There is no debating that big game hunting permits in the West are highly sought after and obtaining those opportunities to hunt in the fall requires more planning and effort. The days when I could show up at my local sporting goods store a few days or weeks after they went on sale and buy them over-the-counter (OTC) are pretty well gone. Those were the good old days, but it’s not all doom and gloom looking forward. On the contrary, with a multi-state strategy and early planning and preparation, there are still fantastic hunts throughout the West.
Below is my approach to ensure I have good opportunities to hunt in 2022 and beyond.
When I start thinking about hunting for the upcoming year, my first consideration is what do I want to hunt. For me, the what might be an experience, a place or, perhaps, even a target animal. I am mostly a non-discriminate hunter when it comes to species. I love to hunt elk, mule deer, antelope or any other type of big game that I can obtain a permit for. In terms of what, my bias leans towards new experiences and trophy potential. I want to hunt a new species or place every year and I also want an opportunity to hunt a big buck or bull. I like hunting for meat, but my honest assessment of why I hunt at this stage of my life is that I primarily hunt for adventure, experience and trophy potential. That doesn’t mean I am always successful or that I won’t hunt cow elk. I may hunt cow or spike elk in my home state and I do eat some tags, but for me…my what is going to be focused on new species, new adventures and tags that can provide me with a chance at a big buck or bull.
My secondary what is my weapon choice. I like bowhunting. I like everything about it. I like practicing with a bow. I like the early season warm temperatures and the associated wildlife behavior during the time of year most bowhunts occur. I like the Draw Odds associated with archery only hunts. I also like the experience of hunting with a bow. I crave those close encounters and the experience of spot and stalk hunting. For these reasons, my research typically starts with archery hunts.
My initial advice for hunters beginning to develop an application strategy would be to consider your what. What is your objective? What species do you want to hunt? What do you value? Doing so will help you in your research and application efforts.
My wish list for 2022 includes a Utah archery bison permit, a bugling 340” plus September bull elk and a mature whitetail buck cruising past me as I sit high is a treestand during the first week of November. That’s how I picture my fall, but I also understand the likelihood of drawing or obtaining some of these permits. What I can do is dig into the data and research and apply accordingly. The reality is that two of the three are feasible. I can also apply for other hunts that I would consider high on my wish list, including any bighorn sheep species or, perhaps, a new hunting experience like oryx or Barbary sheep. I will also apply and hope to hunt mule deer and antelope, but bison, archery elk and a late season whitetail hunt are higher on my list.
I am a resident of Utah, which allows me to apply for one of the once-in-a-lifetime species, but not all of them. I burned 17 points on a mountain goat permit two years ago so I now have two bonus points and will apply for an archery bison permit on one of the two units that offer that hunt. The odds of drawing are approximately .37% and .62% so I don’t plan on drawing, but I will apply. Other states that offer bison hunts include Wyoming, Arizona and Montana. The cost of applying in Wyoming is very high and the odds are long. In addition, the hunts offered are not the type I am ultimately looking for so I skip Wyoming bison. Arizona is similar and I don’t apply for bison there either. Montana odds are tough and harvest success for their bison hunts has been low due to bison not moving out of Yellowstone like they have historically done. I may apply, but it will be a late game decision. Utah is really my lone hope for a bison hunt of the type I am looking for.
Another species that is on the top of my list is bighorn sheep. Once again, the odds of drawing are tough, but I will apply and hope. States where I apply for bighorn sheep are Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and, perhaps, New Mexico, Montana and Idaho. I apply for bighorn sheep in Arizona because I already buy the required hunting license so that I can apply for other species and, for a small application fee, it’s worth having a shot in the draw. The same logic applies for Nevada and Colorado. Colorado dropped the mandatory point fee for bighorn sheep, moose and mountain goat and, since I have more than the three preference points required to get me into the draw, I will apply for a Rocky Mountain archery sheep hunt for the minimal application fee, but I won’t pay the point fee. The odds get better with more points, but at this stage, the odds are minisculely better even with 20+ points and I don’t feel it’s worth the cost long term.
Montana’s application fee for moose, mountain goat, bison and bighorn sheep is $50 plus some processing fees per species. The odds are extremely long, but I will likely apply. New Mexico requires you to front the cost of the tags you apply for, which means I likely will not apply for bighorn sheep there. The odds versus the fronted cost is not worth it to me. Idaho requires you to buy a hunting license to apply for controlled hunts. I can apply for one of the following (moose, bighorn sheep or mountain goat) or I can apply for all three (deer, elk and antelope). Because of this stipulation, I prefer to increase my opportunities to draw any tag, but apply for controlled deer, elk and antelope permits. Odds for bighorn sheep are better in Idaho than other states, but Idaho does not typically offer large rams and I’m less interested in hunting sheep there than I am in other states. I often get asked about Wyoming bighorn sheep. Up until last year, Wyoming required you to pay the $150 point fee and front the cost of the permit. They do not require you to pay the $150 fee any longer; however, you must front the cost of the permit when you apply plus a nonrefundable processing fee. I am not likely to apply in Wyoming for bighorn sheep. Once again, due to the odds not being good enough for the cost required to apply.
That leaves me with the species/permits that are more attainable: archery elk, whitetail deer, mule deer and antelope.
Once again, as a Utah resident, this is one of my primary focuses of research this year. I have a fair number of bonus points and I am also closely watching and monitoring the potential units that might produce the type of hunt I am ultimately after. There are a handful of units I can draw, but I’m not convinced those will provide that hunt. I will likely apply for a better unit that I know well and hope that my name comes up in the random draw process. I want to make that permit count when I draw it and age class and knowledge of an area are the most important factors to being able to kill a trophy class bull.
With the number of points I have, I am getting into a precarious position where I may never catch the archery hunt I want. Point creep seems to keep outpacing me so I have a tough decision to make this year. If I stay with archery, I will likely eat several points that I have built up. For that reason, I will probably try to obtain an archery permit in another state and look at the potential muzzleloader or first rifle season hunts.
I always apply for elk in Arizona. This year, I am hoping to hunt deer in November so I skipped the late archery hunts I often apply for and take more of a swing for the fences approach and apply for an early archery trophy area. It’s unlikely I will draw, but with a percentage of the permits being randomly allocated, I will always apply.
I personally like this totally random draw system where they offer you three choices and consider all three before they move to the next applicant. I take a chance on a trophy second archery season hunt with my first choice and then stagger my second and third choices towards better odds hunts. My second and third choices are still likely to be archery hunts, but in mid to low tier trophy areas with slightly better odds. In my experience and in talking to a lot of hunters over the years, New Mexico almost always provides a good rut elk hunt even in the lesser known units.
I always apply for elk in Wyoming, it’s a phenomenal elk state. At my current point level, the best option for me is the general season elk license. I applied for it in the special draw to increase my odds and hope for some luck. There are 50+ general season units and, with some research and hard work, there are some nice bulls available.
On Dec. 1, I logged into the Idaho Department of Game and Fish website and was lucky to get an OTC archery elk license and rifle deer license. Those are my current backup hunts and, if nothing else comes through the draw processes, these will be my hunts for this fall. In the case that I do draw better hunts in other states, I will return these licenses. Also, since I already purchased the hunting license to buy OTC licenses, I can and will apply for controlled hunts. I will take a trophy unit approach to applying for controlled hunts and, if I draw one, I can then return the OTC license and purchase the controlled hunt that I drew.
I apply for all available species in Nevada in the hopes that someday lighting will strike and I will draw a permit. I have a decent amount of points, but not what I would need to give me any real hope that I will draw. For elk, I use all five of my choices — best archery hunt as my first choice and stagger it towards better odds archery hunts as my last choices. Nevada’s draw is random with bonus points giving you better odds. With the random chance of drawing and the quality of the bulls Nevada can produce, I apply every year.
I applied for and drew a general season combo tag this past year and, in my experience, the elk hunting was tough. That’s not to suggest there is not good hunting, but Montana is a long way away and summer scouting is not feasible for me. Montana offers archery special limited quota permits that I think can offer a good hunt. For that reason, I will apply for the general season combo license and a special limited quota archery permit. If I am successful in the general draw, hopefully, then my special limited quota application will also be successful. I do have a few bonus points that can help me in that draw. If that application is unsuccessful, I will likely return the general combo license.
In conclusion, my 2022 elk strategy is to research heavily and try to use my points in Utah and/or Colorado to draw a good hunt. In Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Montana, I will take a trophy potential approach and apply accordingly. In Wyoming, I looked at the general season application. My backup is the Idaho OTC archery license I already bought or possibly Colorado OTC if need be.
Utah allows residents to apply for one limited entry species only. Since I apply for limited entry elk, I am restricted to the general season deer application. I do not have many points, so I am looking for easy to draw hunts in areas that are close to home that I can scout frequently. The muzzleloader deer hunt is one of my very favorites. In my experience, it’s one of the best opportunities to kill a big buck on a general season unit. For that reason, I will likely apply for a muzzleloader permit in a unit close to my house.
I hunted a second season rifle hunt in 2021 and, as such, I have no points going into this draw. I will apply for a preference point only for deer.
I have a significant number of bonus points, but not nearly enough to even think about the best hunts in the state. This year, I will apply for one of the best hunts and hope I get super lucky. If not, I will pick up another bonus point that I can use next year on an archery mule deer hunt or a late season Coues deer hunt. Currently, there are still OTC archery deer opportunities and often leftover rifle Coues deer hunts if nothing else pans out.
Without substantial time to scout, the bulk of the deer hunting opportunities in New Mexico are average. There are a few late season hunts that have good potential, but the odds are tough. I will apply for those hunts only and hope I draw, but I am not planning on it.
I am spending a lot of time looking at Wyoming this year. I have a decent number of points and can draw the best general season area and a handful of other limited quota areas. I will apply in my home state of Utah first and watch for that result. I will also be watching the winter report and talking to biologists and hunters who spent time in those areas last year. If Utah falls through, I will use the late application date and apply in Wyoming for a deer area that I can draw.
I already purchased an OTC rifle deer license on Dec. 1. I will also apply for a trophy controlled limited quota hunt. If I do not draw that, I will retain the OTC hunt and watch for the results from Utah and Wyoming. If I draw either of those, I will likely return the OTC tag.
With the random draw process and bonus point system, I have a chance in the draw. There are some archery hunts that are intriguing, but with the other hunts I am hoping to draw this fall, I will probably apply for late rifle hunts in trophy areas and hope I get lucky. At a minimum, I will get another bonus point I can use towards a hunt in the coming years.
I will apply for the general big game combo license and hope I draw it. I will not apply for special limited quota hunts. If I draw the combo, I may retain it and hunt deer late in the general rifle season with some friends. Although the trophy potential is generally poor, this can be a fun late season rifle hunt with friends.
In conclusion, in 2022, my hope is to hunt mule deer in Utah on a general season unit and possibly Wyoming. In addition, one of my primary hunting goals for this fall is to hunt whitetail with my bow. I have been building points in Kansas and Iowa and I plan to utilize one of those states to hunt this fall. I am relatively new in the research process, but I am looking for a spot to hunt that can offer me a fun hunt for a mature whitetail in 2022.
There are really only a couple states I am interested in for antelope this year. I always apply in Wyoming. This year, I may utilize my points and pair it with my oldest boy’s points on a group application. My plan would be to bowhunt in early August and then take him back to rifle hunt later in October. There are several units that can be drawn with relatively few points. I am also closely watching the current “corner crossing” case going on in Wyoming. If there are developments there and corner crossing is possible moving forward, I may adjust the unit I apply for.
The other two states I will apply in are New Mexico and possibly Montana. I will apply for rifle hunts in trophy areas in New Mexico. Several of my hunting buddies are discussing a group archery antelope hunt in Montana. I drew an Arizona antelope last year and a Nevada permit the year before that. As such, I will not apply in those states. Once again, as a Utah resident, I cannot apply for limited entry antelope as well as other species and I will be applying for elk. I will apply for a preference point only in Colorado.
I will also apply for oryx and Barbary sheep in New Mexico. Those are both hunts I am very interested in and, hopefully, at some point I get to experience those. If I do not draw, I may consider a hunt in Texas for Barbary sheep. It’s also worth noting that at this point there are many raffles and drawings for more permits. To name a few, there are the conservation permits at the Western Hunting Expo, the Arizona Super Raffle, Idaho Super Hunts, Montana SuperTags and the Wyoming SuperTags. I do not participate in all of these, but I do watch them and, occasionally, when I am feeling lucky I will purchase chances in those drawings. These raffles are just one other way I can possibly obtain a quality permit for a species I may never draw otherwise.
Overall, I am looking forward to this application season. It’s one of my favorite parts of the process and I can’t wait to see what permits and hunts come together for me in 2022. Now is the time to dig in and do the research so that you ensure yourself an opportunity to go hunting in the fall — your GOHUNT INSIDER account has everything you need to make this the best season yet!