This year marks the first year that I’ll be classified as a Colorado resident. Having never hunted the West for big game this is all new to me. I’ve been relatively spoiled in hunting small game this past season in seeing a fair amount of big game while out, but that has been the story of my hunting career. I always saw 8 point Pennsylvania mountain bucks during squirrel season, and big buck squirrels chattering away cutting nuts during deer season. Well today as I write this the Montana limited license applications are due. I don’t have any skin in the game in Montana, though I’d like to. However, I’m in for Colorado and Wyoming — and that’s about all my credit card can handle at the moment.
See, building preference points for someone who’s never hunted on a limited license can be pretty daunting. Especially taking into account some of the differences between hunting the eastern part of the US and the rules and regulations out west. Then add in the little wrinkle of our first kid is due in the middle of June and hunting season just got a little more complicated. So here’s my draw strategy for this year: Apply for everything, be terrified if you draw something. Simple, right?
Let me explain, being a lifelong easterner without a family who never hunted out West, and didn’t have many traveling hunter friends hunting in Colorado always seemed like something just out of my reach. Sure, I read every Field and Stream Magazine written for probably the last 20 years, but not until recently had my life been stable enough to even consider a multi-day road trip with gear in the back country, packing meat on my shoulders. My maternal grandfather hunted in Wyoming and Colorado in the 60’s and 70’s before years of walking the floors of US Steel had taken their tolls, causing him to require a surgery that effectively fused his ankles making walking any distance a chore. I’m hoping to some day have the taxidermy that he kept in his basement of his Western hunts – an impressive pronghorn mount comes to mind. But life has a mysterious way of working out sometimes, and when work moved us to Denver I decided to jump in head first. Last year I did a bunch of in season scouting while calling it bird hunting, and considering some folks have called the dusky grouse the elk bird, I’ve found myself trekking in some territory where a ton of these “limited draw” critters live. I’ve decided that from this year on I’ll be applying for several limited draw tags across three states. Some purely for the purposes of building preference points for future years, but in the true lottery draws that often occur, it’s like the lottery — you can’t win if you don’t play.
So this year I’ve put in for two limited draws in Wyoming: pronghorn and cow/calf wild bison. I’ve always wanted to have the experience of hunting bison, and what better place to do it than in the space at the foot of the Tetons? At $4400 for a male bison tag I might have to wait a little while longer, so I can live with the $2400 cow tag which Wyoming puts a hold on your credit card for the full amount while you patiently await your draw. In Pennsylvania this will be my third year applying for Elk, but knowing that point creep in the state is very real I’ll just keep applying in the hopes of one day using our cabin in the wilds as a base camp for a PA Elk adventure.
Colorado is the most appealing for me to spread my money around. Even though this year brought some changes in regulations to deal with point creep on various big game species — now charging $50 a pop for some preference points on some species. It’s still a far sight better than Wyoming, which charges $150 for the privilege to buy a preference point. I’m not mad, the cost of everything goes up, and with the snail’s pace of in-state residence license fees everywhere I’ve ever lived, why not raise the revenue through preference points? It’s been deliciously democratic to see the complaining come from residents and non-residents alike on the popular Facebook group I Hunt Colorado. So this year I put in for (deep breath) mule deer, pronghorn, elk, moose, Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep, mountain goat, and bear. All for limited draws. The actual draw strategy here is that I’ll hunt over the counter elk tags until I can get a trophy unit, being able to get points each year by placing a practically unobtainable unit as my top pick means that I could be awarded my second through fourth pick and not affect my point accumulation. The only critter I didn’t set myself up for a potential draw this year was bear, which I just opted to pay the preference point fee by using the draw code B-P-999-99-P. I have no intention of hunting bear this year, and wanted to keep that portion of my calendar free — so opting for points only was a good choice. Any of the other tags could surprise me so I’ve taken care to research units I actually want to hunt, and some of them I know decently enough already. I’m not out for a giant trophy rack of antlers, but I would like a memorable experience in some wild country.
So I guess, here goes nothing.