One of the elements I enjoy the most about the Wild Meat Retreat is dispelling myths and incorrect information.
It's common for students to hear statements from others that are just down right wrong. This false information can plant the seeds of desperation in the new hunter, leading them to believe the prospects of success are bleak.
One theme I hear over and over again is that it’s extremely difficult to get tags and opportunities to hunt.
Here are some of the comments people have mentioned to me:
“Getting an elk tag is a once in lifetime chance.”
“I need to accumulate 10 points before I can get drawn for a tag in my state.”
“I’ve been putting into the draw for 5 years and haven’t gotten a tag once. Not even for Javalina!”
“You have to hire an outfitter to go on a first hunt and it costs thousands of dollars.”
“It costs hundreds of dollars to apply for an elk tag in my state so I don’t even bother.”
These people are disenchanted about hunting and their spirits are low. It’s such a shame that they have been misinformed.
You can get tags and hunt every year, no matter what state you’re in or what budget you have to work with - but you might need to think outside the box.
I’ll use our current home state of Arizona for an example—a state notorious for low tag availability and long waits between hunts.
I drew a cow elk rifle tag last year with only 2 preference points. The hunt was a success and I was pretty stoked.
But I was even more excited when I drew another cow elk archery tag this year with only 1 point!
* Bonus / preference points explained at the end of this article.
That’s two elk tags in two years with very few points.
Am I lucky? Maybe, but I know other people who do the same- drawing an elk tag every 1-3 years.
I hunt deer every year with a bow by purchasing an over the counter archery deer tag. These tags are unlimited to residents and a large quota is available each year to non residents.
I draw Javalina tags every year with no points and some years pick up an extra left over tag.
Last season we were blessed to harvest an elk and two javalina - all drawn with 0-2 preference points. We rounded out our meat stores with a mule deer and white tail deer from Montana.
Many states have tags available to residents over the counter or with very good draw odds.
If you don’t have this available there is probably a state nearby you can hunt as a nonresident.
For example we’ll be heading to Colorado this fall to hunt mule deer in units with 99% draw odds on 0 preference points.
Yes, non-resident tags are more expensive but for around the same price most people spend to go on vacation - you can go on the hunt of a lifetime (and combine it with a family vacation).
Yes, some of the easier to draw hunts are difficult hunts.
You might have to use a primitive weapon like a bow and arrow or muzzleloader. You might be hunting with a lot of other hunters around. You might be hunting near city limits or private property. The terrain might be less desirable to hunt than other choice locations. You might be hunting during harsh, cold times of the year. You might be hunting cow elk for meat instead of a bull with giant antlers.
But to me it’s worth it.
I would rather work harder, hunt smarter and think outside the box. I would rather hunt every single year than sit on the bench and wait around for a cushy, easy hunt tag that everyone else is gunning for.
When your cousin’s nephew tells you it’s impossible to get tags - just smile but don’t believe it.
You can go hunting every year. That’s how you’ll improve and learn the land.
Grab a copy of the regulations in your state and read them cover to cover.
Learn how much it actually costs to apply for tags. Learn the draw odds for each unit you want to hunt, tag allotments, success rates etc. Find those hidden gem opportunities.
If you want to make all of this easier use a service like gohunt.com. Their software tool allows you to easily filter the best hunts for your desired draw odds, species, success rates, distance from home, etc.
At the end of my life I believe I’ll look back and know that I made the right choice to be out in nature as much as possible.
The quality of my experience will be judged by the days, weeks and months I spent outdoors, not the size of the antlers on my wall.
If you feel the same - start studying up and go hunting this year! There’s always a way to make it happen.
* In this article I mention the terms "bonus points", "preference points", etc. Many states assign you a bonus point for each year you are unsuccessful at drawing a tag.
The more points you have the greater your chance of drawing a tag. When you apply your name goes in a hat and the people with the most points are awarded a tag first.
Some states such as Arizona will give you a lifetime point for completing hunter ed courses and applying for the same species five years in a row (loyalty point).
Each state is different in how these use points and some do not use them at all such as New Mexico which is a totally random draw. Be sure to read the hunting regulations in your home state and each state you want to apply in.