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What to Do When You Don’t Draw Your Tag

Mule Deer HuntingWell, you just got the results from your Arizona trophy elk unit lottery, and you didn’t draw. The same thing happened last week in Nevada. And the week before that for Wyoming. Now what do you do? You want to head west and hunt this fall, but your tag wallet looks like Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboards. There must be something you can do. Fear not my adventure seeking friends, you have options.

Devising a proper tag application strategy can be one of the most daunting aspects of planning an adventure hunt. With so many rules, regulations, deadlines, and fees how do you know you’re doing it correctly? Even if you pick the right states and units your chances of drawing are slim. These units don’t become known for quality trophies because they let everyone hunt there. If luck isn’t with you and the lotteries beat you up, one of the options you can pursue is moving to an over the counter (OTC) unit or state. Trophy quality is usually lower in these places and hunting pressure is always higher, but at least you know for sure you will get out there and have an opportunity to put boots on the ground.

Another option is to book with an outfitter. A lot of states allocate a number of tags to the big game outfitters operating within their borders. This option can be a little more expensive because you’re now paying for the outfitter’s services, but there are trade-offs. One benefit to going with an outfitter is that you usually get access to areas no one else does. That means lower hunting pressure and older-age class animals. Another great thing about using an outfitter is that most of the time they have all the equipment you will need, which means less you need to buy or transport to your hunting destination. There are several other advantages to hunting with an outfitter, but I’ll save that for another time and another conversation dedicated to that topic.

If you’re not too keen on the idea of an outfitter but you like the idea of a guaranteed tag and exclusive access, you may want to investigate purchasing a landowner tag. This is a viable option in some areas, but beware, if your objection to an outfitter is cost, going this route can be just as expensive. You will need to pay for the tag and probably a trespass fee (people don’t let you on their land for nothing). You will need all the same equipment the outfitter would have provided. And you will need a GPS, mapping app, or good old-fashioned paper map to ensure you stay on the property you have permission to be on. As recent events have shown, crossing property boundaries for any reason is not tolerated out west.

Second chance drawings are another interesting avenue to explore. Idaho, for example, requires all unsold tags to be turned in by late summer. These tags are then sold in a special first come, first sold sale. This can be a terrific way to get ahold of a hard-to-get tag. The drawbacks to it, however, are, you must pay attention to when it starts and be ready to buy right away, these tags sell quickly, and you need to be able to go on a last-minute hunt.

Travelling to another country, even ones as close as Canada and Mexico, offers yet another solution. Bag limits are fairly liberal in these places and game is plentiful. Just be ready to deal with international travel and make sure you know all the game laws. “I didn’t know that” is not an acceptable response to any question or statement made by a game officer.

Finally, if you don’t draw your tag and you’re striking out with these other options, you could always hunt something else. It’s no secret that elk, sheep, deer, and moose are extremely popular species. They’re also the most difficult to draw or buy OTC. But don’t forget you can also hunt pronghorn, hogs, bears, and a slew of other game if you want to travel west of the Mississippi River. Some of the best hunts I’ve ever been on have been impromptu adventures that came about because something else didn’t work out.

Planning a hunt can be frustrating, but it can also be fun and exciting. The important things to remember are, the experience is what you’ll hold on to, all these hunts will provide an escape from the pressures of everyday life, and we’re only given so much time on this earth, make the best of it.

Oh, and if you need help deciding what ammo to use give Peterson Cartridge a call. We’ve got your back and the right stuff to help you get the job done.

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