By Erik Barber
If a Western bowhunt is on your agenda, the hunt starts in spring, when most license application periods open. Before you start digging into the countless hours of research that lie ahead, it’s important to understand the nuances of the tag application process to build a strategy of your own. Ultimately, it’s crucial to create a short, intermediate and long-term plan to achieve your bowhunting goals.
Western big-game herds are much more scattered than whitetails in the Midwest or East. As a result, Western states separate hunting areas into different units so they can balance hunting pressure and help certain areas reach their management goals. Public land availability and access, population density, and season dates can vary from one unit to the next. This information is readily available on state fish and wildlife agency websites, which can also provide contact information for area biologists, who have real-time information about prospective hunting spots.
If you’re bowhunting on a budget, narrow your focus to three states that use different draw systems. It’s essential to understand how the various draw systems work and how they should affect your application strategy before you get started. Here’s a look at the most common options for obtaining a big-game license in a Western state:
Don’t let point creep intimidate you. While some units may require the maximum amount of preference points possible to obtain a license, hunters can draw other units with fewer points and still find great hunting. Focus on these “lesser” units that still offer excellent opportunities with less pressure than you’d find in an OTC unit. These areas require you to do a bit of planning to draw the tag, so be sure to keep them as an intermediate goal in your application strategy. By keying on these areas, you’ll keep more licenses in your pocket and spend more time afield — and less time waiting on a tag that might be tough to draw.
You’ll want to apply for a random draw tag in a state where you’re on a level playing field with other bowhunters, but don’t overlook planning a hunt in a preference point state that requires two to five years of points to obtain the license. Then, leverage an OTC tag as a fallback option to ensure you’ll be able to hunt regardless of the outcome of your random draw opportunity.
Don’t overlook digital resources when you’re planning your next Western adventure. GoHUNT is a comprehensive online resource that provides information about application deadlines and draw odds, and it even helps hunters understand public land access and unit boundaries. Huntin’ Fool Magazine, a media company and community of dedicated western hunters, provides application strategy services for members who want one-on-one advice for planning their next trip. Beyond contacting a biologist in your hunt area, this is a great tool for resourceful bowhunters.