Pre-application planning for the 2023 hunting season

Trail goes over some tips on how to achieve your 2023 goals

Trail Kreitzer

Our 2022 hunting season is behind us and we are looking ahead to the 2023 application season and planning our schedules for next fall. One aspect of planning my upcoming year is considering my objectives for next fall. In this article, I plan to explore some of my goals and give you some ideas as well. I also want to dive into some of the steps along the way that will help me achieve my goals.

Review Preference and Bonus Points

The first step in my process every year is to review the number of points I have, the states I applied in, and the species I applied for. I will go through, state by state, and update my points as well as review the individual hunts I applied for. Last year as part of your Insider subscription we launched Point Tracker which allows you to input your preference and bonus points into your user profile and as you review odds and research within Filter 2.0 the odds will populate at your point level. One thing to be aware of is that you must go into your account and update your point levels. I make a point of updating every state and species well in advance of the first draws opening up so that I am prepared to research and make the best decisions throughout the spring application series. One additional note worth mentioning is that you can build out a Point Tracker profile for every applicant you manage. For example, I apply for and build points in several states for both of my boys that are of hunting age and it makes it much easier to research and track hunts for them with their own Point Tracker within my Insider account.

There are also a lot of people who are brand new to hunting and may have no points at all. Don’t get discouraged, there are still plenty of opportunities to hunt this fall. Utilize Filtering 2.0 and Draw Odds within your Insider account and search for hunts that can be drawn without points or use the Select Season drop-down filter to find states/species where OTC tags are available. Likey the best opportunity OTC is still Colorado elk. They offer OTC tags for archery, 2nd and 3rd rifle season in many units in the state. Some states like New Mexico and Idaho allocated tags without a point system in a random draw. Odds can be long for the best hunts, but you always have a chance. Research, research, research and you will still find a hunt for 2023.

After I have updated my point totals I begin to ask myself the following questions:

What hunts do I have a good chance to draw and what ones are just pipe dreams?

I’ve been applying in several western states for a variety of species for many years and, even still in most cases, I do not have enough points to draw permits for species like moose, bighorn sheep, bison, mountain goat, and quality hunts for elk, mule deer and antelope. The majority of you reading this are in the same boat, so it’s important to be realistic in our expectations.

For bison, moose, bighorn sheep and mountain goats, my reality is that I don’t have the points to feasibly draw a tag so already I know that. I am really only concerned with draw odds and my application budget (more on that later). My applications for those species are actually quite easy. I apply for areas with better odds and in states that offer a random chance. If you have the opportunity to draw a tag for one of those species based on the points you have, I would encourage you to find a hunt that fits your objectives and draw it sooner than later. I would make that type of hunt a priority over others.

The bulk of all of our hunting each fall is going to be for deer, elk and antelope. Within that, there are both opportunity-type hunts and quality hunts elk. Quality-style hunts are going to be Utah, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona—although if you are creative, there are some easier-to-draw hunts in Arizona and, even, New Mexico. My opportunity-type states are Colorado, Montana and, perhaps, Wyoming or Oregon. Idaho has been a good opportunity state in the past but their OTC tag sale started Dec. 1st and for the most part, tags sold out within the day. I can still apply for controlled hunts in Idaho but it may or may not be worth the cost of the hunting license to apply depending on how the rest of the year's applications have developed.

My typical priority is to utilize my points in the smartest way possible. I love to hunt elk with my bow during the heart of the rut, but in some cases, I’ve built up enough points to draw a mule deer tag where it makes more sense to utilize those points and potentially put elk on the back burner and build a few more points for a better hunt in the future. This could be vice verses as well, but I try to use my points as efficiently as I can regardless of the species. Everyone is a bit different in what they value and are looking for in a hunt. For me, I tend to let the number of points I have for each species and the potential quality of the hunt guide my applications.

Here is a real work example for my going into 2023. I have enough points to draw a quality deer tag in both Arizona and Wyoming. I burned my Utah elk points last fall and although I have points in states like NV, AZ, CO, WY, and MT they are not sufficient to draw the quality of tag that I can for deer. Hence, for me in 2023 it may make more sense to utilize my deer points to draw good permits and build points for elk by either taking a swing-for-the-fences approach on my application or simply buying points for the states that allow that. I still want to hunt elk, but I try to pick one hunt to go all in on in regards to scouting and time off to hunt and for 2023 it’s going to be a deer hunt. I can still hunt elk in a state like Colorado on an OTC tag.

The long and short of my application plan is that I most often let my points guide my application strategy to find the highest quality hunt I can. Insider Draw Odds and Point Tracker are therefore one of the best tools I have for finding those hunts.

What is your application budget?

Applying in the West is expensive and it seems to be getting more expensive every year. Most of us do not have an unlimited amount of money to apply. If you do, I would encourage you to apply for any species. If you don’t, there are some general strategies I use.

  • In states where you have to buy a hunting license to apply, apply for every species that you are interested in. For example, if you wish to apply in Utah as a nonresident, you must purchase the $65 hunting license. Another $10 per species will allow you to apply for all of them.

  • Weigh your odds of drawing against the cost of applying to see if it's worth it. For example, if you have never applied for Colorado moose, sheep, and mountain goat you must apply for a preference point and build three points for each species before you even are considered in the draw. That’s three years and $300 per species before you even have a chance in the draw. If you review the odds beyond that 3-point level, they are extremely low for me as a non-resident that I would ever draw in my lifetime. That means I am potentially $900 just to have a chance and the odds are very low that I will ever draw. It may or may not be worth it to apply. That decision is one that each of us will have to make.

  • Do I need more credit on the card? Several states require you to cover the costs of the licenses you apply for. For example, New Mexico requires you to buy a $65 hunting license to apply, but, after that, you can apply for all species as long as you front the cost of the permits. If you are unsuccessful, you get a refund. If you applied for elk, deer, antelope, bighorn sheep, ibex, oryx and barbary sheep, you could be floating $8,216 in permit fees. Your refund would include that entire amount minus $156 in application/license fees. Many states also charge the card you used if you are successful. If your card is declined, they move on to the next application. Make sure you have the plan to have the credit you need to apply and that your cards are valid. Others states are similar including Wyoming and Montana.

  • Where is your biggest bang for your buck? Generally, Nevada permits are tough to draw if you only apply for the best hunts. Consider if it’s worth the $156 annual license to apply. The same goes for Idaho, which has no point system; is it worth the cost of the $185 hunting license to apply? Do some research and apply where it makes sense for your budget. For me, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Arizona always make the list. They may not be yours, but you should consider the pros and cons of each system to see if it makes sense for you.

  • Lastly, set a budget to apply and a permit budget. Find the opportunities that make sense and stick to them.

Within your Insider account, the state rules and regulations section and each application strategy article will outline the cost of applying. Before you apply throughout the west each year, you should set a budget and make a plan to apply and/or buy points where you get the most value for your money.

How much time do you have to hunt?

Before I plan my application strategy, the amount of time I can take off from work needs to be a major consideration. How many days do you have off to hunt? What hunts are most important to you? Do you have co-workers that you need to work with to make sure you are covered before you apply? All of these are worth considering before you plan to apply. I often apply for and try to hunt areas close to my house, which also give me the chance to get a mule deer or an over-the-counter (OTC) elk hunt on the weekends.

Over the years I have come to the conclusion that I am more effective and more satisfied with my experience if I can string several days together to hunt one tag versus trying to piece-meal days off to hunt several tags. For example, since I prefer to bow hunt, I would rather have one good tag and two weeks off to hunt it continuously than two tags where I had two separate weeks off to hunt. Again, everyone is different, but I’ve been more successful and typically kill a quality animal when I invest all my time into one tag. At my stage in hunting, I would rather kill an older age class buck or bull and hunt fewer tags.

Here's how I am going to do that:

A buck or bull needs a few things to grow a large set of antlers: quality feed, genetics and, most importantly, age. Feed and genetics are out of my control, so hunting areas with bucks or bulls that can reach an older age class is where I put my focus. For a buck or bull to get that old in an OTC or easy-to-draw area, it needs refuge. Refuge in these areas is obtainable in a few ways: remote and rough roadless terrain, private property, or a limiting factor like grizzly bears or wolves that might limit hunting pressure. Using my INSIDER account and Filtering 2.0, I have been using the “odds filter,” then "select season” filter, and, finally, the “trophy potential” filter. Then, I’m reviewing the individual unit profiles looking for things like terrain, land ownership and access descriptions. Within those, I’m finding possible areas to focus my time and attention.

If trophy hunting is your thing, my advice would be to limit your hunts to just one or two a year and focus on getting permits in areas that can produce a trophy animal. Then, use all of your time to scout and hunt that area.

If your strategy is to fill the freezer, use the draw odds, select season, harvest success and, perhaps, the public land filters to find hunts that meet that objective. An antlerless hunt is a great way to fill the freezer and we provide draw odds for all antlerless and female species hunts.

There are several other types of objectives — all of which you can use your INSIDER research platform to help you achieve. If you want to get your kids out, we have application strategy articles specific to youth. We also cover odds for states that offer youth-only permits. Antlerless elk, antelope and deer are great hunts to get kids started into hunting. If you are looking for an adventure hunt, we just launched Alaska as part of our platform. There are many opportunities to get permits OTC for species like black bears, blacktailed deer, caribou and moose. For roughly $5,000-$8,000 for a hunt in Alaska, you can use the platform to find, plan, and go on an adventure hunt of a lifetime.

A great starting point is jumping into our Filtering 2.0 and Draw Odds pages. You can click through to those areas through the buttons below.

Final thoughts

The following are pretty standard for goal setting whether it’s physical fitness or application and hunting, but they are still valid. Set goals that motivate you. Your goals should be specific, measurable, attainable and have a deadline. After you’ve set your goals, find the application or permit opportunities that can help you achieve your goals. Lastly, one of the best traits of successful hunters is that they are good goal-setters and planners. Set goals and put real time and effort into planning.

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