Toprut’s Tips for Consistent Draw Success

Demand is up, draw odds are getting worse, and true over-the-counter (OTC) hunt opportunities are slowly declining every year. Now more than ever, having a multi-state application strategy is a necessity if you are hoping to consistently draw tags annually as a non-resident. As the application windows start to open up all across the West, there is no better time than right now to think about your plan for this year and how to set yourself up for success in the years to come.

It’s important to acknowledge that not everyone’s circumstances are the same. The time that you have available to hunt, your budget, and the species/methods you are most interested in are all crucial factors in your individual plan. From that perspective, it can be tricky to come up with a generic blueprint that works for everyone, but some core ideas and assumptions can help solidify a strategy that works for you.

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Here are four tips to consider as the application season gets underway:

Divide and Assess

Divide up your tag wish list into three time windows: short-term (three years or less), medium-term (four to eight years), and long-term (once or twice in your hunting lifetime).

Of these, short-term planning is the most important for consistency. If your short-term planning is solid, you will do fine even if you turn out to be extremely unlucky drawing tags in your medium- and long-term buckets.

Hunts in the short-term category can be drawn with zero to four points or have odds >20% in random draws. Find four or five different hunts across states/species that interest you with the goal of cycling through them as much as possible. As an example, if you’re consistently applying for two hunts in your short-term group that have at least 20% random odds, in three years your probability of drawing one of these tags is, at minimum, about 74%. Combine that with two or three other hunts on your list that can be predictably drawn with less than four preference points and you’re in business.

Medium-term hunts are in the five to nine point range or have random draw odds somewhere between eight and 20%. Tags drawn with points are obviously better for predictability and planning, but if your budget allows you should include some tags targeted in the random draws as well. If you consistently apply annually for two tags with eight percent random odds, in six years your probability of drawing one is about 65%. In eight years it’s almost 75%. The hope is that you can fill a gap or hunt a year without burning one of the tags in your short-term hunt cycle.

A bowhunter packs an elk out of the woods.

Long-term hunts require 10+ points or have random draw odds of less than eight percent. Nearly all ram, bull moose, and mountain goat hunts easily fall into this category as well as most “trophy” units for elk, deer, and antelope. Point creep is a killer for these types of hunts, even for applicants who currently have double-digit point totals. Drawing these types of tags is increasingly about just getting lucky, but when / if you hit and get to “cut the line,” it can provide some unforgettable memories. It takes about nine years to have a 50 / 50 chance of drawing a four percent random odds tag if you apply for two of them every year. But someone has to get lucky!

Know the Rules

Familiarize yourself with draw odds and state draw procedures to at least a minimal level so that you can recognize which hunts and tags are reasonable candidates for the three time windows noted above.

Every state’s big game draw is unique, and it’s not easy to keep it all straight each application season. There are different point systems, quota splits, draw procedures, hybrid draws, and on and on and . . . It can be quite confusing, especially if you are new to the game.

To help you keep track of it all, Toprut provides an abbreviated cheat sheet of sorts for each state/species. Near the top of our List View, be sure to use the “Learn more about this data” link to remind you of the draw specifics.

Plan for the Future

Assume that OTC opportunities will be significantly fewer in three to five years and that those that remain will likely be very crowded and have very low success rates on public land.

If you’re familiar with applying out West, you may argue there are still plenty of easily obtainable tags. The obvious example is Colorado, where there is still an abundance of OTC areas and a significant number of hunt codes that can be drawn with one or even no points. But as tags everywhere else become harder to draw, the pressure on these hunts increases and the quality of the experience declines. When things reach a certain level, state wildlife agencies tend to pull back on available opportunities.

A hunter wearing camo sits on his tailgate after a successful deer hunt.

If recent demand trends continue, it may be increasingly difficult to maintain a short-term tag strategy that is sustainable. Start thinking about a backup plan now if OTC is your primary annual plan. And if it turns out that we’ve already seen peak demand for public land Western hunting, then you’ll still have gained a couple of future options to help fill in your hunt calendar.

Plan on Reevaluating Each Application Season

Specifically, keep a close eye on the hunts in your short-term plan. The “best” current options are also the hunts that will most likely see their draw odds decline in the future. For example, the nonresident general elk tag in Wyoming was a sure candidate for your short-term plan just two years ago. But given how things have gone and depending on how you apply, that hunt may need to slide into your medium-term group at this point.

In addition, be aware of any major changes happening with state regulations, tag quotas, or license allocations. The state agencies themselves are primary sources of information, and in today’s world, it’s fairly easy to be alerted about such things via online platforms like social media, public forums, and streaming video. Take a few minutes to understand any proposed or implemented changes and think about how they may impact your overall plan.

Things have gotten tough in recent years, but it’s time to make some of your own luck with intentional planning. Let the internet hordes complain about crowds and moan about the draw odds—there are still plenty of options out there for the thoughtful hunter. If it hasn’t already, the search for your hunt in 2024 should start now.

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onX and Toprut

We’ve teamed up with Toprut to offer our Elite Members a free Toprut membership as part of our Elite Benefits Program. Our preferred source for draw odds in eight key Western states (with more states on the way), Toprut covers all the information you need to make insightful, fact-driven tag applications each season. Now onX Elite Members can utilize Toprut’s tools for free. The onX Hunt App and Toprut together provide you with the tools for a successful season.

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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.