A few months ago I wrote an article, titled “Balancing Acts”  where I was explaining the difficulties in accommodating the needs and wants of friends, juggling seasons and tag availability and detailing some of the other thought processes we were going through prior to submitting applications. So this is kind of an update on that article, now that our applications are all in.
One of the more difficult hunters to satisfy was Ryan’s uncle Phil. Thankfully, he decided he didn’t want to apply, and wasn’t sure if he’d have the money to go this year. It’s kind of a relief and brings up a good point that I’ve noticed with most of the out of state friends. Most of them really aren’t that serious when it comes right down to it. They want to go on the surface, but out of state hunting is expensive and requires long term planning. For the guys that see what you hunt, and say, “I want to do that!”, you can pretty much count on them never following through. Of our out of state friends that I last wrote about (plus several others who flirted with the idea of hunting with us after I wrote that article), only one group actually decided to follow through and apply for licenses. Even Wes, my old friend from California, who actually has followed through on hunts in the past, failed to bother putting in for Utah preference points. Oh well, all you can do is send them reminders.
It doesn’t look like anyone in the group will be drawing an “exotic” tag this year. We are all just putting in for more points. The mountain goat hunt was a lot of fun last year, but it put a bit of stress on the muzzleloader elk hunt with them being back to back. It also spread out our scouting efforts to the point that we probably neglected our deer hunt too much.
So, that’s what didn’t happen. But what’s on the menu this year? It looks like it’s going to be a busy one, and I still feel good about our selections, despite not having much for preference points to use.
Our backcountry muzzleloader elk hunt will likely be the first hunt of the year. Adam and I used our preference points to guarantee the bull tag last year, as it was previously part of the state wide muzzleloader hunt. Jason had a preference point, but mistakenly put in for a point first, bull second, then cow third, while Ryan applied for a point first, then cow second. Those last two both drew the cow tag, which was a surprise, as the old statewide cow tag usually drew out in 2nd choice. It’s likely that cow tags will get harder to draw in the future, as the draw stabilizes and demand becomes more apparent. Last year had thousands of applicants put in for bull tags with both first and 2nd choices, alleviating the 2nd choice pressure on cow tags, and creating leftovers for the first time that I can remember.
Anyway, this year the four of us are all in for the same hunt. Adam and I were the only ones who put in for the muzzleloader bull tag, but we only stand about a 40% chance of drawing with no preference points. Ryan is applying for a preference point first (actually unit 201 muzzleloader bull, which may as well be a preference point), then the muzzleloader cow with 2nd choice. Adam and I also had the muzzleloader cow as 2nd choice. The only one who will for sure have a bull tag for this hunt this year will be Jason because he is going to attempt to archery hunt it. Considering it takes almost an entire day to hike into our campsite for what might have become a glorified meat hunt, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do this hunt if no one was going to have a bull tag.
The next hunt that I know we are doing for sure is the Wyoming deer and antelope combination hunt. Jim and Robin, who bought preference points with me last year, followed through with applications this year. I decided not to use my preference point to draw an antelope buck tag this year, just to keep my total costs down. Jim will be putting in for the buck tag, but Robin won’t be. Jim is virtually assured of drawing the buck tag, unless Wyoming drastically cuts back on tags. I’ve already been up in that unit scouting twice this winter and see no reason to think they suffered a major winter kill. The doe tags will be easy to draw, but I only put in for one. My rationale is that I’m mostly going to be trying to show my friends a good time, so trying to get myself an antelope will be taking a back seat. Also, I enjoy our traditional antelope hunt with my usual hunting partners, so I used my second doe antelope draw to get a permit in my normal area.
The deer hunt is a little more up in the air. After scouting the unit I was originally interested in, I decided that the public lands looked a little more like elk country and that most of the deer hunting would really be down low on the private lands. Without any BLM bordering the National Forest to hunt mid elevation transitional grounds, I decided against that unit. Schedule-wise, this may work out a little better because the unit I settled on for antelope hunting has just a two week hunting season, and there would have been a 5 day gap until the opener of that deer hunt. Instead, we decided to risk the uncertainty of drawing a unit that required our one preference point in some canyon/mesa/badlands type country that is primarily BLM, but also has numerous, large Walk-In Access areas.
We are not assured of drawing this high quality deer tag, so we decided to apply separately, and then use our second choices for the neighboring regional general license. That region has a great mix of high and low elevation public lands plus excellent walk-in access options for both deer and antelope down low (might pick up a few doe tags there to spice things up). Because at least two of us will end up with the regional general tag (according to the odds), I can do some early scouting on the mid elevation BLM lands in May and June in the Region General units before the draw. After the draw, we’ll know if I need to get a little more serious about scouting the limited quota unit.
The last hunt that I know for sure we’ll be doing will be a 3rd season canyon country elk/mule deer combo hunt here in Colorado. I know I said we wouldn’t be adding anyone to this hunt in my last article, but one of the guys will be moving to Oregon, which opened up a slot for a neighbor. The bull tag here is OTC and the deer tag requires a first choice draw, but can be drawn with no preference points. Jason, Adam and I hunted here two years ago and really liked the area. Pressure was nonexistent and the terrain was fairly gentle when we were staying on top of the ridges. It took us four days to get into elk that first year, but on day four we all had opportunities at bulls, though I was the only one who took one home. We didn’t see many deer, but we also weren’t hunting the brushy country or along the borders of the alfalfa fields below.
There was fair amount of deliberation as to whether or not we should focus on rebuilding our deer points this year. Since most of us used all our points last year, and have our eyes set on an early high country deer hunt in the future, we would have to start accumulating points again soon. Most of us decided to kick that can down the road for one more year, and focus on having a better deer hunt than last year. Jason, Adam, myself and neighbor Brian all put in for the deer tag. We may not all draw, so for our 2nd and 3rd choices, I put in for the two units I talked about in my Colorado deer hunting  article: 444 and 33 during 2nd season. That way, those who don’t draw first choice won’t have tags that interfere with a 3rd season hunt. Ryan didn’t come on this hunt two years ago, and is a little hesitant to use his first choice on this deer tag, so he’s putting in trying to hope he draws with a 2nd choice. More than likely he won’t be deer hunting unless the DOW increases the tag quota.
The elk hunters will have to wait on the draw results. Jason is assured of having a bull tag for archery season, so he will be deer hunting only in 3rd season. If Adam or myself draw the bull muzzleloader tag, we will also be on a deer only hunt. Only Ryan and Brian are assured of having elk tags.
If you thought that would be enough hunting for one year, you’d be wrong. Towards the end of last hunting season I finally found myself a little huntress to date. Katie is an Alaskan, but hasn’t hunted since moving to Colorado four years ago. She has never killed a big game animal, so I’m making it my mission to change that. While writing that Balancing Act  article a few months ago, we were still in the short term planning stage. Now that our relationship has developed to the point where we are making longer term plans, I decided she’s now part of the group and if she wants to see me much during hunting season, she’s going to have to be in the woods with me.
HOWEVER, Katie has plans that interfere with both our muzzleloader and our 3rd season hunt. So I now get to add even more hunts to the schedule! She has no preference points and is most interested in killing an elk. I figured the best way to do that for her was through a Ranching For Wildlife hunt. I haven’t addressed these hunts in past articles because they aren’t open to nonresidents, but they can be extremely high success propositions. In a nutshell, the Ranching For Wildlife properties get to have a large number of transferable licenses in exchange for allowing access to a smaller percentage of the public where licenses are issued through the regular Colorado Division of Wildlife drawings.
All three of her first choices (elk, deer, antelope) were for Ranching For Wildlife antlerless hunts. For elk we decided to go for Wolf Mountain Ranch in unit 214, outside of Hayden. It’s “only” 15,000 acres, but has antlerless success rates in the high 80s and the tag can be drawn without any preference points. She’s not assured of drawing, so for her second choice, we put her in for an early rifle cow hunt. This is a special September rifle hunt for cows only. And since I want more practice playing with elk in the rut, this seemed like a good opportunity without the handicap of a muzzleloader. Once again, she might not draw with her second choice. Next highest success options were some cow tags in trophy units for 4th season. I like late season (December) hunts as meat hunts, but decided to wait to look at the leftover list for those. Besides, a late season hunt could interfere with her RFW deer draw there were still some extremely high quality elk hunts available with 3rd and 4th choices. With Katie’s 3rd choice, she might draw unit 201 in 4th season, but with her 4th choice she seems most likely draw unit 10 in 4th season. Both of those are over 50% success rate hunts. No, they aren’t bull tags, but if you’re serious about a meat hunt, then there are some great public land options in the trophy units.
For deer, we went with Burns Hole RFW. It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere, but I like the deer hunting in the area, and assume that it’s got to be even better on the ranch. Success rates are about 75%, and she has a decent chance of drawing. Plus, the hunt is in early December (which is also why I didn’t have her try to draw a late season cow tag), and won’t interfere with any other hunts on the books. Now, since Katie isn’t guaranteed of drawing that RFW doe deer tag, we decided to gamble the 2nd and 3rd choices on really poor draw odds tags. Last year, the unit 34 4th season buck tag had a couple of licenses make it to 2nd choice, so she put in for that (wrote about the area last week and scouted it some last Friday). For her 3rd choice, she went with the unit 5 buck tag in 2nd season. There’s a ton of deer in the area, but they can be hard to hunt as mid elevation access is spotty. With 4th choice, and the tag she’s most likely to have is the 33 2nd season buck tag. I thought about putting her in for another unit where I could also pick up a doe tag on leftovers, but decided to just focus on her opportunities for this hunt.
For antelope, she’s taking a stab at a new RFW property that has no draw odds or success rates published. We decided on it because it has an August season that wouldn’t interfere with any of the other hunts that we have planned. All of her subsequent antelope choices are being wasted on other RFW properties. It’s been two years since I’m aware of any RFW doe antelope tags being available as a 2nd choice, but, on the off chance they increase the quotas, maybe she’ll draw one. Last year, we did an antelope hunt in Southeastern Colorado on some Big Game Walk-In Access areas in December, and I wasn’t impressed, so the gang has decided to forgo those in favor of focusing on Wyoming for antelope does. We have pretty well given up on antelope hunting in Colorado until someone in the gang has enough points for one of just a handful of good units for a buck tag.
Now, last but not least. I’m also going to be buying preference points for Wyoming elk and antelope this summer and I bought preference points for Utah deer and elk. I don’t have any plans for any of those points at the moment, so am just blindly accumulating, which I hate doing. The only other state that I may apply to is Nevada. Unfortunately, their deer hunts interfere with pretty much everything else I have scheduled, so I may let that slide this year. If I don’t apply to Nevada, that would mean that for the first time in probably 4 or 5 years, I won’t be able to check off a new state for my lifetime goal of killing a deer in every state. That just won’t do, so I’ll probably have to put in for Nevada after all. Or maybe I’ll look at New Mexico’s leftover deer list again. And Montana has leftover general tags that I could use in conjunction with my brother’s wedding in Yellowstone this fall (note: if you want a hunter to come to your wedding in the fall, there better be some decent nearby hunting). Or maybe some southern or southeastern whitetail state with a December or January season. See, there’s always a way to add something new!
So there you have it, I’m putting my money where my mouth is by applying for hunts I’ve been talking about for the last several weeks. No, I’m not going to tell where exactly I’m going for every hunt, just with some of the 2nd choice options. It feels like it’s going to be a good year, but man is it going to be busy.