By Garth Jenson, Hunting Consultant, December 2014
My application strategy varies from state to state, depending on the quality and opportunity each state can provide for an individual species. I am an opportunistic hunter when it comes to Mule deer, meaning I would rather have a pocket full of tags than points. In those states where I feel the top end animals are close enough to the same size from a 1-2 point unit to an 8+ point unit, I’ll take the lesser unit every time. These hunts oftentimes are tough, grind it out hunts that require extra effort and patience, but I feel like if I can draw a tag every other year and learn that area, it can pay huge dividends over the course of 4+ years. Then I have a unit I can take trophy animals from on a regular basis for years to come.
On the flip side, if I was to bank points for 6, 8, or even 10+ years, I might harvest one trophy animal in that timeframe, if I get lucky. More often than not, I would be going into a hard-todraw trophy unit with no prior experience of the unit and when I’m done hunting the unit, all the knowledge and experience I’ve gained won’t be any good to me for another 8-10 years, or possibly more due to the point creep, until I can draw the tag again. States like Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada, and Idaho (Idaho doesn’t have points, but it falls into this category for me) I feel have the opportunity at just as big of bucks if you’re willing to use lesser weapons or do a little research on some typically non-trophy areas.
Elk are a little different story in that most trophy elk areas are fairly hard to draw throughout the West, so I have found myself with an overflowing pocket of points in most states for elk. The silver lining is that about half of the states in the West have over-the-counter tags available. Colorado and Idaho are the first states that come to mind for over-the-counter elk tags. Both states offer pretty good chances at 6-point bulls in their over-the-counter areas. Wyoming is a wildcard state for me.
I really feel that the only difference between its trophy units and general units is the amount of elk, not the size of elk. The general elk license can usually be drawn every other year in the regular draw and every year in the special draw. I usually apply for points in Wyoming if I have another hunt that will conflict with an elk hunt. On a year that I have an opening I will apply for the general license and go chase elk with my bow. I recently added Pennsylvania to my portfolio as the price is minimal compared to the payoff if I’m lucky enough to get drawn.
When it comes to antelope I always apply for areas with trophy potential, but that doesn’t always mean trophy units. States like Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, and New Mexico have some of the best quality but also the toughest odds on acquiring a tag. For this reason I will apply for slightly easier to draw units with trophy potential, hoping to draw a tag sometime. Wyoming and my home state of Utah are different for separate reasons. In Utah, residents are limited to only one limited-entry species, so I don’t currently apply for antelope in Utah. In Wyoming, I feel the chance exists to harvest a trophy antelope in 0-2 point units if you’re willing to pass a lot of smaller animals. For that reason I apply for easy-to-draw units and also second choice units to take advantage of what I think is the best antelope hunting state in the world as often as I can.
When it comes to trophy species (sheep, moose, and goat), I always apply for easier to draw areas and don’t really worry about trophy potential as I am behind in most states for points and just want to draw one of these tags once in my life. Idaho is tricky because I really like to apply for deer and elk, but sometimes I will throw in a moose or goat application instead if I feel like I will have quality tags for both deer and elk in other states that year. However in all other states it’s simple, I apply in all states, except Colorado, that I can for these once-in-a-lifetime tags and hope I get lucky one of these years. Colorado just doesn’t offer a good enough chance at drawing a tag for once-in-a-lifetime species if you’re behind in points, and it takes a lot of upfront money to apply.
My application strategy is to use the draw systems to pull as many quality tags as I can. I try and spend as much time in the woods as possible, and I can’t do that if I don’t have a plan or strategy that includes all states that offer good tags for quality animals. Hopefully luck will be on your side in 2015!