The Early Application States
As I mentioned last week, there are a couple of states that force you to think about next year’s hunting plans while it’s still winter. Alaska, Wyoming, Arizona, Utah and Montana have application deadlines that occur before many Eastern hunters even begin to come out of hibernation. Here in the west, we tend to know about our own state’s deadlines, but if our state has a May or June application, we run the risk of missing all the earlier opportunities, or feeling like we’re “stuck” with OTC or leftover tags.
To begin with, we’ve already missed Alaska’s drawing deadline. Those are due December 31st each year for the following fall’s hunting season. Why so early? I don’t know. It just is, so you have to plan for it. Thankfully there are numerous no-draw options if you are determined to go hunting this year. The two other ways that Alaska issues permits is through registration hunts, where you have to contact the local ADFG office before hunting in certain areas, and through unlimited OTC hunts where you simply buy your tag, go hunt and then fill out a harvest ticket if you kill.
Every species in every unit in Alaska is available by either draw, registration or the OTC harvest ticket. You must first purchase an $85 nonresident hunting license, after which you can purchase tags which range from $150 for a deer to $1,100 for muskox. The $400 moose tag is a steal compared to nonresident tag prices in the lower 48. Other popular species include caribou at $325, brown bear at $500, Dall sheep at $425 and mountain goat at $300. Don’t forget to factor additional travel costs for bush planes or charter boats.
There are different sets of regulations for residents and nonresidents in each unit, so make sure you check the regs. Some of the registration hunts require you to show up in person at specified offices. Also of importance is the regulation that forbids the hunting of brown bears, mountain goats and Dall sheep without a guide or an Alaskan resident within the second degree of kinship. There’s a whole list of which relatives that may entail, but basically it means no cousins.
For those of us who are only interested in do-it-yourself hunts, Alaska’s main offerings are going to be moose, caribou, deer and black bear. There are also a few islands where you can elk hunt, but the best places are draw only.
So, on to the states whose deadlines have not yet passed:
Most notably, we have Wyoming elk coming up, with applications due January 31st. For some reason, Wyoming staggers their application periods for several species. Deer and antelope are due March 15th. Bighorn sheep, moose and mountain goat are due February 28th.
Wyoming is fairly new to the preference point game, so the maximum number of points any nonresident elk, antelope or deer applicant can have is 5. That means you aren’t too far away from the top point holders to feel like you’re disadvantaged at this stage in the game. And there are only a small handful of hunts that will require max points to draw. Wyoming also has two other quirks giving newcomers to the application game a fighting chance at the tags they may really want. Of their nonresident tag quotas, 60% are regular price, 40% are “special” price. Essentially the tag cost is nearly doubled which is supposed to help your draw odds at the special price. It doesn’t always work out that way, so peruse the draw odds sheets to make sure it’s worth your time to pay extra. Now, the other wrinkle: 25% of the special and regular priced tags are allocated in a random draw, regardless of preference points. Generally, on the really high demand tags, you’ve still got an infinitesimally poor chance of drawing, but at least it’s a chance.
For Wyoming elk, you have the option of specifying a specific limited draw only unit, special season hunt or the general tag which is good for most of the state. There is no set opening or closing date for the Wyoming rifle elk season. The tentative opening dates are listed in the application booklet, but check last year’s regulations to get an idea of when the likely closing dates will be. In a handful of Wyoming’s elk units, there are archery only tags available. Outside of those units, you are welcome to either bow hunt, rifle hunt or both, depending on the season.
There are a few units that open as early as September for rifle hunting (when the elk are bugling), but remember, nonresidents are required to have a guide in the wilderness areas.
Wyoming’s license prices are about average for most of the western states. The antelope buck tag is $286, buck deer is $326 and bull elk is $591. If you want to increase your odds with the special price tags, antelope bucks are $526, buck deer $566 and bull elk are $1,071. As a general rule, the special price will usually reduce the preference point requirement by 1. For example, the nonresident general bull tag requires a preference point at the regular price, but is nearly guaranteed at the special price with 0 points.
The drawing odds page is here:
The preference point game has been in effect for 15 years for moose, bighorn sheep. Sheep tags in most units require 14 or 15 points, but moose tags are closer to 10 in most units. If you’re counting on the random draw, your odds vary between 1 in 280 to 1 in 60 for a bull moose or 1 in 50 to 1 in 250 for a bighorn ram.
Arizona has a split application period than Wyoming. Elk and antelope are due February 8th this year. Sheep and deer applications are usually due in June. The draw process is extremely strange compared to most other states. Basically, just consider it a random draw. You get additional opportunities to draw with bonus points (name goes into the hat more than once). There is no preference system. The system is outlined here: http://www.azgfd.gov/eservices/BigGameDrawingProcess.shtml but is not explained in the current brochures.
Unfortunately, you are required to purchase a hunting license before applying. And it’s $150 and non refundable if you don’t draw. Call it a steep application fee or an excuse to go hunt Mearn’s quail.
At first glance, Arizona’s tag prices seem among the cheapest in the country, at just $232 for a deer tag in some legendary country, you might think you’re looking at a steal. But tack on that $150 license fee and another $7.50 for the bonus point fee and you’re looking at one of the more expensive deer tags in the country. The elk tag is $595 and the antelope an obscene $485, plus the license fee (one time fee).
I covered most of Utah’s quirks a few weeks ago while reviewing their elk hunting areas. But in review, you have to purchase a nonrefundable $65 hunting license. You do not have to pay for the tag fees up front. You can only draw one limited license per year. The deer draw goes first, so if your priority is really an elk tag, just forgo applying for the deer license.
The bonus point/random draw split is 50:50. Utah uses the term bonus point the way I think about preference points: The tag goes to those with the most points. I consider bonus systems to be those where you get your name in the hat one additional time for every point you have. Utah uses the term preference points for the Northern Region Buck/bull combination license to differentiate the point systems for the combo tag from the single species tags. Deer permits are $263, elk permits $388. But the best limited entry tags are much more expensive. You’re looking at $795 for the limited elk permit or $1,500 for the premium limited entry permits which allow you to hunt any open season in that unit. Sheep, goat and moose permits are also $1,500.
Montana has a quirky system also. Due March 15th is the application for their general licenses. The general license allows you to hunt most units in either the archery or rifle season or both. If you don’t draw the general license you can’t participate in the limited license drawings. Applications for those licenses are due June 1st. For sheep, goat, and moose, applications are due May 1. Antelope applications are due June 1st.
One really nice thing about Montana’s general license is the length of the season. You can practically hunt from the middle of September to the end of November on general licenses with a rifle if you pick your units right. The September rifle hunts are only in the serious backcountry units, all of which are difficult to get to. But hey, there aren’t many other opportunities to hunt elk in the rut with a centerfire rifle. Wyoming has a few units, but nonresidents require guides to hunt in the wilderness areas. I don’t know if all of Montana’s backcountry units as difficult to get to as the one I hunted after graduating from college, but that unit required an almost 7 mile hike from the start of the wilderness boundary BEFORE I could begin hunting.
Montana raised their license fees this year after abolishing the outfitter sponsored licenses. The combination deer/elk license is now $912, deer licenses are $542 and the elk only license $812. It’s hard to say how that will affect the draw odds, but it’s likely that first time elk applicants will now be able to draw the general tag better than 40% of the time. You used to be able to count on drawing Montana’s general tags every other year with a bonus point. The real screaming deal in big game tags is Montana’s antelope at just $205, and the draw odds are even better than Wyoming’s in most places.
Montana has two bonus point systems. The first is for drawing the general tag, the second is only for the limited tags. So, if you draw the general elk tag, but not a limited elk, you will have a bonus point for the next limited drawing. But you have to draw the general tag again to make use of it.
So there you have it, these are the states with the most pressing application periods at this moment. I normally thought of the Wyoming elk application as kicking off application season, but that was because I had always been ignoring Alaska’s deadline. Now that I’m dating an ex-Alaskan girl, I don’t imagine she’ll let me forget that one in future. I’ll get into the spring application states soon, but if you were kicking around the idea of hunting any of these states, you need to get cracking on your research right now.