Almost as soon as one hunting season is over, it’s time to start planning the next! If you’re like us, the anticipation and the planning is a big part of the fun. It’s time to start application planning for your next big game hunts!
Every year I hear someone say, “I didn’t draw anything this year!” There are certainly variables going into a big game draw. However, there should also be a reasonable level of expectation. In fact, I often have the opposite problem – more tags than time.
There’s no reason you can’t hunt every species on your wish list in 2020. It only takes a good application strategy…
1. Lay Out the Calendar
Elk, deer, antelope or bear? Early season, mid-season or late season? The number of options can be overwhelming. I like to start by looking at the calendar and prioritizing each part of the hunting season. What’s my number one priority for September? Next, what are my priorities during the middle part of the season? And finally, what do I want to be hunting in November and beyond?
For example, in September do you want to be chasing bugling elk or hiking after mule deer above Timberline? Depending on how generous your boss or your spouse is, it may not be realistic to do both. Instead, focus on one thing during each part of the season. If you choose to do archery elk in September, then save your deer hunting for later in the season when you can focus on being successful.
Alternatively, you might enjoy hunting mule deer in velvet and then looking for big bull elk late in the year. Either way, start by setting those priorities month by month or week by week through the season. With your narrowed list of priorities, you can begin looking at specific application options.
2. Begin the Research
With your priorities in line for each part of the season, it’s time to begin doing your research. For each hunt of the season, I like to apply for a long-shot tag. Plus, I’ll have at least one backup plan.
For example, let’s say I’m interested in a September elk hunt. I might start by applying for a great tag in New Mexico with difficult draw odds. You’ve always wanted to hunt the Gila right? The odds of drawing one of those premier units in New Mexico are all less than 10%. Many are closer to 1%.
With that in mind, I should also plan on applying for an easier–to-draw hunt. In Wyoming, a nonresident with no preference points will have about a 14% chance of drawing a general elk license this year. In Montana, that jumps to about 55%. Or, I can always keep Colorado in my back pocket, where over-the-counter licenses are available for archery season.
Where do you find this information? You can’t beat the research tools offered by our friends at GoHunt. Join their Insider service and you’ll have it all at your fingertips.
3. Take a Close Look at Each Unit
Anytime you’re applying for a license that’s only valid in a single unit or small group of units, be sure to take a careful look. Use your OnX map to study the area. Is there accessible public land in the unit? Does that accessible public land hold quality habitat for the season and species you intend to hunt? If so, keep it on your short list. If not, keep looking at other options.
When considering where to apply, I cross reference each unit with information found on the state game and fish website, GoHunt, OnX and Google Earth. Make sure you gather a complete picture of the area before you decide to apply.
4. Should You Consider a Guided Hunt?
It’s a great time to be a DIY hunter. With digital research and mapping tools like GoHunt and OnX, anyone can do it. But there are certainly advantages to considering a guided hunt.
Guided hunts allow you to hunt with someone who already knows the area. From the application process to scouting, a great guide will reduce or eliminate that burden. If you have limited time from work or family, finding a quality outfitted hunt can be an excellent option.
In some cases, you’ll have exclusive access to private land. But even on a guided public land hunt, going with a guide will help you learn a ton and can significantly increase your chances for success. In a state like New Mexico, hunting with a guide will actually increase your odds of drawing. New Mexico allocates some licenses specifically for guided hunters. Remember those Gila units in New Mexico? Signing up with a guide could double or even triple your odds of drawing.
5. Finalize Your Application Plan
With priorities set and units researched, it’s time to put that application strategy in place. For each hunt, I have my plan A, which is probably a long shot. Then, I have my backup plans – those hunts with better draw odds or even over-the-counter options.
Going into the draw there are many variables. You might draw one of those incredible tags. However, you should have a pretty clear picture of your hunting season. If you’ve done your homework, there’s no reason you should be the one saying, “I didn’t draw anything this year!”
Go into 2020 knowing you can hunt every species on your wish list! Make a plan, and make it a year to remember.
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.