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APPLICATION STRATEGY 2015: Wyoming elk

 

2015 Wyoming elk application insights
Photo credit: Getty Images

Overview

We love the high population of big bulls in Wyoming. Even better, there are a ton of elk hunting opportunities for both resident and nonresidents with great season dates during the rut and easy-to-draw general season tags. However, Wyoming’s hybrid draw system is a complex process that can be confusing, so here’s what you need to know to apply by February 2 (find the application online here).

Why Wyoming for elk

  • Big bulls. 280” to 320” class bulls can be found in most areas. Bulls up to 380” also range across the state.
  • Quality and quantity. What do we mean by this? Wyoming Game and Fish Department does a great job of balancing trophy quality and the quantity of elk, offering the best quality and quantity ratios for elk in the West.
  • Lots of accessible public land. This state is very friendly for the public land hunter.
  • Archery stamp. In some areas hunters that draw a type 1 tag can extend their season by purchasing an archery stamp for just $30.
  • World record. The pending SCI World Record was recently taken with a crossbow on a general unit that scored 426 ⅛”.
     
Wyoming crossbow World Record bull elk
Photo credit: Alysha Foster

General herd conditions:

If you want to hunt elk, Wyoming is the place. Mild winters over the past three years and a sound management plan by Wyoming Game and Fish has resulted in a very healthy elk herd. There is good opportunity for high quality 350”+ bulls in many limited quota hunt areas across the state.
 

The Wyoming General Season tag gives elk hunters who aren’t concerned with trophy size the opportunity to get in the field. We’ll put it this way: Utah, Nevada and Arizona have the biggest bulls, but they are found in just a few units. Colorado and Montana have more bulls overall, but not as big. Keep in mind that there are a few 350”+ bulls harvested in general season areas every year, but overall, Wyoming has the best balance of quantity and quality. If you haven’t gone on a Wyoming elk hunt yet, try and make 2015 the year that you do.

What’s new in 2015?

  • Mild winters and good moisture for the past two years have meant big bulls for hunters. As of January 2015, parts of Wyoming are being hit with severe winter storms and below-freezing temperatures that could result in winter kill in some hunt areas. Hunters will want to keep a close eye on Wyoming as the winter months continue.
  • Wyoming rolled out some major unit boundary changes in 2014, but we don’t expect to see big shifts for the 2015 season.
  • Wyoming’s increasing wolf population continues to be an issue for herd sizes, and hunters.
  • As of Sept. 23, 2014 wolves in Wyoming have been placed back under federal protection based on a ruling by a district court judge in Washington, D.C. that closed the hunting season for wolves.
  • Numbers of tags and quotas will be set during the commission’s April 2015 meeting and announced in May, along with any boundary changes.

The draw system: An overview

  • Tag or license: License
  • Point system: Preference points for nonresidents. No point system for residents.
  • Youth: Youth can build points starting at 12 years old.
  • Draw type: Regular draw has both point-based and random draw licenses. The special draw costs $480 more to enter and has slightly higher odds.
  • Resident perk: Over the counter general elk licenses.

Wyoming’s draw system is notoriously complex. It’s a hybrid system that combines preference points with random draw elements. Residents have a straightforward random draw, but nonresidents can choose between regular and special draw options (see below). Party applications and point-building for youth are also great for hunters.

Even though it’s complicated, there are a lot of things we like about Wyoming’s draw. When going through license applications, everyone’s first choice is considered before second choices are even looked at. If tags remain, then they go to hunters’ second choices. If you get your second choice, it costs you zero points. So you will get to hunt, and build points for next year at the same time. (Note: in recent years it has been very rare that tags remain for the second choice round, but there’s still a chance, so we say go for it!)

Wyoming’s elk draw is also great for residents. Enter the draw for a limited quota license and even if you’re unsuccessful, general elk licenses for residents are sold over the counter starting July 1, 2015. It’s a win-win.

Application types and deadlines for 2015

Nonresident
application

Online application dates
(by midnight MT)

Modify/Withdraw deadline date

Results available

License cost*

Elk and fishing  Jan. 1 – Feb. 2 Feb. 3 Feb. 27 $591*
Youth elk and fishing Jan. 1 – Feb. 2 Feb. 3 Feb. 27 $289*
Special elk and fishing Jan. 1 – Feb. 2 Feb. 3 Feb. 27 $1,071*
Preference point only July 1 – Sept. 30     $50
Preference point only–youth July 1 – Sept. 30     $10

*These nonresident license applications include a nonrefundable fee of $14

Resident
application

Online application dates
(by midnight MT)

Modify/Withdraw deadline date

Results available

License cost*

Elk Jan. 1 – Jun. 1 June 1 June 20 $57*
Youth elk Jan. 1 – Jun. 1 June 1 June 20 $30*
Special elk and fishing Jan. 1 – Feb. 2 Feb. 3 Feb. 27 $1,071*
There is no preference
point system for residents
 
       

*These resident license applications include a nonrefundable fee of $5

Regular vs special draw: unlocking the system

Nonresident Licenses are broken into two categories in Wyoming: the regular limited quota draw and the special draw, which costs an additional $480. To show you how this works, let’s say a unit has 10 licenses available.

60% of these licenses will go for the regular limited quota draw, 40% to the special draw. For the 6 licenses in the regular draw, 75% will go to maximum point holders who have applied for that unit. The remaining 25% are awarded using a random draw. The 4 licenses in the special draw will be awarded using the same 75%/25% split as the regular draw. 

Wyoming tag allocations - Regular vs. Special draw


Example: Area 007 any elk type 1 preference point breakdown regular and special draw by hunt

In 2014, Area 007 gave out 217 Any Elk Type 1 tags. 60% or 130 of those tags when to the regular draw and 40% or 87 tags went to the special draw. Of those 130 regular draw tags, 75% or 98 tags went to those with max points and 25% or 32 tags were drawn at random. Of those 87 special draw tags, 75% or 66 tags went to those with max points and 25% or 21 tags were drawn at random.

2014 nonresident preference point "regular" draw

Quota

# Issued

Preference Points

1st Choice Applicants

1st Choice Success Odds

98 27 8 27 100%
71 9 <8 9 100%
62 62 7 87 71%

 

2014 nonresident preference point "special" draw

Quota

# Issued

Preference Points

1st Choice Applicants

1st Choice Success Odds

66 4 8 4 100%
62 0 <8 0 100%
62 33 7 33 100%
29 6 <7 6 100%
23 23 6 48 48%

 

What draw is right for you?

The odds are slightly higher for hunters entering the special draw. The higher cost means that there are fewer people in the pool, which can be an increase of 15-20% to get the license you want. However, the special draw doesn’t guarantee success. The licenses for both regular and special draws are exactly the same once awarded.

Wyoming special draw quote

Unlike many states, where if you don’t have the points you have no chance of getting a tag, Wyoming even gives hunters with a few points a chance. Even if you don’t draw anything this year, you can get a preference point to increase your chances next year.

The point system

Wyoming works on preference points, not bonus points. You gain one point for every year you unsuccessfully enter the draw. Even if you miss the application deadline for licenses in January, you can purchase a point for $50 from July to September. The maximum number of points for elk is 9.

There is no point system for residents. It’s basically a raffle with fairly good odds. You might have 300 people applying for 200 tags. All residents can purchase OTC general elk licenses starting in July.

To maintain points and build, don’t apply for easy-to-draw areas. Check out the drawing odds from 2014 for random nonresident, random nonresident special and random resident draws, as well as preference point nonresident general and preference point nonresident special draws to get an idea of where is best to apply.

Youth points

Youth points are a bargain for nonresidents at $10. Youth must be at least 11 years old at the time of application and turn 12 by the end of December 2015 to qualify.

Party applications

A maximum of six people can apply as a group for a party application. All preference points are totaled and averaged for the group. So if you have 6 points and your buddy has 4 points, you will have 5 points. This averaging is good for hunters, though Wyoming does take the decimal into consideration (unlike Arizona, which rounds to whole numbers). This means that a party application with an average of 3.87 points will draw from the 75% pool before a party with an average of 3.66.

Residents and nonresidents cannot apply together as a party.

Super Tags and Super Tag Trifecta

Super Tag (good for one species) and the Super Tag Trifecta (good for three species) are a competitive raffle outside of the regular license lotteries. Entries are $10 for Super Tag, $30 for Super Tag Trifecta. You can submit an unlimited number of entries. The winning licenses are liberal in terms of dates and units, but they have probably the worst odds of all your options for elk in Wyoming.

Wyoming elk draw FAQs

Where and how do I apply?

Wyoming’s application is entirely online. Call customer service at 307-777-4600 (8:00-5:00 MT) with any questions. See deadlines and fees in the tables above.

Is Wyoming good for building points?

Yes. You can purchase one point per year after the initial draw application has passed. Compared to other states, it’s fairly inexpensive to build points for elk here. Excellent for a hunter on a budget. 

Can I turn my tag back in if I draw and decide not to hunt?

No. The only way to turn a tag back in is if you are deployed or can prove a medical condition. 

Are Super Tags worth the effort of applying?

For hunters that are on a budget we suggest using your hard-earned dollars to build points. The odds of drawing Super Tags are slim.

The seasons

A great advantage for hunters in Wyoming is that they can hunt elk during the rut. The rut runs from mid-September to mid-October, with a peak rut taking place in late September. During this time bulls have gathered their harems, and are vocal and vulnerable. There’s excellent opportunity here.

For elk licenses you’ll be primarily concerned with Type 1 (antlered with rifle) and Type 9 (archery only). Season dates are not yet fixed, but you can find tentative season information for elk here.

Hunter opportunity

General information, tips and goHUNT’s insight for hunting elk in Wyoming.

Draw odds and tag availability

  • You have a 100% chance of drawing a general season elk license as a nonresident through the special draw with 0 points.
  • You have a 67% chance of drawing a general season elk license as a nonresident through the regular draw with 1 point.
  • If you have not accrued any preference points, and you want a chance to draw a general elk license that year, then you will need to spend the extra money to apply in the special draw.
  • The general elk license provides a great opportunity to hunt 300”+ bulls.
  • For residents, OTC general elk tags are available in July.
  • In the past there have been some second choice opportunities for hunters in the general season draw, but these have been nonexistent in recent years. Don’t hold your breath.

Special features for elk in Wyoming

  • Season dates are during the rut, including its peak.
  • It’s easy to extend your season with a $30 archery stamp. You’ll be able to start your hunt earlier with a bow during the rut, then come back later with a rifle if you don’t harvest.

Managing points and expectations

I have 0 points. What can I expect?

Apply for a general elk license in the special draw. Whether you apply first or second choice, the chances are you will be successful in drawing a tag. Wyoming is generous to nonresidents. In 2014 they issued a total of 4,501 nonresident general elk tags.

Hidden gem:

If you’re willing to hunt in grizzly or wolf territory there is a lot of potential for a great elk hunt. These units can be intimidating, but you can draw some great wilderness areas with 0 to 4 points. (Note: Nonresidents must hunt wilderness areas with a guide).

What can I do with 3 or 4 points?

There are a number of quality units in the limited quota draw that you’re likely to draw with 4 or 5 points. There are also several good units in Wyoming making it easier to draw than other states. For example, in Utah there are 5 or 6 units known for big bulls, but in Wyoming there are 15-20 units with similar herd quality, giving you a wider range of options. Applicants with 3 to 4 points can take advantage of the special draw to pull a tag that would usually take 5 to 6 points in the normal draw. 

What can I expect with 8 to 9 points?

You’re set to basically get any unit you want in the state in the special draw.

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