Navigating the Western Big Game Draw Process

By: Drummond Lindsey, Broker Associate

Featured in Land Investor Magazine Volume 7

I have guided and outfitted hunts across the West for three decades and have witnessed the incredible evolution of hunting. Nothing has changed the sport more than the ease and speed of obtaining information. The internet, smartphones, Google Earth, OnXmaps, and social media have all contributed to hunting’s surge in popularity and made it more accessible to all. This has also dashed most hopes of finding a good spot to hunt year after year, a place to escape the masses while consistently hunting quality animals on public ground. There are simply no more secrets.

I never thought I would have to treat preference points and draw strategy like a retirement account.  Your application strategy needs to consider the ROI, and the financial consideration pales in comparison to that of your precious time. It can be hard knowing your hope of drawing that one late-season deer tag in the best unit or a once-in-a-lifetime sheep tag may never happen. Is it worth trying to apply for one chance at the best unit that takes 20 preference points? What takes 20 preference points this year may take 21 or 22 preference points next year, which is often referred to as “point creep.” Even if you are one of the lucky few able to draw the tag after a quarter century of applying, you may still have to contend with your dreams being shattered due to drought, personal circumstances, or countless other unforeseen issues. This leaves something to be said for those one-point units that still exist today. When a person is willing to hunt the lesser-known or less popular areas and get to know the unit they are hunting, they put themselves in a better position to have multiple opportunities for success versus waiting a lifetime for their one great shot. This is why strategy is essential and why you need to consider your short and long-term hunting goals.

Fear not, as all is not lost. Some states like Utah and Arizona have a percentage of the available tags set aside for a random draw. This allows applicants who didn’t come in on the ground floor a chance at pulling some of the best tags in the world. Even better, some states like New Mexico and Idaho do not have a point system and randomly issue their tags in a draw, meaning those precious bonus and preference points needed in most of the western states do not apply.

Colorado is a “preference-point” state, meaning you have to have “x” to draw “x,” and there are no random tags allocated. The good news is that you can generally tell if you’ll draw the hunt you want based on the previous year’s point trends. Don’t overlook states like Texas and Oklahoma. While they don’t have a lot of public lands, there are draw hunts in those states that you don’t want to miss.

I realize this can be a little overwhelming to those who haven’t gone through the process to hunt out West. To further complicate things, every state has a different deadline date to apply. Some states like Arizona and Wyoming make you apply at different times of the year for different species. This is why hiring somebody that does this for a living can come in handy. Multiple subscription/membership-based organizations cater to clients wanting to hunt out West. I use a consultant with a limited client base out of Utah that handles all of this for me, and it doesn’t cost much to have him apply for exactly what I want. Otherwise, you will need to do your own research to ensure you meet the deadlines for the different states and species.

Hunters all share the common dream of land ownership. There is no greater reward than managing your own property for wildlife. Landowner vouchers are an option out West as most western states have systems to incentivize landowners to manage the wildlife that frequents their property. Certain parameters need to be met to apply for these vouchers, but you can reach out to the Republic Ranches or Fay Ranches Land Specialist in the state where you own or seek to own land to help you navigate the process for making these vouchers a reality. Whether you own land or not, there are incredible hunting opportunities throughout the West if you are strategic about applying for tags and willing to put in the work.

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