It’s time to plan the fall big game hunts! After hunting season, this is one of our favorite times of the year. We’ve been busy researching units and working on license applications. Most of us have to balance these opportunities with work and family. So it takes careful planning to make sure we maximize our time in the field.
If you hope to hunt big game somewhere in the west this year – or even in the next 5 years – here are the upcoming application deadlines you don’t want to miss!
The New Mexico application deadline for all big game species is on March 17.
If you’re new to applying in New Mexico, we have good news. There is no preference point or bonus point system where you’ll have to take a new place in line. New Mexico’s licenses are distributed in a random lottery. If it’s your first year applying or your 20th, we’re all in the same boat.
We won’t sugar coat it – licenses in New Mexico can be difficult to draw. Some of the premium elk units have draw odds in the single digits or less. However, if (or when!) you do get lucky and draw, New Mexico offers some very high quality hunts.
When you apply in New Mexico, you’ll have to purchase a non-refundable base hunting license ($65 for nonresidents) and then submit the entire cost of the tag or tags you’re applying for. If you’re applying for multiple species, this can certainly get expensive. However, all but the base license and an application fee will be refunded if you don’t draw.
In New Mexico, 84% of the licenses are allocated to residents of the state. Unguided nonresidents are allocated six percent. And the final ten percent are set aside for hunters who contract with an outfitter. To learn more about the draw, odds and success tips, take a look at this page on the New Mexico Game and Fish website. For the most powerful research tools, we can't say enough about our friends at GoHunt. If you're serious about applying for big game tags in western states, consider joining their Insider service.
When you’re ready to apply in New Mexico, click here.
The next state on your application calendar should be Montana. The application deadline for elk and deer is April 1.
Montana offers an excellent value for nonresident hunters. In fact, go check out our previous article we dedicated to Monana’s nonresident hunting opportunities. Whether you apply for the big game combo license (elk and deer) or just a single-species, your license includes the big game tag(s), an annual fishing license and upland bird hunting.
What’s more, the general license for elk or deer allows you to hunt any of the state’s general units through multiple seasons. You can come hunt during the archery season. If you don’t fill your tag, you can return and hunt during the rifle season if you choose. These nonresident licenses are expensive, no doubt. But Montana offers a great value with the generous season dates and added fishing and upland opportunities.
Even if you don’t plan to hunt in Montana this year, it can be a good idea to purchase a preference point. This will help ensure you can draw a license when you’re ready to plan that hunt. You don’t have to apply in the spring draw to earn a point. You can buy standalone points when they go on sale in July.
This is our home state. We might be biased, but Colorado is a state where you should be applying in the draw every year. Here’s why…
Everyone knows Colorado is the land of over-the-counter (OTC) opportunity for elk. However, there are also great opportunities for both elk and mule deer that are only available in the draw. And you don’t necessarily have to save 10+ points for one of the ultra premium units. With anywhere from one to five preference points, you can open up great opportunities that represent a good increase in quality over the OTC hunts.
Unlike Montana or Wyoming where you can purchase preference points later in the summer, in Colorado you must buy points as a part of the spring application process. This year, that application deadline is April 6. So don’t skip another year. Even if you’re planning on hunting OTC this year – or not hunt in Colorado at all – at least apply for a point. You can always figure out where to burn those points later.
You can find draw odds, harvest stats and other information is the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Statistics Page. You can see what your options are at any point level. And again - while you can find information on the CPW website, you can't beat the research tools available from GoHunt. With a list of potential units at your desired point level, you can then use tools like OnX Hunt and Google Earth to see the available public land, terrain and habitat in that unit.
To get started on your application in Colorado, you can click here.
Next, don’t miss the Wyoming application deadline for deer and antelope on June 1.
Like Montana, Wyoming offers a hybrid draw system, where 75% of the tags go in a preference point system to those with the most points and the remaining 25% are issued in a random lottery. So even if you’re starting from square one in Wyoming, you have a chance at drawing a tag this year. If you don’t draw a first choice tag, you can then purchase a preference point for that species when points go on sale in July.
The elk application deadline for nonresidents is February 1. So if you missed the elk draw in Wyoming this year, mark it on your calendar for 2022. In the meantime, you can still apply for deer and antelope. Of course Wyoming is king when it comes to antelope hunting. But that doesn’t mean tags are easy to draw. Antelope tags in Wyoming’s best units take many points or have low odds in the random draw. In units with more difficult public access, tags become easier to draw. So get out that OnX Hunt map and check access options before you apply.
For information on units, draw odds, and more, visit the Wyoming Hunt Planner. Or, consider a GoHunt Insider membership to get even more research tools and info. Wyoming Game and Fish offers excellent information on each species. Note that the unit boundaries and numbers are different between each species.
One more thing worth noting is that Wyoming offers two different license types. There’s a regular and a special license. The special license gives applicants the option to enter a separate pool of licenses for an increased cost. In many cases, applying for a special license will increase your draw odds if you’re willing to cough up the extra money. However, this is not always the case – be sure to check draw odds before you apply in the special license pool.
To get started on your Wyoming deer or antelope license, click here.
Finally, consider applying for a deer tag in Arizona this year. Unfortunately, you’ve already missed the elk and antelope deadlines. However, it’s still worth applying for deer before the June 8 deadline. Here’s why…
Arizona issues some licenses to those with bonus points, while some of the licenses are issued in a random lottery. So while your odds may be low for premium hunts, you still have a chance at drawing a tag this year. Even better news – if you don’t draw a tag, you can earn a bonus point and then still purchase an OTC archery deer license!
Arizona offers over-the-counter archery deer tags that are valid for both mule deer and coues deer. These OTC tags can be used in many units. OTC tag holders can hunt the early archery season in September or the late archery season in December and January. These late seasons are during the deer rut in Arizona, offering a fun hunting experience.
The biggest caveat to applying in Arizona is that you’ll have to purchase a non-refundable general hunting license. This is $160 for nonresidents. But if you’re planning to hunt OTC archery deer anyway, then you might as well apply in the draw.
Again, the Arizona deer application deadline is June 8. For draw odds, click here. Or use your GoHunt Insider. At the time we’re writing this article, the application period for deer is not yet open. When that becomes available for 2021, you can click here to get started.
By Ryan McSparran
Ryan is an outdoor writer based in Colorado, and is proud to be a part of the team at Hunting Gear Outfitters.