Hunt The West’s Best

When the sun set on the final day of my 2008 Colorado archery mule deer hunt, I had seen two different bucks over the last two weeks that would gross score over 200 inches!

In fact, the larger of the two was killed by a muzzleloader hunter while I was bowhunting, and the buck gross-scored over 225 inches!

The other monarch was a buck that I cat-and-moused with for seven days, finally resulting in a minor, non-fatal, flesh wound, due to a deflected arrow at 32 yards. I saw the buck alive four days after the shot and he was sore, but recovering quickly. I never got another chance at him. He was a dream buck for me, a dirty giant with bladed tines and huge mass that I estimated would gross somewhere between 205 inches and 210 inches as a 4×5! Like I said, he was a dream buck. It was not by luck that I found myself in country that held this caliber of animals. No, my research had started months before.

The author (left) and his wife with an antelope taken on public land with a limited draw tag.

The Bonus
Points Game

The West is alive and well with opportunity awaiting the serious trophy hunter. Multiple Western states hold exceptional quality deer, elk, and antelope. The problem with most of them is acquiring a tag. The bulk of the top units across the West are on a limited lottery draw, and the very best usually have draw odds that are akin to beating Michael Jordan in a free throw shooting contest, however. This does not mean that you shouldn’t play the game. Most states have bonus points. These points accumulate annually with every unsuccessful application you put in. For every point you gather, you get an extra chance in the draw the following year, another name in the hat so to speak.

If you plan your hunting goals on a three- to 10-year plan, you can set yourself up to be regularly hunting top quality units in the future. If you are a bowhunter, like me, the draw odds are generally better for us than our rifle-toting brothers, and good hunts can come your way in as little as two years for deer and within five years for elk. By growing your bonus-point bank account in multiple states, and biding your time, you can be facing some exciting years to come.

A couple states that don’t have a bonus-point program are New Mexico and Idaho. The upside to this is that everyone is on an even playing field each year going into the draw. You won’t be competing with others that are sitting on a surplus of points from years of applying. The down side is that your odds will not improve as the years tick by.

The author’s wife with another animal taken on public land with a limited draw tag.

Research Where To Apply
There are many ways to research the top areas worthy of your tag applications. Study the record books, for example. Both Boone and Crockett and Pope and Young both require entries to name the location of kill. By thumbing through the pages you can note states, counties, mountain ranges, or other telltale names that will form a pattern. It is genetics and animal age class that result in mammoth-sized head gear, and the "books" can reveal the “where” of these important requirements.

One can also use the Internet. There are several discussion forum boards dedicated to big critters and valuable info can be gathered from them as well. Make contacts on these discussion forums and start trading hunting info with hunters in other states.

My Colorado experience I mentioned earlier was due to me trading info about my home state of Arizona, and in turn, I learned of a unit in Colorado that receives very little press and hence had better draw odds as well as huge deer.

There also are a couple of hunter service organizations that offer consulting. By choosing a reputable one, and becoming a member, you can let them do most of the work when it comes to locating the latest trophy-producing areas. Some services will even do the applications for you if you want to pay them the money. I myself enjoy the application process and look forward to it every year.

Apply To Multiple States
By now you’re probably wondering how much it costs to apply in multiple states. One thing is for sure, it will only cost as much as you spend. Meaning, if your mattress stash is low, there are several states that only charge a minimal fee of $10 to $25 to purchase a bonus point. You can then do as my family and I do and start a fund for your future hunting trips. If hunting is a priority, as it is in my house, you might have to sacrifice other luxuries. Our TV set is 15 years old, for example. We only buy quality used vehicles. We cut living costs anywhere we can and as a blue-collar household (I’m a hunting guide and outfitter), we still managed to apply for 11 Western states last year.

The author has researched where big animals are taken, and applied for tags in those areas.

While it may seem discouraging to repeatedly see "unsuccessful" after your name when you check the various draw results, do so knowing that your days are coming and after a time you will be reaping the benefits of your patience. I currently have enough points to draw the Nevada high country, a 14-day mule deer hunt with just me and my bow. It should only take the three points I have built up.

Jump in head first! It’s better to start playing the application game now then be 10 years down the road and 10 years older wishing you had!

For a fine selection of Big Game Hunting gear, click here.

For a fine selection of Archery gear, click here.

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