the draws to hunt out west.
So what about the different draw processes to hunt out west that you have heard about? This is where things get confusing for many and even navigating the state websites to get an application submitted can be daunting, let alone knowing where to apply and having some understanding on how many years you should expect to apply before getting a tag.
These lottery processes across the different states are the most common method for hunters to obtain opportunities to hunt. There are three major methods that these draw processes are conducted, and two sub-methods within the three majors. They are the Bonus Point method, Preference Point method, and Random. The two sub-methods are called the Modified Bonus Point method and Modified Preference Point method. So let’s break down each of these methods, the pros and cons of each method and where to find them.
Preference point draws.
So the first method is the Preference Point System; this is the method that often allows the applicant a shorter and more predictable finish line. Essentially this method is like a leaner line, whomever has been applying the longest for any given hunt selection will draw the permit. There really is no luck involved unless there happens to be less permits than the number of applicants in a particular group of applicants. What this means is if the certain hunt code takes 5 points or years to draw and there are 10 permits available and there are 20 applicants with 5 points then that particular hunt on that particular year the odds of drawing would be a 50% chance for those applicants. The remaining applicants with 4 points or less would have a 0% chance of drawing.
The states that have this type of system are Colorado and Oregon for deer, elk, and antelope. The Modified Preference Point system which is the system used in Wyoming is very similar but what makes it modified is that Wyoming sets aside 25% of their permits for a random draw for any applicants that are not max point holders for any specific hunt code. This gives any new applicants an equal chance to draw yet giving preference to applicants who have been applying the longest.
Bonus Point Draws
The second method is the Bonus Point System. Systems like this are best explained like a bucket of raffle tickets. For each year that you are unsuccessful in drawing you are given an extra point, or raffle ticket in the bucket. The states that use this method are Nevada, Washington, and Montana. This system is more for applicants that are okay with not only more of a long term goal but also they are unpredictable and you may, depending on your goals, not draw for 20+ years. The Modified Bonus Point system is slightly different in as much as there is a percentage of the permits set aside for each hunt that are awarded to applicants who have the most points for any specific hunt code. The states that use this system are Utah and Arizona. As a general rule these states tend to have a more rigid management system and produce some of the biggest bulls in the country, but the uncertainty of when you will draw and the average number of years can deter many applicants, but if you are planning on hunting as often as you can, and will be applying anyways, you may as well have a long shot in the first number of years, but the years will come and go whether you are applying or not, and you may as well get your ticket in the bucket now and keep them in there because the results could be the best hunt of your life.
Luck of the draw
The third and final system that is used for hunter selection is called Random. This system is exactly how it sounds. It is a bucket of raffle tickets and each applicant has an equal chance of drawing. Many states use this method either with all species, or just some. Oregon uses this method for Sheep and Mountain Goat. Wyoming uses this method for deer, elk and antelope for its residents, and Bison and Mountain Goat for all applicants. New Mexico and Idaho use this method for all species. This style of drawing is the most aggressive to get involved in as you get no value for your investment moving into the following year, but can be a solid choice for hunters new to the game as you are not behind a point curve. They are truly the most exciting draws in the country, as all successful applicants are in all definitions winners!
Apply or you have no chance to hunt out west.
So to recap, if you choose to invest in these different draw opportunities the Preference Point systems are the fastest way to ensure a quality hunt, and you will be able to forecast and plan on when you are going to cash your points in and go hunting. Bonus Point systems are a bucket of raffle tickets that you get more tickets in the bucket for each year you apply. They often have some of the best hunting in the country, but you need to be prepared to be surprised by a hunt and be able to adjust your schedule on a moment’s notice if you choose to invest in these systems. The Random system is the most aggressive of all the systems but are designed to give even first time applicants a fair chance at drawing, and these states often are managing for an opportunity to go hunting so there are a number of permits up for grabs and can have positive results sooner than you would expect. In this day and age equal odds are the best odds even if those odds are low.
These systems can be confusing but you can do it. Figure out what animals you want to hunt. Where you want to hunt. What type of trophy quality you want in your hunt out west. Then start applying in the states that give you a chance to go on a hunt that meets your wants.