Overcoming Increasing Demand

Drawing tags in the West is getting tough. Really tough.

In January 2014, Huntin’ Fool magazine published a collection of stories highlighting Wyoming’s general elk tag opportunities. Within that article, they declared the Wyoming general elk tag as the most overlooked and underrated elk hunt in the West. Indeed, that tag could have been drawn as a second choice in the nonresident special tag drawing in both 2014 and 2015. And because it was a second-choice tag, you would also gain an additional preference point to be used in a future draw.

Life was good for the opportunity hunter in the West.

overcoming hunting tag demand

Fast forward to today, and things look a lot different. That same Wyoming elk tag will likely require four preference points to draw in the regular drawing (more affordable but lower odds) and three points in the special drawing (increased cost and odds). Since 2014, the number of nonresident applicants for that tag has nearly doubled.

And it’s not just elk. Between 2016 and 2021, the number of buck antelope tags in Wyoming that could be drawn with zero preference points in the regular drawing has been nearly cut in half. And of those zero-point hunts that do remain, most are in units that consist of mostly private land or that have very difficult public land access.

All across the West, demand for tags and hunting opportunities has seen unprecedented growth. In Montana, for instance, the overall nonresident Big Game Combo tag has gone from a 100% draw rate in 2016 to about 54% in the most recent draw. In 2021, there were more than 11,000 nonresident applicants who were unsuccessful in the Combo tag draws.

Colorado, the undisputed king of hunting opportunities in the West, has seen overall applicant numbers and participation skyrocket. Nonresident limited-entry deer and elk applicants have grown by nearly 50% since 2016, and residents have seen an increase of about 14,000 applicants in that same period.

And as the last remaining stronghold for true nonresident, over-the-counter (OTC) bull elk hunt opportunities in the West, Colorado’s public lands are getting crowded. According to Colorado Wildlife & Parks, in 2021 the total number of over-the-counter elk tags sold across all seasons was greater than 92,000. If you factor in the former OTC archery units that transitioned to draw in 2020, tag sales in OTC areas are at an all-time high. Unfortunately, it’s getting increasingly common to hear stories about some of Colorado’s most popular hunt areas feeling more like an amusement park than an isolated backcountry experience.

Even the arid regions of the Southwest that cannot support larger overall herd numbers are seeing significant growth in hunt applications.  In Arizona, for instance, the resident demand for deer and elk tags has risen more than 20% since 2016. And for non-residents, it’s nearly doubled.

There are a lot of reasons for the increased demand. Social media and outdoor industry promotion certainly have been meaningful contributors, as has the added convenience of applying online without collecting the full tag fee upfront. But there are many other factors at work, including things like Covid and the increased interest brought by mega-audience platforms such as the Joe Rogan Podcast.

Ultimately, though, the important factor in the increased popularity of western hunting is the product itself. Hunting big game in the diverse and beautiful landscapes of the West really is a special thing. And once you’ve experienced it, it’s hard to let go of.

The good news is that quality hunts in the West are still within your reach. It takes a little thoughtfulness with an eye toward the future, but a basic plan and strategy can put tags in your pocket and meat on the table. All that’s needed is a little research and access to the right tools and resources.

With an onX Hunt Elite Membership, you get access to research and draw tools from Toprut, Huntin’ Fool, and HuntReminder. Combining Toprut’s deadly accurate draw odds, Huntin Fool’s boots-on-the-ground knowledge, and the convenience of HuntReminder’s email and text application reminder system, drawing that hard-to-get tag for the hunt of your dreams is possible. Considering the difficulty of drawing tags these days, shouldn’t you do everything you can to shift the odds in your favor? 

Read Part 2: How to Draw Tags Every Year With Huntin’ Fool

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Toprut is an online tool to help you research, plan, and apply for hunts and tags each year. The company provides information including hunt quotas, applicant totals, harvest information, and drawing odds. In addition, they offer unit profile information including public land boundaries, land ownership percentages, and terrain statistics to help you quickly evaluate your hunt options in a single, easy-to-use interface.

The most accurate draw odds, harvest data, and application trends for hunters.

Toprut is designed to help hunters research, plan, and apply for hunts and tags every year.

  • View draw odds for all 10 western states.
  • Explore comprehensive information on elk, deer, antelope, moose, sheep, mountain goat, and bison.
  • Research using advanced filtering based on residency, species, weapon, and preference points.
  • View success rates, harvest data, and applicant numbers to monitor trends.