Point Creep: What is it? Can you overcome it? and much more

Point creep when applying for hunting tags

Note: This article was originally published on February 22, 2019.

With application season in full swing, there’s no better time than now to talk about a very serious thing in the west, point creep.

Each year, one of the most common questions we receive is, “why didn’t I draw a tag, last year everyone at two points drew the tag?” or “I had 8 points and it showed 100% but I didn’t draw” and unfortunately the answer is point creep. A few years ago I wrote an article on goHUNT about How to find your next hunt using standalone draw odds on INSIDER. That article showcased how to use our INSIDER research tools to see the big picture of how the draw process went. You can track trends, point creep, weapon by weapon odds, and see how many years it might take to draw a tag... all of which equal the ultimate tools for figuring out how to draw more tags.

For this article, I’m going to focus solely on point creep; what it is, can you beat it, and what it means for your application strategy.

So, what exactly is point creep?

Point creep happens all across the west. Basically, it happens when more people start to apply for a unit (actually entering the draw after building points, the unit is blowing up causing more people to apply with higher point levels, etc.) and there are fewer and fewer people drawing due to the limited amount of tags. Basic supply and demand so a particular hunt is getting harder to draw. Some cases it might only jump up a point, but other units could jump up two, three or even more points in one year. This can even be compounded to a higher degree if the state reduces the number of tags!

Points creep has the potential to jump a lot when you have states that allow you to build points on a point only option for a fee. As those people are not actually entering the draw, so a hunter might think he is about to draw a tag, and then a handful of those people who have been sitting on the sidelines and building points, will jump into the application game and pull a tag. This has a huge impact on draw odds. The best anyone can do, is to offer accurate odds of the previous year's draw and give our members the ability to make the best-educated decision based on trends and showcasing applications by point levels. In the end, draw odds can unfortunately fluctuate and there is no way to predict exactly how much.

In western states that use a preference point system where there are more applicants than permits, you'll see point creep. A hunt that took three points to draw in 2018, may take five or more in 2019 due to all the applicants that were unsuccessful in last years draw at various point levels depending on what top tier unit they were applying in and now they have gained an additional point and might have jumped into applying for the unit you have been chasing.

Can you actually catch point creep?

The most honest answer I can give to you is no, for the most part, you will never catch point creep in units that only give out a handful of tags if you are behind the curve. The only real way that you can beat point creep is if the unit gives out a larger number of tags and/or you are willing to wait it out. But... that all comes down to how old you are and if you want to wait 5, 10, 15 and even 25 plus years. 

But, with that said, there are certain units where point creep can decrease due to applicants applying elsewhere for a plethora of reasons. Some of those reasons might be severe weather (individuals might be worried about burning their points), the state changing season dates, etc.

Father time

Let’s face it, we all are aging, and we all want to hunt. So you could theoretically beat point creep if some of these older individuals nearing maximum points decide to apply in units that take fewer points because might be getting up there in age and decide it's no longer worth it to keep waiting out for a certain unit, so they will jump in another unit where they will be the maximum point holder (causing temporary points creep in that unit), and pick up a tag. So then you could see a decrease in the maximum point level, but not by much. Also, the unfortunate situation is a lot of these people who are near maximum points, could pass away and never draw a tag.

All of these factors above is why when building out your application strategy, it is essential to look at the big picture and you must consider the number of tags given out, applicants at each point level and what the current breakpoint is when it comes to the number of points required to draw the tag you have been dreaming about.

In my opinion, I’d rather hunt more than wait to reach that maximum point level. You will never get those years back that you sat on the fence and just built up points while not taking advantage of OTC hunts, hunting units that take fewer points, or picking up second choice or leftover tag. Afterall… you can’t eat points and they don’t look good on the wall either.

No man's land

When playing the points game across the west, you can also run into the scenario that we like to call "no mans land." You have far fewer points for the top tier units and way too many for the lower point level hunts. So you are years and years away from pulling a tag if you keep on the path you are going down and could have hunted other units that required fewer points several times by now.

Example of points creep


My dad currently has 16 nonresident points for Colorado elk. I recently calculated out how long it would take him to draw one of the coveted elk tags in northwest Colorado in Unit 201 for the early rifle hunt. This unit/season averages four nonresident elk tags per year. So… if everything stayed the same with the number of tags, same draw system, no current high point holder passed away (hypothetically), no applicant switched applying in a different unit, or other high point holders jumped into this unit, he wouldn’t draw the tag until he was 134 years old!

How many years to draw a dream elk tag?

Keep in mind, that number can easily stretch out to a longer wait time. And since 2015, this unit has already jumped up 3 points (or three more years of your life).

On this same note, let's say you just are finishing up college and finally have some extra money to apply. You're 22 years old and started to apply for Colorado's Unit 201 for early rifle elk as a nonresident in 2018. If everything stays the same, you wouldn't draw your elk tag until the year 2190 when you are 193 years old!

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Colorado mule deer example

Here is an example of how things can drastically change for the worst based on the conditions of the deer herd and the decrease in tags under a preference point system.

Colorado mule deer Unit 55, in 2015 your odds of drawing the archery mule deer tag was 100% at 4 points, but in 2018, the draw odds are now 100% at 12 points. This is due to them cutting the nonresident tags from 14 in 2015, to 4 in 2017 and due to the hard winter. So, now more people are jumping at the chance to hunt here with a higher point total.

Some random statistics in this unit:

  • 2015, 9 points was the highest point level that someone applied at
  • 2016, 10 points was the highest point level that someone applied at
  • 2017, took a giant leap and now 5 people applied between 10 and 17 points. The 17, 15, 13 and 12 point holders all picked up all the tags.

So, you are just starting to apply out of state, and you want to hunt mule deer in the famous Gunnison Basin. For starters, you had zero points when you applied in 2018 and are willing to wait it out until you draw a tag. You are currently 35 years old. As of 2018, there were 110 people who applied (including yourself) and seven of those applicants pulled tags at 11 plus points.

We are going to assume that only seven tags are continually drawn each year. How many years will it take until you draw this tag? 

Unfortunately, you will not draw a tag with maximum points until 2034! That equals 16 total years of applying and if you started at age 35, you will now be 50 years old. I've mentioned this a lot before... but was it worth waiting that long to draw a tag? Or should have you looked at applying in an easier to draw unit? Hopefully, you picked up a leftover tag or hunted another state while you waited.

Years of waiting to draw a mule deer hunt in Colorado's Unit 55 for archery

PointsApplicants at your
point level and higher

How many years to draw a dream mule deer tag?

Wyoming example

Point creep is a problem in most states, but it’s particularly rough in Wyoming. This is partially due to demand and the fact that applicants can buy points without even applying. Hunters can throw their application in the mix during any given year, which seems to be happening more now with the improved economy.

On our 2019 Wyoming elk application strategy article, Trail Kreitzer broke down an interesting situation. In Wyoming, there was a 13.6% increase in total preference points from 2018 to 2019. In the last two years, there has been a total of 26.1% increase in total preference points.

Secondly, Wyoming has a preference point system which is now 13 years old. As part of their point system, they allowed hunters to simply purchase and bank points without applying. Convenient as it is, hunters have been banking points for years without applying and in many cases are starting to add their applications to the growing pool and permits are getting that much harder to draw.

Let’s take a quick look at a new applicant to Wyoming. Let’s say they elk hunt in other states and really dream of taking a great bull in one of Wyoming’s limited quota areas, specifically Area 100 Type 1.

For example, Wyoming Area 100 Type 1; moving into 2019, there would be 254 applicants with eight to 13 points. Typically, there are six preference point licenses. At this rate, if you had eight points, you could be waiting 42 years to draw!

Figuring out how many years it will take to draw tags

Tracking draw odds for hunting tags on goHUNT INSIDER

Screenshot of a sample of the data you can expect on a Draw Odds Detail Page.

The standalone Draw Odds page and the detailed draw odds page for a specific unit is the perfect place to calculate how many more years it might take you to draw the tag if you're a few years behind the maximum point level or just starting out. To do this you need to look at how many tags are given out at your residency each year and how many people are currently at your point level and ahead of you. Note: make sure you are looking at an example that allocates tags to max point holders, this will do you no good if you're looking at a unit that only gives out tags randomly to a nonresident due to too few of tags. Each state is different in how they allocate tags.

Also, this will be rough estimate because you can never know how many people have been saving up points and are ready to enter the draw in this unit or how many people are going to switch from a different unit and start to apply in the unit you're trying to draw a tag for, death of applicants, or people switching out of this unit. Also, this example assumes the same people keep applying and not switching over to building points, and that the state doesn't change the tag numbers or how they allocate tags.

We can offer some input that might help you in the future. If you are looking at a place to hunt like Wyoming Area 38 Type 9 and you see 100% at 10 points while you are on a Unit Profile, click on "see draw trends" to jump you over to our detailed draw odds page.

Wyoming Area 38 draw odds on Unit Profile

Next, you will arrive on the Draw Odds Detail Page for this hunt area.

Point Creep on Wyoming Area 38 Type 9

While reviewing the tables, you will see that point creep is impacting that hunt area. It's been taking one additional point every year.

Applications at every point level in Wyoming

Next, if you look at the second table titled "Applications", you'll see there would have been possibly 13 applicants moving into the 10 point level this year. 

Trail just pulled the new report that was released yesterday after the 2019 Wyoming draw results came out and at 10 points, the 2019 draw odds would have been roughly 13% in this unit. There were several applicants that jumped in at the 12 and 11 point range that caused point creep once again.

How to beat point creep?

Stop worrying about "dream units" and just hunt more.

It all comes down to personal preference, but as I stated above, my strategy is to hunt more, so I don't let point creep get in my way. If I know it will take me 10 years to draw a tag, you can bet that I will find a better option. Or I might just cough up that state as a true dream hunt and hunt another state on easy to draw tags while I wait, or pick up leftover tags if that is an option while still gaining a point.

So if this was your dream hunt, hopefully, you were hunting in other states while you waited. But that also is the power of the Draw Odds details page to give you the tools to figure out what to apply for.

Review your draw odds here

Once again, you can't eat points and they don't look good on the wall. There are so many other great hunts out there, which is why I don't chase dream hunts that I know I will never draw. I've talked a lot about my strategies through the years in articles and on podcasts. One of the main points I try to get across is the importance of hunting a certain species as often as possible. The situation I like to paint is someone waiting 15 years to draw a premium archery elk hunt, if you have never elk hunted during that time as you were throwing all your eggs into one basket... are you going to have as successful of a hunt on your premium tag if you have never elk hunted before? You will be behind the curve on how to elk hunt during the rut, how the wind plays a part in your calling setup, etc, etc. The best thing here is to pick up OTC hunts for elk or easier to draw elk hunts in other states while you wait to draw that dream tag.

My strategy is to hunt more and sit out on the sidelines a lot less. I'd rather spend my money on drawing more tags each year, filling my freezer and paying taxidermy bills, than just buying points each year.

And honestly, point creep is only an issue if you let it be an issue. There are so many great hunts across the west, so keep that in mind when you are planning out your application strategy.

The cost of continuing to build points

Think of it this way, if you are just starting to build points, at $52 a year for a Wyoming elk point, in 12 years you would have spent $624 just on points. If it's worth it to you, then continue on your path, otherwise... it might be time to review your application strategy or check out a different state.

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