Moose Hunting Overview
For a little bit of a change of pace, let’s talk about moose hunting as a nonresident. Because I’m trying to focus on DIY hunts, I’m going to ignore Canada’s opportunities and resident-only hunts in the US. By limiting our scope to states that offer nonresident moose hunting we have just a handful of places to consider: Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire.
Alaska is the only one of these states where a DIY hunter can pick up an over the counter tag, and it’s also one of the cheapest, at just $400 plus an $85 hunting license. BUT, your expenses have just begun once you’ve arrived if you’re going to charter a bush plane to drop you off somewhere. While you’re always going to have some sort of travel expenses getting to and from a hunting area, it’s fair to assume that it will almost always be cheaper in the lower 48. However, the Rocky Mountain States have nonresident tag prices that’ll gag a maggot, so if you think it’ll be significantly cheaper to hunt in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, or Idaho, think again.
Now, not all of Alaska utilizes the basic over the counter moose license, called a harvest ticket. Other areas are draw only, while others are on a first come-first served registration hunt, and still others are on an unlimited registration basis for nonresidents. So make sure you look over the regulations and fully understand what it takes to hunt moose in your chosen area, as some registration hunts require a hunter to register in person, while others can be done online. The really tricky thing about Alaska’s moose drawing is that the deadline occurs in December, which is why I’m writing this article in November. Many of Alaska’s draw or registration hunt areas occur in places that would otherwise receive more pressure than the moose population can handle or the resident hunters want to deal with. The importance of knowing why an area is a draw or registration hunt area is crucial, especially if you plan on hunting near anyplace you expect to drive to from an airport. Many of the units that I’ve looked at that kill between 3 and 5% of the bull moose (and have a reputation for 60-70 inchers) are nowhere near Fairbanks or Anchorage and are merely harvest ticket or registration hunts, not draws. Just remember that the draws and registration hunts are as much about people management as they are population management, and that population management rarely has much to do with trophy quality.
With Alaska as our measuring stick, let’s now take a look at the other states offering moose hunts to nonresidents. I’ll go into the Rocky Mountain state offerings first, and of those, it looks like Idaho offers the best draw odds and the most moose licenses. Idaho has no preference system, so a first time applicant is on the same level as a 20 year applicant, and if you’re smart about where and how you apply, you can find a few places offering better than 10% draw odds. Requiring a nonresident to buy a basic hunting license ($140) and front the full $2,100ish for a moose license helps to keep draw odds somewhat reasonable. A few strategies to keep in mind is to only apply for areas that are going to have nonresident licenses (look at past draw results and talk to the biologists! Several people completely waste their time by putting in for hunts with no nonresident licenses), and consider hunting units that have split seasons to help improve your odds. For instance, in 2011, several units had better than 20% draw odds, and in at least one instance, only one person put in for the one tag that was available.
Success rates in Idaho are similar to most western moose hunts in that most hunts average 90-100% success. Looking over just the 2010 harvest information also makes it look like most hunters are getting a chance at older bulls, with spreads in the mid 30s to mid 40s range. Even saw one unit where the only bull taken was a 53 incher, so despite the large numbers of licenses being issued, Idaho is maintaining some trophy quality.
Montana’s moose licenses are a little bit harder to draw, but a nonresident still stands a decent chance in many units. Most were around 1 in 100, but two units had bull tags down in the 1 in 6 range. The draw deadline was in early May last year, and at $755 is actually cheaper than the elk license now, which seems like I must be missing something. Montana does use a bonus point system, so long time applicants will have a better shot at a license, but if you focus on easier to draw areas, you’ll still do better than the 700 applicants trying to draw the lone license in one unit.
Wyoming’s moose hunters mostly average in the 90-100% success range, indicating that most of the moose are in pretty accessible country, not deep in the wilderness areas, with the exception of the Targhee moose hunters averaging around 40% success (still better than much of Alaska). However, draw odds are much steeper, and require 14 to 15 preference points in many units. There’s also a random draw, but odds are between 1 in 30 and 1 in 300ish, so I wouldn’t count on ever drawing that way. Fronting $1,400 for the license is the only way to be in on the random draw, and a preference point costs $75, so there’s no cheap way of doing this and being in it for the long haul.
Utah has some pretty stiff draw odds for moose too. They also have a preference system that has been in effect for 18 years, but it looks like the top applicants will have 16 points next year. Utah splits their preference point and random allocation 50:50, so you still have some semblance of a shot at a tag in your first few years. One nice aspect of Utah’s draw is that you do not need to front the full $1,500 license fee, but you do have to buy a nonrefundable hunting license ($65). In 2011, someone with just one point managed to draw a tag. However, the odds are pretty discouraging. That 1 point applicant was one of 550 nonresidents with one point.
The competition for just those 6 nonresident licenses looks pretty daunting. When you look at Utah’s preference point breakdown, there’s still 196 people with at least 10 preference points, and over 1300 with just 2 points. Unless Utah starts drastically increasing the nonresident license quota, I don’t see how someone who is just getting started will ever draw.
Here in Colorado, our moose tags are just as hard to draw, and incredibly expensive for a nonresident. Plus you have to front the full $1,900 license fee (just went up almost $100 for 2012). Both residents and nonresidents alike have roughly 1 in 100 draw odds, but it can be worse or better depending on the unit. The easier to draw units are those with the worst road access, the hardest are the tags valid or areas where you can expect to road hunt a moose. Colorado tries to manage for a 40 inch minimum average spread on its bull moose, and success rates run pretty close to 100%.
Colorado’s moose, sheep and goat preference system is especially screwy, but it’s Colorado’s attempt to try to encourage lower point applicants, while still honoring the long timer applicants. Basically it works like this: the maximum number of preference points one can have is 3, so essentially you aren’t actually in the game until your fourth year of applying. Then, on top of your preference points, you earn a weighted point every year after the 3rd year. Weighted points work by dividing the random 6 digit number your application is assigned by the number of weighted points you have (presumably +1 in order to account for 0 weighted point applicants drawing licenses), with the lowest numbers drawing the licenses. There were only 8 bull moose licenses allotted to nonresidents last year, and over 1,300 applicants.
Now, before I move on to the eastern states, let me give you a little bit of hope regarding point creep. Most trophy species drawings that utilize a preference system suffer from point creep, in that the minimum required to draw seems to increase nearly every year because there are more top point applicants than licenses available. All of these states instituted their preference systems within the last 20 years, so presumably, some of these applicants may only be in their 30s or 40s. However, I’d venture to guess that the vast majority of high or max point applicants are actually in their 60s or 70s, when participation in the outdoor sports begins to decline. This means that many those top point applicants are going to quit hunting soon and the large number of low point applicants are unlikely to stay the course. I’ll give you some figures in a moment, but my point here is that if you’re going to commit to jumping in to the draw in a state with a preference system, you need to be in it for the long haul.
Let’s take a look at Colorado’s last couple year’s worth of moose applicants: Each year there has been a nearly 10% increase in applicant numbers, without much of an increase in moose licenses. In 2009 there were 1,114 nonresident applicants, 2010 had 1,263 applicants, and 2011 had 1,337. The maximum number of weighted points going into 2011 was 10, on top of the three preference points. In 2011, there were 56 max point applicants, in 2010 there were 59, in 2009 there were 68 people with max points and in 2008 there were 74. Now let’s look at the bottom end of the spectrum, the new applicants: In 2008 there were 233 new applicants with 0 preference points, but in 2009 there were just 161 applicants that applied with 1 point. What I’m trying to illustrate here is that applicants on the top end draw the license, die or give up at a rate higher than what you expect them to draw, and on the bottom end they rarely seem to commit to applying over the long haul, despite the increase in applications each year. If you’re in your 40s and haven’t started the preference point game yet, you probably don’t have too many more years of dilly-dallying and day dreaming before it becomes unlikely that you’ll draw while you still have a few good hunting years left in you. Those in your 20s or 30s actually have a better chance of drawing in your lifetime than you’d otherwise think as the Baby Boomers are beginning to leave the field.
So that pretty well covers the west, but this seems an opportune time to mention the Eastern moose states. Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire are all pretty friendly to the nonresident applicant.
Maine is of course is the big boy on the block in terms of lower 48 moose hunting. They issued over 3,800 moose licenses in 2011! Compare that to 126 licenses in Utah, or 160 in Colorado. Looking over the age the harvested moose, it does appear there are a number of moose that are considerably older than 10 years old, so I’d like to think there is some trophy potential out there and they aren’t just whacking every 2 year old or yearling in the neighborhood.
Maine has a bonus point system where you get your name in the hat one extra time for each unsuccessful year. However, that system is highly diluted by the ability to simply purchase more chances in the drawing. A nonresident can purchase 10 chances for $55 and may buy several multiples of those 10 chances. The nonresident license fee is just $484 and you do not have to pay it up front.
Vermont does not allow applicants to purchase multiple opportunities in the drawing, and keeps the application fee at a perfectly reasonable $25 with no requirement to pay the $350 up front. Vermont uses a bonus system for unsuccessful applicants similar to Maine’s, but thankfully their system does not get diluted by multiple applications from the same applicant. Success rates are not overly impressive, averaging between 50 and 60% statewide, which is surprising for an area with a large number of roads and lots of logging activity. Bulls average just 3.8 years old, but looking over the spreads of the bulls being harvested, there seems to be no shortage of 50 to 60 inch spreads (remember Eastern moose are bigger than the Shiras moose out west).
New Hampshire has the most expensive moose permit of the Eastern states at $500, and success rates appear to be a bit higher than in Vermont with 70% plus success rates being the norm. Applications are just $25 and New Hampshire does employ a bonus point system similar to Maine and Vermont. Draw odds aren’t great for nonresidents at just 1 in 86, but for $25 it’s a relatively painless way to keep putting your name in the hat.
While the odds are obviously quite long in most states and the price of a license is more than a nice rifle in other states, you do have a lot of opportunities to pick and choose the system that works best for you. Between over the counter tags in Alaska, easy to draw units in Idaho, and the various cheap lotteries out east, there’s no shortage of moose hunting to be had if you are determined to go within the next 10 years. If a moose hunt is among your hunting goals, you obviously can’t just sit back and wish for a license, you do need to actively pursue a license in as many states as possible. Hopefully this gives you a good idea of what’s available to the DIY nonresident, but also gives you a wakeup call if you haven’t started applying for licenses yet.