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How to Draw Tags in the West

How to Draw Tags in the West

I want to hunt Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep so badly my teeth hurt. But did I put in to draw a tag this year? I did not. The mind-numbing occupation of moving halfway across the country distracted me from more important matters, like studying state regulations and filling out tag applications.

Fish and Game regs and application processes are so intricate and so varied from state to state that even Tom Selleck would go bald trying to decipher them all. But if you want to draw one of those lovely bits of tear-resistant paper that serve as a license to kill a monster mule deer, sheep, or a premium elk, moose, mountain goat, pronghorn antelope, bison, or black bear tag, you've got to apply.

Entire books have been written about how to successfully study, apply, and draw the holy grail tags in various Western states. I, of course, don't have quite that much room here, so this is anything but a comprehensive guide to drawing the tag of your dreams. But every Western "destination" state (most hunters no longer include Washington or California in that category) has its own set of deadlines and unique demands, and this brief column is meant to give you the basic info needed to apply.

Nevada

Application method: online or paper

Point system: yes

Nonrefundable license required to apply: yes, $140+

Minimum age to hunt: 12 years old

Hunting Nevada is much like visiting Las Vegas — it's full of glamor, and if you win the tag lottery, you've won big. Though population numbers are low, trophy potential is huge, and the hunting is spectacular.

The state is one of the best for desert bighorn, both in numbers of available tags and trophy potential. Paper applicants must submit all tag fees with their application; online applicants' credit cards will be charged for tag fees only if drawn.

Applications for all species are accepted in April, and drawing results are available sometime in June.

Idaho

Application method: phone, online, or paper

Point system: no

Nonrefundable license required to apply: yes, $155+

Minimum age to hunt: 12 years old

Legend of old has Idaho as one of the best mule deer and elk hunting states in the West, where writing legends Jack O'Connor and Elmer Keith lived out their days. Well, it's still great, though of late the wilderness elk herds have suffered from wolf predation and other problems.

Currently, it should perhaps be better known for its excellent drawing odds on bighorn sheep. And in a departure from most states, Idaho has no point system, meaning that every single hunter in the drawing pool has the same chance. Additionally, nonresidents are limited to applying for either bighorn sheep, mountain goat, or moose — only one of the rarer species, if you will — or instead applying for deer, elk, or antelope.

Applications for less common species (moose, sheep, mountain goats) are due in April, while those for deer, elk, and antelope are due in May. Results come out in June and July. Tag fees are charged up front, then refunded if not drawn.

New Mexico

Application method: online only

Point system: no

Nonrefundable license required to apply: yes $65+

Minimum age to hunt: no minimum age

The Land of Enchantment boasts incredible trophy pronghorn antelope and fantastic elk hunting and has the distinction of being the only Rocky Mountain Western state I'm aware of with no minimum age limit for hunters.

Pass a hunter's education course and you're in. Like Idaho, New Mexico has no preference or bonus point system, which puts all applicants on equal footing each and every year. This is cheering for newer applicants, disgruntling for veteran hunters unlucky in the draw.

Application period ends sometime in March, and draw results are available in May. Tag fees are charged up front, then refunded if not drawn.

Another attraction is the free-ranging, legitimately wild ibex, oryx, and Barbary sheep in parts of the state. Tags are tough to draw but make for a very unique continental U.S. hunt.

Utah

Application method: online only

Point system: yes

Nonrefundable license required to apply: yes, $65+

Minimum age to hunt: 12 for general; 14 for limited entry

Utah is my home state, but I've still never drawn a premium tag to hunt it. The units that produce stupendously big trophy elk and deer are, of course, very difficult to draw, and like most hunters, those are the tags I want and put in for.

Drawing a decent general-season deer tag, on the other hand, is much easier — nonresidents will generally draw a tag every two to three years.

Application deadline for all species is in March, and draw results are available toward the end of May. Tag fees are not charged unless drawn.

Nonresidents have one advantage over Utah residents — they can apply for every species available to hunt and build points for each species every year. Residents are limited to applying for one limited-entry species (trophy deer, elk, and antelope) and one once-in-a-lifetime species (moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, bison) per year. I'm just waiting for a non-resident who's been applying for 30 years to move into the state in the future and draw a series of premium tags for several consecutive years.

Wyoming

Application method: online or paper

Point system: yes

Nonrefundable license required to apply: no

Minimum age to hunt: 12 years old within calendar year

Though average trophy potential doesn't match that of bighorn sheep in Montana, Wyoming offers probably the best chance to actually draw a tag. And few states offer better elk and mule deer hunting than the Cowboy State — let alone antelope.

Applications for elk tags are due in January; moose, sheep, and mountain goat in February; and deer and antelope in March. Results are available in February, May, and June respectively. Tag fees are charged up front, then refunded if not drawn. If you want a preference or bonus point if unsuccessful in the draw, you'll pay an extra fee, ranging from $30 for antelope up to $100 for sheep.

Wyoming is friendly to hunters who want to give their hunt everything they've got. For an additional fee, rifle elk hunters lucky enough to draw can also hunt the archery season on many of the units.

Colorado

Application method: online or paper for deer, elk, and antelope; paper only for sheep, goat, and moose

Point system: yes

Nonrefundable license required to apply: no

Minimum age to hunt: 12 years old within calendar year

Colorado has a long-standing, well-deserved reputation as a destination for out-of-state hunters. Application fees are minimal, the Fish and Game is one of the more helpful in the nation, and the state has enormous populations of game, making actually drawing a good tag somewhat more possible than in many areas.

Application dates are in April, and drawing results are available for most species in June. Sheep and goat results come out in May. Tag fees are charged up front, then refunded if not drawn.

Arizona

Application method: online or paper

Point system: yes

Nonrefundable license required to apply: yes, $150+

Minimum age to hunt: 10 years old

Some states make a heroic effort to be confusing to hunters wanting to apply. While not the worst, Arizona achieves moderate confusion status by setting several different deadlines for the various species.

For instance, wishful hunters must submit one application in February for elk and pronghorn antelope, another in June for deer and sheep, and if you want to hunt wild bison, you'll have to take a break from your October hunting time to fill out an application then.

Drawing dates are in April, August, and November. Tag fees will be charged only if drawn. On the positive side, hunters very serious about drawing one of the outstanding deer, elk, or antelope tags that Arizona has to offer can earn extra bonus points by two methods. Applying for five consecutive years will earn you an extra point, and passing Arizona's Hunter Education class will gain you another.

Montana

Application method: online or paper

Point system: yes

Nonrefundable license required to apply: no

Minimum age to hunt: 12 years old by mid January

Remember the Arizona comment? Well, this state is the confusion-department winner. But Teddy Roosevelt went to Montana, and so should you. Just prepare to be confused as you wind your way through the application process labyrinth. Three separate application periods exist, usually in early March for deer and elk; April for sheep, mountain goat, and moose; and May for antelope.

Draw results emerge in April, June, and July. Tag fees are charged up front, then refunded if not drawn. Outfitter-sponsored tags are a thing of the past, but non-residents are able to apply for both general-season and limited-entry tags at the same time.

A cool thing about Montana? Combined hunt seasons allow hunters to pursue multiple species at one time. Deer, elk, bear, and wolf hunt, anyone?

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