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The Drawing Game: Jump in Headfirst

by Rich LaRocco
Some of the finest hunting in the world takes place in game management units where hunting permits are strictly limited by the state. To hunt these areas you either must draw a tag in a public lottery, or in some cases you can buy a landowner or conservation permit. And unless you can afford the stiff price of a Mexican or Canadian sheep hunt, you must draw a tag if you ever expect to put a bighorn ram on your wall.

If you will settle for nothing less than a trophy animal, and if you can't afford a hunt for which you're guaranteed a tag, it's time to play the drawing game. To play the drawing game successfully, jump in headfirst. In short, apply for quality tags in five or six states and perhaps for three or four different species. I've drawn many great tags over the years, but keep in mind that usually I put my name in 15 to 20 different hats every year. In many states you will earn preference or bonus points if you're turned down, and those will improve your chances of drawing in the future.

Don't worry about drawing too many tags. I would rather deal with choosing between two good permits than with the far more likely prospect of drawing none at all. Besides, if you draw too many permits, some states will allow you to return a tag and keep any bonus points you've earned.

If you're looking for a guided hunt in a limited-entry area, call us before you apply. However, if you draw a permit and don't know which outfitter to use, call us, and we often know a reputable outfitter or guide in that area. In most cases, however, you're far better off by calling us before the application deadline. There are several reasons, but the two chief ones are:

1) In some areas you can apply for a special allocation of tags set aside for outfitters' clients.

2) If you commit to using one of our favored outfitters, we'll tell you about our top choices for tag drawings. We want to maximize the chances of our customers' drawing good tags, so we don't want to ruin your chances of drawing a tag by telling just anybody about the most promising opportunities. Sometimes we know of a unit that offers higher-than-normal drawing odds or an area that is peaking in hunting quality. Sometimes a state offers a new hunt that is especially promising, and with our network of information we often have details that are otherwise hard to find. Right now, for example, we know a unit where you can shoot two pronghorn bucks, and the odds of drawing a tag are excellent.

Hunts.Net Customer Kevin Higgins of Nebraska took this 36-inch mule deer on a trip we lined up for him in Colorado. The B&C score was a bit over 220. Hunt MD21.
.If you draw a good tag, don't make the mistake of going unguided. An outfitter who knows the area and has access to parts of the unit you'd never find can increase tremendously your chances of taking a trophy-class animal.The best hunting within a limited-permit unit might be on private land controlled by the landowner or leased to an outfitter.Also, know that if you draw a quality tag without making arrangements before you apply, you may be unable to procure the services of the guide or outfitter you want. Some of our best guides have enough clients who apply every year that they keep busy almost every year, and they can't make room for a hunter who contacts them after the drawing takes place.

Hunts.Net agent Rich LaRocco got this 7x7 elk on a limited-tag range in Utah. A guided hunt in this unit costs $2,500 to $3,500, depending on length. Utah gives bonus points to unsuccessful applicants.
Hunts.Net agent Rich LaRocco got this whitetail in a limited-permit zone in eastern Colorado. If you apply for a tag in this area and don't draw, you'll get a preference point.

How to improve your chances
of drawing the tag you want

  • By far the best way of improving your chances of drawing a quality permit are to apply for as many tags as you can every year. Let's say, for example, that you apply for five quality elk permits -- tags in the best zones of Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada. And let's say the odds of drawing a single permit averaged 3%. Then by applying for five tags a year, you've increased your chances of drawing at least one tag in a single season to 15%. That means you would have a roughly 50:50 chance of drawing a quality tag in only three years. And that's not considering any bonus points or preference points that you might have accumulated. Remember, bonus points are like having extra raffle tickets in a prize drawing.
  • Choose an area that offers higher drawing odds. For example, your chances of drawing an early-season rifle elk tag in Arizona are miniscule. Yet the late-season tags offer excellent drawing odds in units that have just as big bulls. We have an outfitter who knows how to hunt just such a unit and produces a high success rate on fine trophies. Another example, your chances of taking a big muley buck are about as good in some Wyoming wilderness areas as in the better units in Nevada, Colorado or Utah, but the odds of drawing in Wyoming are much better because non-resident hunters without guides are not allowed in the Cowboy State's wilderness areas.
  • Buy bonus or preference points if available. In some states as much as 75% of tags are reserved for hunters who have more points than other applicants in each zone.
  • If you apply through an outfitter in some states, you'll have a much better chance of drawing a tag. In New Mexico and Nevada, for example, the state allocates a percentage of some tags to non-residents who have contracted with a guide. If you're going to use a guide anyway, you might as well apply in the guided hunter pool because your odds of drawing a tag go way up. In some areas guided hunters have a 50 percent or greater chance of drawing a tag, while freelance hunters are fighting 5 to 10 percent drawing odds.
  • Be sure your application is error-free, and send it in well in advance of the deadline so that errors can be corrected (some states allow that).
  • Apply for new quality hunts that have not been publicized.
  • Apply in areas with a lot of private land or wilderness that is inaccessible to many do-it-yourself hunters.
  • Set realistic goals and choose hunting units accordingly. In other words, if you would not pass up a 6x6 bull elk that would score 250-300 B&C points, you shouldn't waste your time applying for a New Mexico Unit 16-D tag or an early-season Arizona permit. Instead, apply in units that are not well-known as record-book producers but still have high bull-to-cow ratios and a lot of mature animals. Keep in mind that your odds of drawing the most popular tags are typically 1% or less or you might need 15 or more bonus points to get reasonable drawing odds.
  • Consider bow or blackpowder hunts. It's often far easier to draw a quality primitive arms permit, and many bow and muzzleloader seasons are during seasons when trophy animals are easier to hunt, such as rutting periods.
  • Consider applying for special tags that have higher application fees. In Wyoming, for example, your chances of drawing a quality elk, pronghorn or deer permit are much better in certain units if you send the state additional money. In other areas, the so-called special drawing doesn't improve your chances at all and is a waste of money, so call us before you apply.
  • Apply in newly split or newly opened hunting zones. The better outfitters watch changes in hunting regulations closely and have their customers apply as soon as a promising hunt or area opens up. Some of my finest hunts have been in such zones.