I am a resident of 1 state (you probably are too), as such we are non-residents of 49 other states. All states have unique hunting seasons and regulations and costs. It can be overwhelming looking at other states. Hell, it can be overwhelming in our resident state! If you want to hunt in another state, you have your work cut out for you. You need to start educating yourself about the options and deciding what basket(s) you want to put your eggs in. You need to learn what bonus points are, what preference points are as well as various unit/weapon/game draw odds. You have to learn Nevada’s application process and Utah’s application processes because they are not the same. It is not possible (for most of us) to apply for all the cool hunts in all the cool states. Simply put, it costs too much to apply for everything. Let’s start with the most basic question we need to ask ourselves “how much is this going to cost me”?
Most of us are working folk. We have limited time and limited funds to hunt. But I think most of us want to hunt as much as we can and in really cool places chasing really cool game. With the popularity of Western big game hunting on the rise, I thought I would put together a simple spreadsheet for us dreamers to see “how much is this going to cost me”?
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Most Western states have a combination of OTC and or applications to hunt big game. Typically, applications are for trophy units and offer better quality hunting opportunities. Trophy units and/or trophy game species are always draw hunts. I will clarify “quality hunts” as limited entry or drawing hunts in the various states which implies less people, which implies less pressure, which implies greater sightings of game, which implies a better chance at a more mature/trophy animal. These opportunities are not OTC and require a drawing application process. What states and units and species should you apply for?
This Excel started because I could find all the points and odd calculators but I couldn’t find a simple “how much is this going to cost me” calculator that I could download and use. If I want bonus points for elk in Nevada, Montana and Utah, as well as mule deer points in Wyoming, Arizona and Colorado and bison/antelope/moose/goat/sheep points in various states and OTC tags in Idaho and Wyoming how much is it going to cost to hunt and apply for the tags that I know I wont get?
You can use this Excel to help research tags, costs, and other opportunities. How many points do I need to draw archery elk in Nevada on average? How many points do I need to hunt the Arizona strip for mule deer? Those are pretty easy figures to find. But how much does the state charge for an application, hunting license and point? If I have to buy a non-refundable annual hunting license, are there OTC opportunities or opportunities for other cool adventures? Do the hunting licenses come with fishing licenses? When are the application dates and deadlines of the states I want to hunt? When are the results and when will my credit card be charged?
These are all questions I had while looking up the application process. These are all questions you have to keep organized and update annually.
In Nevada for example, if you want to hunt elk with a rifle, you will likely have to apply for 10 years or more. In Nevada, you have to buy a non-refundable annual license if you want to buy a bonus point for future applications. How much is a non-refundable license and bonus point for elk? Figure that out and multiply by 10 then add the cost of an elk tag. Are you willing to invest that much to hunt Nevada Elk? What about deer? If you are going to apply for elk, might as well apply for deer. Oh and while you’re at it, sheep! These costs add up quickly and can really hit your checkbook… look up bison tags… you better have the funds for that! Anyway, “how much is this going to cost me” for one state for one species? How much is it for a second species in the state? If I have to buy a license can I hunt for other game? These are all questions you need to look at answering and my spreadsheet makes it easy to see visually. Because it is a living document you can save it and update it every year. Download one for yourself and each of your children.
First figure out a few basic questions for the state(s) you want to hunt: What states and species do you want to hunt in the next 10 years? How much are the licenses and are they refundable or not with points? Do you want points or do you want to hunt OTC? Can you have points and buy OTC tags concurrently? How much are application fees for the various species? Are there weird stipulations like Nevada where if you don’t apply for a few years you lose all your points? Use this spreadsheet to keep yourself organized.
Some steps or considerations:
Step 1: What animal(s) do you want to hunt the most. Rank them. Then add in the likelihood you will be able to hunt that animal using draw calculators. If it is unlikely you will hunt that animal, are there other opportunities in that great state? Could you chase chukar and huns with your dog? Chase trout in a beautiful mountain stream and look for mule deer while you build a point for Bighorn Sheep?
My animal hit list:
Moose – Bison – Mountain Goat – Archery Elk – Mule Deer – Sheep, in that order. It is very unlikely that I will draw any of those tags next year. I have to apply knowing I’m likely not hunting those animals.
Step 2: What states have those critters and what are the odds you can hunt them? If you live in Florida do you want to drive through three/four states that have elk to hunt in Washington? If you have family in California and think you should apply to hunt elk in California as a non-resident, good luck. This is where a draw odds calculator can come in handy. If you are obsessed with sheep and want a North American Grand Slam then you have to apply for all the states that have sheep hunts and you’ll likely have to apply for a long time.
To make it easier we’ll use bison. What states can I hunt wild-free range bison? There is Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Alaska, Arizona. Should I apply for all those states? Which states have the best draw odds or most opportunities? I would then focus on applying in those states.
Step 3: What weapon do you want to use? Archery and muzzleloaders have better draw odds and longer seasons generally. Sometimes archery will have shoulder seasons after a rifle season. Sometimes you can hunt archery and if you’re not successful you can hunt rifle. Do you want to hunt an elk with archery or rifle?
Step 4: Good, you have your species, state, weapon. Great. Now, what do you want from a hunt because it will guide what units to key in on? Do you want to hunt and don’t really care about trophy units or are you looking for the best units in each state for each animal? Do you want to hunt the strip for mule deer? Do you want to hunt the breaks for Elk? Those trophy hunts are hard to get. Are you ready to drop thousands of dollars over the next 10 years or more for that opportunity?
Step 5: When do you want to hunt or when can you hunt. Those are huge factors. If you get 2 weeks off a year you need to be selective of your season. Some seasons are 10 days or less and you better be sure if you draw that hunt you can actually hunt it.
Step 6: Are you running solo or doing a party hunt? If you are putting in as a group then everyone needs to be on the same page. Someone who has 6 points might not want to put in with a group of two other dudes with zero points. Points get averaged in a party hunt and thus might not be equitable for everyone in the group. But that is your pill to swallow.
Takeaway. I want to hunt Moose, Sheep, Goat, Bison, Archery Elk but the fact is I should have been putting in for them 15 + years ago. Who has that kind of forethought and money? If you have kids, now is the time to start applying for species in states. There are so many variables and after all, “how much is that going to cost me”?!?!
- Robert, Owner of Karmik Outdoors and wannabe big game hunter/adventurer.
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