Just a few days ago, I received my first email of the year from a state game agency reminding me the application season is here. No better way to shake off the post-season blues than starting to plan for next year. If you’re “crazy” like me, you’ve actually been thinking about where to apply since about the second day of the 2014 season!
I’ve blogged extensively on the subject of planning your personal application strategy. You can view those posts at
- Get Off the Declining Odds Treadmill
- Where Should I Apply?
- Just Tell Me Exactly Where
- Thinking Too Big
For 2015, here are a few updated pointers. While I’m exclusively a mule deer hunter, all the points apply to other species.
Goals and Personal Strategy
For me I want a buck at least 180″ gross unless it’s the last day and the freezer needs some attention, or the buck possesses some other unique quality like mass, stickers, etc. With that goal in mind, my strategy is to apply for a few hard-to-draw tags in “good” mule deer units where bucks that meet my goal exist in decent numbers. “Great” mule deer units—like Utah’s Henry Mountians or Paunsagaunt, Nevada’s 221 late, Idaho’s best late buck hunts, or Colorado’s best 3rd or 4th season hunts—rarely get my application. They are just too hard to draw. Rather, I look for hunts I can realistically draw, even if it means switching weapon types (that is is why I think today’s mule deer hunter must be proficient in all three weapon types. See It’s Not the Weapon.)
I’ll then have a few OTC or leftover tags in mind if I don’t draw. This usually means hunting my home state of Idaho, but I’ve also hunted Wyoming, Colorado, and Montana on some easy tags and pulled a few good-to-great deer. You have to hunt somewhere every year to sharpen your skill set. Don’t sit around waiting for great tags. If you do ever draw, you’ll likely fail as you won’t really know how to hunt big deer
Understand the Western Draws
Application deadlines are spread out between January and June for the western states. That means you’ll be applying in some states without yet knowing the draw results of another state. That is why you have to know the draw process, refund policy, and the deadline for each state. That would take five blog posts to detail so really it’s up to you to do the research or hire a service that handles that for you (more on that in my next post).
Start a Slush Fund
Applying for more than a few states is spendy. While some states give most of your money back, others keep it and reward you with a point (or not). You’ll also likely have a thousand or more dollars out at once waiting for refund (that is one reason I only hunt mule deer.) Also, many of the western states have some sort of landowner tag system. Learn those systems. While some of these tags go for thousands, I know guys (including myself) who’ve landed decent tags for $500 to $1500.
If trying to get good tags in more than one state is too expensive, not all hope is lost. Start a separate deposit-only account, work a little smarter and harder, and within a few years you’ll be able to consider more options. I personally know several young fathers who work hard and save like crazy to play the western states and landowner tag game. It’s part of their “DIY” strategy and has given them some good opportunities.
Reevaluate Your Strategy Yearly
With every passing season, you should have more information to consider before applying again. For example, while I’ve had about the same strategy the last three years, that will change this year. If you’ve followed my Live Hunts for the buck called Jalapeño the last two years, you’ll understand why. He is the best buck I’ve seen in about five years in any unit in any state. I’ve hunted him the last two seasons putting in nearly 50 days in the search.
Bucks like him are very very rare so I’m changing my strategy to make sure I dedicate every possible hunting day to his pursuit. This means I won’t be applying for any other hunts that conflict with the September archery season. I’ll move some applications to later hunts or apply for points only. I’m also trying to rearrange my outfitter commitments so I can hunt the October rifle season if needed.
How do I know Jalapeño will still be there? I don’t. Life’s a gamble. But if he’s still roaming the hills, there is no better place in the West for me to be come opening morning, 2015. My application strategy better reflect that.
Stay tuned for my next post on your personal application strategy: are research services worth it?
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How will your application strategy change for 2015?