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What to do if you draw too many hunting tags in one year

Ben Stoner with his 2016 mule deer tag

We are currently in one of my favorite times of the year: application season. With that comes a lot responsibility, planning, budgeting and researching.

Drawing too many tags in one year could be considered a great opportunity or a total nightmare if you have scheduling conflicts or can’t get the vacation time off. Even worse is when you draw the tag, and lose your hard earned bonus points because you can't hunt. Below I’ll break down the rules for each state in regards to turning tags back in, and if you’ll get your bonus/preference points back along with any refunds.

Initial hunt planning

What I like to do this time of year is review my overall hunt plan for the upcoming year. During this stage, I evaluate what hunts I want to go on that are a guarantee (over-the-counter (OTC) hunts, hunts I’m guaranteed to draw, etc.) and what hunts I have a fairly decent chance to draw (for me a “chance” is anything over 50% draw odds). Your application strategy should be directly related to your planned hunts. If you anticipate drawing a tag, or tags, in other states, then you should keep that in mind when applying for more hunts, especially because some states do not allow you to turn a tag back in.

If you’re applying in several states, I highly recommend checking out when the draw results will be available before you pay a bunch of fees upfront in another state or potentially put yourself in a situation where you might draw two rut elk tags in different states and cannot turn a tag back in to get your points back. Application dates and tentative draw result dates can be found here.

Example: If you plan to finally burn five points in Colorado for an archery mule deer hunt, then you should not apply for an elk tag in Wyoming as the season dates can be a huge conflict. On the flip side, you could apply for a Wyoming elk tag and you’ll know if you drew the tag well before the application deadline for Colorado. Yet, keep in mind that you can’t turn that Wyoming tag in so you’d have to apply for points only in Colorado that year.

This is another way to ensure you don’t double book a hunt. A lot of times it comes down to a few simple things. If you think you’re going to draw a great limited entry tag and burn a lot of points, pay attention to the draw results and application deadlines for states that have hunts you’re also considering. You don’t want to burn eight points on a hunt and not be able to fully devote your time because you have to leave early due to another tag you drew in a state where you can’t turn those points back in. If it comes down to the last few states that you normally apply for and you already have successful tags in your pocket, it might be time to apply for points only.

The major dilemma of drawing too many tags

So what happens if you draw a tag and then realize you won't be able to use it? Can you get a refund? Will you get your points back? All of those questions really depends on what state you’re dealing with. Each state has certain rules pertaining to tag returns.

Pile of western hunting tags

State by state breakdown for turning in tags

Below is a state by state breakdown for returning tags in the West and whether or not you can get your points/tag fees back.

Arizona

Arizona allows you to turn back in your tag if you’re part of the PointGuard program. This was new in 2016 and, at the time, was only valid for the Arizona fall 2016 draw. New for 2017: the program will now be available for all of the draw periods. If you're not part of PointGuard before the application deadline, you cannot turn your tag back in.

Basically, the PointGuard program provides hunters with peace of mind in knowing they can surrender their tag for any reason without losing their coveted bonus points. Unforeseen events happen in life and this program saves your points if you have a situation occur that makes you unable to hunt.

PointGuard also ensures that if you're unable to hunt for any reason, the accumulated bonus points that were expended to draw that hunt permit will be reinstated.

According to the rule (R12-4-118), the department has several options for the reissuance of a surrendered hunt permit tag. The proximity to the start of a particular hunt, the type of hunt permit tag, and demand for that hunt permit tag will factor into how it will be reissued.

Requirements to turn a tag back:

  • PointGuard is available to applicants who apply online for a hunt permit.
  • All applicants must sign up for a free Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) Portal account to purchase PointGuard. You can sign up for the Portal account here.
  • PointGuard is $5 per species per applicant purchased either at the time of completing the online application or prior to the application period deadline. The fee is non-refundable.
  • Only one hunt permit may be surrendered per species. If an applicant is drawn in the future for that particular species, that hunt permit must be used, expending all accumulated bonus points. Only then may an applicant participate again in PointGuard.

Here's the process to surrender a hunt permit tag:

  • A permit tag must be surrendered prior to the close of the business day before the start of that particular hunt.
  • An applicant who has purchased PointGuard will present the original hunt permit tag along with a completed tag surrender application form in person to any customer service representative at any of the department’s statewide office locations.
  • The hunt permit tag being surrendered and PointGuard purchase will be verified by the department.
  • The department will restore all accumulated bonus points for that particular species, including the bonus point the applicant would have accrued if not successful in the draw.
  • The hunt permit tag fee is non-refundable.

A person who donates or transfers his or her hunt permit tag to a qualified nonprofit organization can also participate in tag surrender as long as the requirements listed above are fulfilled. An acceptable proof of the transfer must be provided to the department (a receipt from the qualified nonprofit organization, for example). The tag surrender application form and an acceptable proof of the hunt permit tag being donated must be completed within 60 days of the donation and no less than 30 days before the next application deadline for that particular species.

California

If you cannot hunt for any reason, you can submit a written request to retain the accumulated preference point total and earn one preference point for the particular species for that year. You can get your preference points back for antelope, deer, elk or bighorn sheep. You can also get refunds for some of the species. See below for more details.

Deer

You must return the tag to the department before the season starts for which the tag is valid in order for the department to consider the request. If the request is granted, the applicant shall retain the preference point total the applicant accumulated prior to the big game drawing and earn one additional preference point.

Residents
California does not refund the fees paid for a resident deer tag application.

Nonresidents
California may refund the difference between the fee paid for a nonresident deer tag application and a resident deer tag application.

Antelope, elk and bighorn sheep

You must submit the nonrefundable processing fee with the request. If the request is granted, the applicant shall retain the preference point total the applicant accumulated prior to the big game drawing and earn one preference point for antelope, elk, or bighorn sheep. The department may refund the tag fee.

Colorado

Colorado allows you to turn tags back in. This process is probably one of the simpler systems in the West. You must return your tag at least 30 days prior to the start of the hunt for a refund or a reinstatement of preference points, not both. If you choose a refund, then your preference points are not reinstated. If you choose to have your preference points reinstated, then you forfeit your license fee. Also, most refunds are now subject to a $15 processing fee. The fee is to help recover internal costs of processing that request.

Beyond that, Colorado will allow a refund or preference point restoration after the 30 day deadline for extreme medical circumstances, death of the license holder or license holder’s immediate family member, military deployment, or CPW error. 

Idaho

Controlled hunt tags may be transferred to a resident minor child or grandchild; nonresident minor children or grandchildren are not eligible for this transfer. Only death or disability will allow for a controlled hunt tag to be returned for a refund.

No refunds will be made on resident licenses, tags or permits.

Nonresident hunting licenses and tags may be refunded less issuance fees and a $50 processing fee, in the event of:

  • Illness or injury that disables a license holder for the entire applicable hunting season.
  • Military deployment of license holder due to armed conflict.
  • Death of the license holder’s parent, spouse or child.

Tags and license must be returned with proof (death certificate, obituary, written justification by a licensed medical doctor, or copy of military orders).

Hunting license fees will not be refunded after the license is used to apply for a controlled hunt or to buy a turkey, mountain lion, bear or wolf tag. The request must be postmarked by December 31 of the year in which the license was valid, except for “event of death” refund, which must be submitted within one year of the death.

A controlled hunt permit and tag may be made available in the same hunt for purchase by an immediate family member of a person who died before using his or her tag, and whose family had the fees refunded.

Note: If a refund is requested for any other reason, only the tag fees (not the license or permit fee) may be refunded at the following sliding scale rate:

  • Postmarked before April 1 = 75% refund
  • Postmarked April 1 through June 30 – 50% refund
  • Postmarked July 1 through August 31 = 25% refund
  • Postmarked September 1 through December 31 = No refund

Montana

When applying, all online license purchases and applications are final and cannot be changed or withdrawn. Once you draw your tag, you can request an 80% refund on the tag by Aug. 1 or a 50% refund before the start of the general season. You will not get your bonus points or your preference points back.

All five ways to get a refund in Montana

  • 100% refund for death of hunter
  • 90% refund for death of immediate family member of hunter (postmark by Dec. 31 of the year the tag is valid)
  • 90% refund for a medical emergency of the hunter only (postmark by Dec. 31 of the year the tag is valid)
  • 80% refund if you turn in your tag by August 1
  • 50% refund if you turn in your tag after August 1, but before the opening of the general big game hunting season (Postmarked on or before opening day)

Continued below.

goHUNT INSIDER equals better hunting research

Nevada

You may return a tag to the state and get a refund of your tag fee (for some species) as well as a restoration of your bonus points. The deadline for turning in mountain goat and sheep tags is 30 days before the first hunting season for the species begins. Deer, elk and antelope tags may be returned the day before the first hunting season for the species. The state claims you don’t need to provide a reason, but this past year I turned back in my antelope tag and they required me to provide a reason for returning a tag. This process must be done in writing and mailed to the main Nevada Department of Wildlife office.

For bighorn sheep and mountain goat hunters who meet the 30 day deadline before the first hunting season for the species, bonus points will be reinstated and hunters will get a refund of their tag fees. Those tags will then be reissued to an alternate hunter.

For antelope, elk, and mule deer, bonus points will be reinstated if you return your tag at least one day before the opening day of the hunt. However, there are no tag refunds for these species and the tags will not be reissued. Keep in mind that if you’re going to return a tag and you have a lot of points for that species, play it safe and turn your tag in well before the start of the season to ensure you get your points back.

New Mexico

There is no return or transfer of any tag allowed in New Mexico without written permission from the director of the New Mexico Game and Fish Department (NMDGF).

The director may grant transfer of a hunting license or refund of a hunting license fee if the person:

  • is deceased;
  • has sustained a severe injury or suffered a life-threatening illness which prevents participation;
  • is deployed by the U.S. military prior to the start of the hunt which prohibits participation; or
  • a natural disaster has occurred which prevents the hunt.

A license or permit may be donated to NMDGF for transfer to a youth (17 years or younger) who has been recommended by a nonprofit organization that promotes youth hunting. Refunds are not offered for donated licenses. Recommending nonprofit organizations must be approved and recognized by the New Mexico State Game Commission.

Oregon

Oregon does not allow an applicant to return a tag once drawn. The license, tag, application and agent fees are non-refundable.

Utah

Utah’s system can be a little complicated as there are different rules. Basically, Utah allows you to turn your tag back in and keep your bonus points as long as the season your tag is valid for hasn’t started. There are four main sections in the Utah tag returning process: surrendering a tag, refunds, variances and exchanges.

Depending on the type of tag that you have, there are different rules for surrendering and some situations will qualify for a refund or a variance. Keep in mind that Utah doesn’t typically issue refunds. Surrendering a permit can reinstate bonus or preference points that were lost when the permit was obtained.

How to surrender a tag in Utah

If you want your points back, you will need to surrender your tag. Turning in the tag also waives the waiting period normally assessed and reinstates the number of bonus points, including a bonus point for the current year as if a permit had not been drawn. To surrender a permit, download this form, fill it out and drop off or mail the completed form to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) along with the original permit. Keep in mind that there are group restrictions. See more information here.

In regards to refunds in Utah

Refunds in Utah may be issued if:

  • The person holding the permit, license or certificate of registration (COR) becomes so ill or injured as to prevent that person from participating in the activity for which the permit was issued.
  • The activity for which the permit, license or COR was issued was canceled by the UDWR.
  • The UDWR has erroneously collected a fee.
  • Members of the military were called to active duty before the permit, license or COR was used.
  • The person to whom the permit, license or COR was issued dies prior to the authorized activity.
  • The permit is a once-in-a-lifetime or limited-entry permit that was surrendered to the UDWR no less than 30 days before the season opening date. To surrender one of these permits and request a refund, use the permit surrender form. This type of refund is subject to a $25 handling fee. If the fee is higher than the cost of your permit, you will not receive a refund.

Variances

Even if you qualify for a refund, you may also qualify for a variance. A variances can include a season extension or the reinstatement of a bonus point or preference point. More information can be found here.

Exchanging tags

Hunters may exchange general season buck deer tags and elk tags for one that's available in another unit, but there are restrictions. Tags must be for the same species and sex. The exchange must happen before the season opening date on the permit you originally drew.

Washington

This state doesn’t allow you to turn your tag back in. There are a few exceptions (transferred by military or business)... but for the normal person, you cannot turn your tag back in.

Wyoming

Wyoming is another slightly confusing state when it comes to refunds of tag fees and preference points. I have tried to summarize a lot of the information so for ease of reading and understanding this Wyoming section, please see the full return policy for Wyoming here. Basically, you can turn your tags back in and you can get your preference points back under extreme circumstances only. Wyoming also has a "reserve for good cause" section that is listed in Title 23. But for the most part, don't expect to return your hunting tags in Wyoming if you can't make a hunt.

Licenses, permits, stamps, tags or preference points cannot be canceled or refunded expect as specified:

  • You can withdraw your application before the drawing deadline for a minimum fee.
  • To request a refund of a license fee in this subsection, the licensee shall submit the request for refund in writing along with the unused, unaltered license with all coupons intact to Headquarters, Fiscal Administration during the calendar year for which the license is valid. You will also need to submit an affidavit describing the reasons you weren't able to use the tag and include a sworn statement that you did not perform any hunting privileges in any of the seasons for the species during that calander year. See qualifications below.

If you're granted a refund, you may apply for and receive any remaining leftover license for the same species in accordance with State statutes and Commission regulations. Application fees and applicable preference point fees will not be refunded.

To qualify for a refund of a license fee the person shall meet one (1) of the following provisions:

  • In the case of the death of the licensee.
  • In the case of the death of the licensee’s spouse, parents, grandparents, lineal descendants and their spouses, step-parent, step-sibling, step-children, father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, step-son-in-law or step-daughter-in-law.
  • In the case of incapacitating illness or injury of the licensee supported by a physician’s sworn statement on a Department form that the licensee is incapable of performing tasks necessary to exercise the privileges of the license;
  • Military personnel who receive permanent change of station orders and military personnel who are assigned away from their home duty station on temporary orders.
  • Not able to participate in the majority of the regular season for the species specified due to a court subpoena, jury duty, Grand Jury investigation or attorneys required to attend criminal cases;
  • When 100% of the hunting opportunity and access to the hunt area has been closed due to administrative actions of the state or federal government in closing of the public access to public lands due to a natural disaster, including but not necessarily limited to, wildland fires;
  • An error on the part of the Department or its authorized agent where the applicant has been issued a license not requested. For the successful applicant who would not have drawn the first choice had the error not occurred, you will be offered two choices: offer the licensee a refund or allow the licensee to keep the license so issued;
  • Any youth licensee may be granted a license refund if the youth licensee’s opportunity to hunt is jeopardized as a result of any license refund granted by the Department. See specified in sections (i), (ii), (iii), (iv), (v), (vi) or (vii) of the retun policy.
  • A sponsoring organization of a person with a life-threatening illness that has received a license under Section 12(b) may be granted a license refund if the licensee’s opportunity to hunt is jeopardized as a result of incapacitating illness or injury.

Refunds are not allowed under the following circumstances:

  • The licensee illegally purchased more licenses than what was authorized for purchase by Commission regulation or Wyoming statute;
  • If the written request for refund is received after January 31 of the calendar year in which the license, permit, stamp, or tag was issued;
  • Person hunted on the license for the designated species as specified in Commission rules and regulations, including special archery seasons, during the year for which the license is issued.

Restoration of preference points

In any case where a license may be obtained by the accumulation of preference points, or preference points may be obtained in lieu of application for a license and a license refund is granted by the Department, all accumulated preference points, including any preference point that may have been earned for the year the license is issued, shall be restored to the applicant.

Reserve for a good cause

In Title 23‑1‑704 and 23‑2‑101(j), any person who is issued and purchases a limited quota, full price big or trophy game animal license for any species and sex of animal and is unable to use for good cause as provided by regulations that license for the year in which issued, may reserve a license for the particular species and sex of big or trophy game animal designated on the unused license for use during the immediately succeeding calendar year by applying to the commission before the opening date of the season for the designated species and sex of animal during the year for which the initial license is issued. The initial big or trophy game animal license shall accompany the application. Upon receipt, the commission shall cancel the initial license and prior to the season opening date for the designated species and sex of animal during the immediately succeeding calendar year, issue to the applicant at an administrative cost not less than ten dollars ($10.00) and not to exceed four percent (4%) of the cost of the initial license, a license for the designated big or trophy game animal valid for that year.

In summary

State by state comparison of returned tags

State Turn tag back in
(Y/N)
Reinstatement
of points
(Y/N)
Refund
(Y/N)
Arizona Y Y N
California Y Y Y*
Colorado Y Y or N Y or N
Idaho Y NA Y
Montana Y N Y
Nevada Y Y Y or N
New Mexico N NA N
Oregon N N N
Utah Y Y Y or N
Washington N N N
Wyoming N N N

* Only get full refunds for antelope, elk and bighorn sheep. Nonresident deer applicants get a partial refund.
Note: Some state's listed as "no" in table above will give refunds for extreme circumstances.
 

 

 

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