Now that most of the big game drawings are completed throughout the West, leftover license lists are also starting to pop up. While it should be obvious that not all tags are created equally, people will frequently buy a license without doing sufficient research. Others routinely turn their noses up at leftovers, thinking they are all poor quality licenses. They certainly aren’t all created equally, but it would be a mistake to those looking to maximize their opportunities to outright dismiss all leftovers or to think they are all useful to the public land, DIY hunter.
As with all licenses, the two main factors that play a role in license availability are supply and demand. There isn’t always something wrong with a license in order for it to be a leftover. In highly populated units, the game departments can issue a lot of licenses. And since they respond to yearly changes in the populations, and the quotas are usually set after the application deadlines, it’s not at all unusual for spiking populations to have a lot of leftover tags.
Far more dangerous to those who don’t do enough research are the licenses that are available in areas of limited public land. There generally isn’t much demand for licenses in areas without good public land access. Conversely, there is often too much demand for licenses with mediocre populations, but excellent public land access. A good trick here is in finding licenses with just enough public land to discourage the poorly prepared hunter, but enough for you to hunt (when well armed with maps). Even better are areas with a sudden increase in licenses due to a booming population, but chances are if it was a really good unit to begin with, there still shouldn’t be leftovers.
Wyoming puts little asterisks alongside unit numbers that have what they consider to be poor public land access. I’m not entirely certain what exactly the criteria are to meet that designation. My group routinely hunts one of these units on a combination of leftover and draw tags. And while there isn’t a lot of public land available outside of the Hunter Management and Walk In Areas, there is still enough, even if we didn’t have access to those private lands. In the areas of sparse public land, we NEVER encounter other hunters. I’m fairly certain that a large percentage of hunters are neither competent nor confident enough with a BLM map to attempt to hunt these scattered public lands.
My favorite little honey hole in Wyoming is literally right off the highway and the first piece of public land that you come to. It’s neither marked as public or private. It’s only a square mile and there’s no fence separating the private land, but it always has antelope on it. The only fence is alongside the highway. When we first hunted this unit, I was watching mile markers and landmarks as we approached it, and refused to believe that the first piece we had targeted had nearly 75 antelope on it. So, we drove back to a landmark on the map and retraced our steps, just to make sure. My point here is, if you know what you’re doing with a map, you can access all sorts of scattered lands in under hunted areas. This unit always has leftovers for the type 7 season, which starts one week after the type 6 season and runs the whole month of October. And there’s another reason it’s a leftover…it’s because the opener is a week later, and everyone wants to hunt that first weekend. I guess if we were trophy hunting, we might want that first weekend, but we usually only shoot does.
While it should be obvious that you need to do your homework before buying a license, many people do nothing of the sort. I’m going to help you go through a few thought processes on some of the available leftover licenses that are available throughout the West. Just taking a quick glance at the Colorado leftover lists, you’ve got a great selection of 4th season rifle bull or either sex tags, but a poor selection of 1st season tags. There’s always a good selection of cow tags, and continuing a trend of the last several years, the deer tag leftovers are pretty thin. We’ll see about Wyoming by the end of the month, and I’ll go over mostly the deer and antelope options. In New Mexico, there are usually a few deer tags available and I’ll take a look at those too. After those, I’ll take a look at some of the other western states and see if there’s anything else worth considering outside of the usual OTC options.
As we go over the leftover options, I’ll go into whether or not there are access issues either due to landownership, roads (or lack thereof) or even inappropriate habitat. Then we’ll delve into some of the population and harvest data and why or why not you might want to consider the tag.