Regardless of what game you’re after, there is something special about a trip planned to bowhunt the Rocky Mountain West. Its sheer ruggedness and isolation, along with the ample supply of wild game, draws countless bowhunters looking for adventure every year. That being said, there’s more to it than just loading up your truck and pointing it west. Hunting in this rugged region requires planning — generally months in advance — and the first step in this process is getting a ticket to the dance.
When I first starting hunting out West, it was relatively easy to get a tag. However, as bowhunting and the desire of many hunters to take quality animals have grown in popularity, tags are harder to come by. Regions where I once drew a limited-entry deer or elk tag every year or two now take half a decade or more to draw.
In today’s competitive western tag market, planning is key.
How To Get A Tag To Bowhunt The Rocky Mountain West
The first step in the process is understanding what you’re up against. Most western destinations manage the drawing process with one of two types of systems:
- Preference Point System: This system guarantees tags for the hunters with the most points. A hunter acquires a point each year he or she fails to draw a tag. The number of points required to earn a tag depends on the popularity of the hunting unit. Depending on the tag you’re after, it can take anywhere from a couple of years to 15-plus for some units. However, as points accrue, you have the likely advantage of knowing what year you will draw a tag.
- Bonus-Point System: This process is more random and does not guarantee a tag. However, for each point a hunter acquires, his chances of success improve. The beauty of a bonus point system is that, regardless of the number of bonus points a hunter may have acquired, every applicant has a statistical chance of drawing a tag. For example, if you have 10 bonus points, then you have 10 random numbers assigned to you during the application process. This makes your chances of a successful draw greater than the guy with only one bonus point.
Other states have made varying modifications to these systems to make the draw more equitable. Wyoming uses a preference point system and allows a small percentage of tags into a random drawing. This gives the first-time applicant a chance.
Nevada uses the bonus point system, but also relies on a drawing to enhance a hunter’s chances. In this case, the drawing is based on the total number of points, squared. For example, the first year a hunter applies, he has zero points and receives one chance to be drawn for a tag. Jumping ahead to his fifth year, the hunter has four points squared (4×4) plus one application, which throws their name (or random number, to be precise) into the proverbial bucket 17 times.
New Mexico, on the other hand, doesn’t have a point system at all. So anyone applying can draw its coveted Gila bull tag. Idaho has a first-come, first-served quota system for most units and getting a tag is as simple as making a few clicks online.
Although all of this may sound convoluted, the process narrows once you determine the states you want to target and begin drilling down into the details of those states’ systems.
Other Factors To Consider When Planning To Bowhunt The Rocky Mountain West
- Persistent hunters ultimately hit Rocky Mountain pay dirt. Persistence is generally a good quality to have. This is especially true when trying to obtain a coveted tag. The chances of drawing one will be slim the first few years, but it’s the persistent hunter who applies season after season.
- Plan B. Have back-up plans so there’s a hunt available every season, even if it’s not considered a “quality” unit. The fact is, you won’t kill anything sitting on the sidelines, and hunters find huge success every year in states like Colorado and Idaho that offer over-the-counter and first-come, first-served tags.
- Apply in multiple states to increase your odds. It can take several years to draw just one tag. Setting your sights on multiple locations will ensure your eventual success, as well as success for many seasons to come.
- Consider the services of a private tag-application service. The process to score a tag can be confusing. Although it will cost you a few greenbacks, these services know the systems every state has in place. They will put you on a path to tag success without the hassle of doing it yourself.
When state wildlife agencies giveth, thou shall taketh. Use every available resource that the various states have to offer.