Applying in Arizona: Is the point only option worth it?


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We are on the cusp of the deer and sheep drawing period opening up in Arizona. Like most states, Arizona gives hunters the opportunity to apply for specific hunts, or, they can apply directly for a bonus point only. For new applicants, this can be a confusing decision to make upfront. After all, you have to have points to hunt the west, right?

In the following, we are going to take a quick look at how the Arizona draw works and look at some possible application strategies.


How the draw works

Arizona offers a modified bonus point draw for deer, bighorn sheep and bison where 20% of the permits will be given to maximum point holders and the other 80% will be randomly allocated. They reserve 20% of the permits for each deer hunt code for maximum point applicants. For bighorn sheep and bison, 20% of the total number of permits statewide are reserved for maximum point applicants. In the random portion of the draw, weight is given to the number of points applicants have. For example, an applicant with five bonus points will have five chances — plus one for that year's application — to draw a random permit.

If you apply for a species and are unsuccessful in the draw, you will receive a bonus point for that species. You may also apply for bonus points only.

Resident/nonresident tag allocations

Nonresidents are limited to no more than 10% of the total permits for each hunt code for antlered deer. Out of that 10%, up to 5% can be allocated to hunters in the bonus pass. [Bonus pass is the process that awards permits to maximum point holders.] After that, the remaining 5% can be allocated to nonresidents in the random pass (second pass). 

Nonresidents are issued up to 10% of the total statewide bighorn sheep and bison permits. No more than 50% of the permits per hunt code can be allocated to nonresidents. One nonresident permit can be allocated when a hunt offers between two and four permits. Two nonresident permits can be allocated for hunts that offer five or more permits total. If a hunt only has one permit, a nonresident cannot apply for and draw that permit. 

First and sceond choices

You can apply with a first and second choice. An applicant’s first and second choices are considered before moving onto the next applicant. This means that once your application is pulled, they will try to allocate you your first choice and, if there are no permits remaining or the quota has been met, they will consider your second choice and do the same thing. If you do not draw your second choice, they will move to the next applicant. Your third, fourth and fifth choices will only be considered if there are leftover permits after every application's first and second choices have been considered. 

If you draw any choice — one through five — your points will be purged. If you fail to apply for five consecutive years, your points will be purged. Bonus points will not be impacted if you obtain a leftover deer permit in the first come, first served process. 

The draw passes

People commonly talk about draw passes in Arizona because the draw happens in three different passes. The first pass is the bonus pass where they allocate maximum point holders’ permits up until the quotas are met. The second pass is random and the state looks at each applicant’s first and second choices and awards permits until the quotas have been met. If you are unsuccessful in the second pass for your first and second choice, then the third and final pass looks at third through fifth choices and awards hunts that were leftover in the second pass. Apply with caution on your third through fifth choices. If you are not willing to burn your points on those hunts, do not include hunts for your third, fourth and fifth choices. 


Taking advantage of the random pass

The big thing I like to look at with Arizona is how they split their draw and how the bonus and random pass works. With 20% of the tags going to the highest point holders that leaves 80% of the tags to be drawn randomly among the remaining applicants, even those with zero points. Typically, in most other states, these numbers would be reversed with most of the tags going to the highest point holders and a small percentage going random. Personally, I’m a big fan of this system as it allows for positive planning when you have a number of points but also gives the option to potentially draw a surprise tag when you have zero points, or very few.

The points only option

When applying applicants will initially have two choices - Applying for hunts or applying for a bonus point only. With the points only option applicants simply pay the application fee and are then awarded a bonus point for the following year's draw cycle. This can be a great tactic to use if you want to continue to build your points but are unable to actually hunt that current season or in situations where you know you are in the 20% of people with the highest points but environmental conditions aren’t ideal. In the past few years, many applicants in the high point pool have opted for point only apps due to the current drought and horn/antler growth concerns.

My strategy

There are some states where I’m building points for a primo tag but generally, I’m not the type to carry a lot of points. I’m more in the camp of ‘i’d rather hunt a lot of mediocre units every year than one good one every ten’. With this, Arizona is a perfect state for my application style. The 80% random allotment of tags plays heavily into my favor when I have next to nothing for points and also gives me some flexibility in where I want to apply. Essentially, I never really have enough points that it hurts me to burn them on an experimental hunt. I like to use my points for new experiences and adventure hunts.

Main takeaways

I think the points only option is great to consider for those that cannot make the hunt happen for the current season or for those waiting on ideal environmental conditions for the best horn/antler growth. Other than that, if you are simply applying to try to gain a new opportunity and are open to a hunt I think it’s very advantageous to consider applying for actual hunts. You won’t draw if you don’t apply.

In the past two years, I have drawn two tags with zero points that would normally take around five thanks to the random pass. Arizona has some big barriers to entry on a number of hunts but there is also a ton of opportunity if you look for them.

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