Talk to almost any hunter and they will tell you that the keys to being successful in a hunt are good marksmanship — gained through months of practice — a familiarity with your quarry and its habits and habitat, and certainly a dose of luck sometimes…being in the right place at the right time.
However, the opportunity to even be in the field with an elk or deer tag in hand is also largely a game of chance, as getting a license in many areas of the state is contingent on your application being picked in the statewide license draw conducted each year by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
The state is divided into a series of numbered hunt areas for various species such as deer, elk and antelope. The game and fish commission, based on recommendations and input from state biologists, landowners, hunters and other members of the public, sets the number of available licenses for each species in each hunt area in the state each year.
Because the number of hunters can sometimes exceed the number of available licenses or tags, the WGFD operates a computerized, random drawing for licenses in sought after, or limited quota, areas. Each spring, residents and nonresidents submit applications to the draw, with draws for different species being operated differently.
As an example, Jean Cole, WGFD fiscal division chief, described how the nonresident elk draw takes place, beginning by stating that only 16 percent of the elk tag quota is reserved for nonresidents.
“What happens in the drawing is, nonresident landowners are allocated licenses before anyone else,” she explained, noting that landowners must meet certain criteria set forth in WGFD commission regulations in order to be eligible for the draw. “Then, whatever is left, that quota is split. Forty percent is for the special draw, 60 percent for the regular draw. Special means the applicant has paid a higher price for that license ($1,057 compared to $577 in the case of elk). They are paying a higher fee because they figure fewer people are willing to pay that higher amount and the odds might be better.”
For the special draw, the 40 percent is then divided 75 percent and 25 percent. The 75 percent of licenses are put into another drawing for preference point holders. Hunters who have been unsuccessful in previous years’ draws receive one preference point per year, or they can purchase one preference point per year for $50. As those points accumulate over the years, their odds of drawing a license in the future increase.
The applicants are then ranked according to how many preference points they have, and in the case of a party application where up to six people apply together, the total preference points for everyone in the group is averaged.
“We sort applicants by the highest number of points they have,” Cole explained, noting that each one is also assigned a random number. “Those with the lowest random number and highest preference point value, they have the first shot at the hunt area they are looking for.”
The remaining 25 percent are entered into a separate random draw that is not based on preference points.
When the special draw is complete, an entirely new process is started for the regular draw.
“As you can see, there are lots of drawings being held within a single allocation of elk licenses,” Cole said. “It is very complicated.”
Wyoming residents have a much better chance of getting a license for a limited quota area, since 84 percent of the available licenses are reserved for them. The process is similar to how nonresident elk licenses are drawn, however, it is simplified. After the landowner licenses are taken off the top, the remainder of the quota is then put through the draw, with no preference point allocations. Residents also have the option of purchasing a general license over-the-counter in many hunt areas that have a general season, versus a limited quota.
Of course, certain areas of the state are more sought after and therefore, harder to draw. In general, areas with large tracts of public land are harder to draw for, because more people apply for those areas due to easy access. Areas that are easier to draw tend to have lots of private land where access can be restricted and fees are sometimes required. Also, some areas of the state are known for producing large bull elk or buck deer and antelope and have large numbers of hunters seeking to hunt there, decreasing the draw odds for those areas.
Aside from having an accumulation of preference points and putting in for a hunt area with good drawing odds, there is little a hunter can do to increase his or her chance of getting a limited quota license. However, the WGFD website does note that hunters should submit their applications well in advance of the deadline, in case any mistakes or omissions are found on the application and it needs to be returned for corrections.
Despite the sometimes complicated effort to get a license, once in hand, a large portion of hunters are successful. Based on harvest surveys completed by hunters last year, 45 percent were successful in harvesting an elk, 56 percent were successful in harvesting a white-tailed deer, 52 percent took home a mule deer and 89 percent harvested an antelope.
For more information, visit the WGFD website at www.gf.state.wy.us/