There is no offseason. Some of you may not be ready to think about hunting already, but if you’re sitting on your laurels, daydreaming instead of researching, you’ll have already missed the Alaskan big game drawings and are about to miss the Wyoming elk, Arizona elk and antelope draws. Before you know it, spring will have passed you by and you’ve already missed all your chances at a limited tag throughout the west.
Others are simply intimidated by the whole process. In your state you just go buy a license when you’re ready to hunt. There is no application, no limitation to the number of tags for an area, so the whole concept of lotteries, preference points, applications, deadlines and drawing odds is very foreign. But applications are just that: foreign. This may be a foreign language, but it’s not rocket science or paleo-archae-crypto entomology (whatever that is). There’s some lingo or jargon that you may not be familiar with, but you can always look up an answer or ask for help.
If you want to go hunting in the west, you need to get comfortable with the limited licensing processes. Sure, Colorado and a few other states have over the counter bull elk tags, but you’re missing out on other opportunities, many of which may be nearly guaranteed, by not taking full advantage of the draws. If you’re counting on leftover tags, you’re getting the dregs of what would have been available in the drawing. Those are the limited tags that people aren’t concerned about missing out on.
So what about the good tags for the good units in the good seasons? The best tags are almost always available only through limited licensing application processes or drawing, or lotteries or whatever you want to call it. Even if you are only interested in bow hunting an over the counter, unlimited unit in Colorado, you’re still missing out on accumulating preference points for a future trophy hunt.
You may not be ready to think about a dream hunt, but you’ll never be able to experience that dream hunt if you don’t take steps toward it so that it can be achievable while you’re still young enough to enjoy it. If you want to sheep or moose hunt, expect to wait 15 or 20 years for a permit here in the lower 48. How old will you be then? How old will you be if you put off your first applications for another five years? The vast majority of hunters quit hunting in their late 60s. Those in the best health will continue to hunt into their 70s. But how many 80 year olds do you know that can tackle 12,000 foot peaks or pack out a moose?
Mountain goat tags are one of the harder tags to draw.
Of course there are options for getting guaranteed tags in auctions or raffles. But if you can budget $100,000 for a sheep tag in an auction, you can probably find room in your hunting budget to hire a guide in Canada or Alaska to take you out on a guaranteed tag. There’s still no cheap way of sheep or moose or mountain goat hunting in the lower 48. It will cost around $2,000 for the permit in most western states for a nonresident bighorn sheep license. And you have to front that money every year before it is refunded in most states. Even as a Colorado resident, I have to front the state over $750 for a few months to apply for sheep, goat and moose ($254 for each of those species). In the states where you don’t have to pay for the full license fee up front, you will have to purchase a nonrefundable hunting license which may be as much as $140.
There are licensing services out there that will alleviate the financial burden for you, but I would not use them to pick your units. They have a tendency to steer most of their customers to the same units, regardless of their personal physical situations or draw patience. Do your own research, but let those licensing services front the cash. It can be expensive, but the heartache won’t be as bad as writing $25,000 worth of checks to all of the western states during each application season.
Another reason to do your own research is that it’s fun! I love fantasizing about hunting new places. Investigating the terrain, landownership, aerial photos, vegetation and game is what keeps me going during the winter. I live less than an hour away from the USGS map center in Lakewood, Colorado. Between the USGS and Google Earth, I have an enormous amount of information available to determine the suitability of certain units to my preferred hunting styles BEFORE I apply.
There are some downsides of taking full advantage of application season: It’s expensive and there are different sets of rules, processes and deadlines for each of the 12 western states and Alaska. Most states’ application deadlines do not occur until the spring. I’ll first cover the processes for the winter deadline states: Wyoming, Arizona, Alaska, Utah and Montana, all of which have deadlines before March 15th.
You’ll never take that first step towards your dream hunt if you don’t have a complete understanding of what you’re getting yourself into. So stay tuned, I’ll walk through all of them.