How To Draw Your Dream Tag

By Brad Fitzpatrick

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hunter puching his tag after getting a deer

There are lots of fantastic big game hunting opportunities in the western United States, but many of these hunts require drawing a tag. If you’ve never hunted big game out-of-state, the draw process can be confusing, especially if you live in the East, where most tags for animals like whitetails are sold over the counter. But it’s not as bad as it might seem. Let’s walk through the most common scenarios and solutions.

Draw Odds

Some states have point systems that allow you to draw a tag, but not all point systems work the same. Understanding how these draw systems work can increase your odds of success and might help you plan your hunt based around the number of points needed to draw.

Some states like Colorado use what’s called a preference point system, which means you earn one point for each year you apply. If a specific Colorado elk hunt requires a minimum of 10 preference points to draw, then you’ll likely have to apply for 10 years to draw that tag. It’s a sit-and-wait proposition, but the good news is you’ll have time to prepare for the hunt.

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“With preference points you have a good idea of when you’ll draw,” says Eric Pawlak, director of Worldwide Trophy Adventures TAGS services, a company that serves as consultants for hunters who are trying to navigate the oftentimes complex application process. He warns, however, that states with preference point systems are subject to “point creep.” This phenomenon occurs as more people apply for hunts in coveted units over time, ultimately increasing the number of points needed to draw a tag. In other words, the tag you thought you’d draw after 10 years might take 15 years to draw because so many hunters have applied.

Bonus point state drawings are similar to preference point drawings because you earn more points the more years that you apply. However, in bonus point states like Arizona there’s a chance you’ll be drawn the first year that you apply, though the odds are slim in units with lots of applicants. But each year you apply in a bonus point state the greater the odds you’ll be drawn.

“Think of bonus points like buying raffle tickets at a banquet,” Pawlak says. “You may have one ticket for a particular drawing and the person next to you may have purchased ten tickets. Obviously, their odds of being drawn are higher than yours since they have more tickets in the hoper, but there’s still a chance you’ll win.”

Of course, the risk in a bonus point state is that you’ll never be drawn, and that’s a very real possibility in the most popular mule deer, elk, and sheep areas.

There are also states like Idaho and New Mexico that have no point system, so your odds are the same on your fifteenth year as your first. But since there’s no accumulation of points, you’ll have some idea of the odds that you’ll be drawn based on data from previous draw cycles. Idaho lists the results from each game management unit along with draw odds for residents and nonresidents.

Hiring A Consultant

If interpreting a given state’s regulations and draw process feels like time better spent scouting or practicing at the range, there’s another possibility: Hire a consulting company like Worldwide Trophy Adventures TAGS. Granted, these services are not free, but without them you’ll spend many hours searching for the best states and units for the game you’re pursuing, and then you’ll have to learn which point system (if any) that state uses so that you’ll have a reasonable expectation of draw odds and dates. If you don’t apply wisely, you might never draw the tag you want.

These consultants also know which areas in which states produce the best trophies and offer the best odds, and because they work with outfitters, they are aware of changes occurring in a unit that might be thousands of miles from your home.

deer antler with a tag on it

“Drawing a limited entry tag improves your odds of taking a really good animal, and you have the option of using an outfitter or doing a DIY hunt on your own,” Pawlak says. “The benefit of the service is having the opportunity for a high-quality hunt at a much more reasonable outfitting cost.”

Don’t Forget the Kids

And when you’re applying for your own hunt, don’t neglect to think about your children. Pawlak points out some states have special tags available for young hunters, and those licenses have better draw odds than standard ones.

“There are some really cool youth hunting opportunities that kids can apply for until they’re 18,” he says. “After that, they go into the adult pool of applicants and their odds of drawing go down.”

Even if your child doesn’t draw their dream tag when they’re young, they’ll already start accumulating points and will have a good understanding of the draw system. That way they might draw a coveted 15-year tag while they’re still in their 30s and young enough to hunt rugged, unforgiving terrain. Want to surprise your son or daughter with a dream hunt? Start gathering points for them right now so that when they are older they’ll be more than halfway to their goal.