Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Applying for a Hunt

Last week I covered game habitats in North America providing reasonable access for a physically-challenged hunter. This week I explore buying a hunting license and applying for a big game draw. Referring back to a previous article, we know that a big game draw is like a lottery. You enter and hope your name is drawn for a particular hunt.

Figuring out which license you need and how to apply for a hunt can be confusing. A state’s hunting regulations is your source for answers. Where can you find those regulations? The state’s Game and Fish department website, or by picking up a paper copy at your sporting goods store. Either way you get them, they’re essential reading.

In their publications you can usually learn the following:

  • An explanation of license types.
  • The fee structure for licenses and tags.
  • How to apply online or how to fill out the paper application.
  • Where you can hunt.
  • When you can hunt.
  • Draw odds.
  • Game or wildlife management unit maps.
  • Hunter ethics.
  • A list of hunting rules and common violations.
  • Dates and locations for hunter education classes.
  • Wildlife conservation efforts in that state.

Not all states publish every topic listed, but many states do. I recommend studying the regulations closely. Pay special attention to fees, where and when you can hunt, and access regulations.

Some hunts are relatively inexpensive. A resident Arizona elk tag is $135.00 if drawn -- not bad. A resident bull bison tag is $1,095.00. Big difference. Know the fees before applying!

Where you hunt determines the terrain you’ll encounter. When you hunt provides a guide to average temperatures. Previous articles discussed the importance of understanding both factors.

The state’s access regulations convey how and where vehicles may be used. Whether it’s to transport you, or to retrieve game, you need to know the rules. Not knowing can result in the loss of your hunting license, a fine or jail.

After reviewing the regulations, the next step is purchasing a license. Every state requires a hunting license. Do you want to hunt in your home state? Then buy a license from your state’s online portal if available, or purchase one at a licensed dealer. Purchasing online allows you to print your license at home.

Do you want to hunt in a state not your own? You’ll need that state’s license. Be aware that non-residents pay higher fees for licenses and permits. Sometimes the disparity is huge. That Arizona bull bison I mentioned earlier? The non-resident permit fee is $5,452.25.

License privileges vary by state. They can be “hunting only”, a hunting and fishing combo, and/or they may require additional “stamps” for particular types of game. They can also vary in duration of eligibility; three days, a year, a lifetime. It depends upon the state and your needs. Youth hunters are usually granted a special license.

Once licensed, you are ready to apply for your hunt. Most states host big game hunts in the spring and fall. You can usually apply for multiple species as well.

I encourage you to use an online application process if available. It’s efficient and fast. Well, fast if you don’t wait until the last day to apply. The websites can slow to a crawl and you may not succeed in beating the deadline.

Paper draw applications are published in the hunting regulation booklets or you can download them from your game and fish department website.

My Process
I’m going to take you through my process when applying for this year's fall Arizona pronghorn and elk hunt. We’ll go through choosing the hunts, how-to pay and finally discuss results.

I know which animals I want to hunt. Pronghorn and Rocky Mountain elk. I’ve hunted elk successfully, but a successful pronghorn draw has eluded me. In Arizona, you apply for each species separately. Here’s what I'm thinking about when applying:

Am I applying in a group hunt or an individual hunt? I chose individual.

I have three weapon choices for each animal; archery, rifle and muzzleloader. I don’t shoot a muzzleloader so it’s between my crossbow and my rifle. It’s one or the other. The bag limit is one of each big game animal species per year in Arizona. Except bison. That limit is one in a lifetime.

I read the regulation’s schedule of pronghorn hunts and I see that archery hunts in Arizona are August 22nd to September 4th. Temperatures can soar above a 100 degrees in many pronghorn units during that time period. If I hunt from a blind in those conditions, I'm facing 120 to 130 degree temps. Too hot for me or likely any quadriplegic.

So I look at the pronghorn rifle hunt. September 5th through September 18th. Still hot, but my rifle strategy is open ground or brush cover, not a blind. Next, I look at the draw odds for each game unit. The most popular units offer very low odds. I avoid those. Instead, I look at a unit with less demand and one where my hunting companions can provide guidance and share their unit experience.

Familiarize yourself with the Arizona pronghorn schedule as an example:

If you look at the far left column you’ll see a “Hunt No.” Every draw hunt has one. When filling out your application, you enter this number to specify when and where you want to hunt. It works that way for all species. If your state offers multiple choices, say a 2nd or 3rd choice, enter those hunt numbers in their respective fields on the application.

I decided on Unit 19A as my first choice because it meets my criteria. You'll find the unit number listed under the Open Areas column. There are thirty permits issued for this unit. Why not choose Unit 10 where ninety permits are issued? Because Unit 10 is the most desirable pronghorn unit in the state and it gets thousands of applicants. Far fewer people apply for Unit 19A.

My thinking during the elk application process is different in one consideration. The elevation for a September elk hunt is cool enough for an archery hunt from a blind. So I’ll apply for both archery and rifle. In Arizona, they allow the physically challenged to hunt the archery season with a crossbow.

My first choice is an archery hunt unit that provides decent access to a setup location, is known by my companions, has received decent rainfall the preceding winter and spring, and typically yields good bulls.

I pick an elk rifle hunt unit as my second choice. A unit I know well and hunted successfully. I don’t bother entering a 3rd choice. The popular big game hunts are filled by the time AZ Game and Fish computers have passed through first and second choices. That is likely in other states as well.

You’re now ready to fill out the application. States can differ in their application requirements but in general you’ll need the following items of information:

  • Social Security No.
  • D.O.B.
  • Your physical characteristics (for description on license)
  • Current contact information
  • Hunter ID No. (SSN# or dept. issued)
  • Current hunting license no. and all license no.(s) if applying as a group.
  • Hunt No(s) you selected.

Whether filling out the form online or on paper, you'll usually find a completed example to guide you.

After completing all the data screens online or filling out the paper form, it’s time to pay. If you’re applying online, you’ll pay with a debit or credit card. You’ll have a check or money order option if paying by paper or in person at your game and fish department. Check your states requirements.

Fee structures also differ by states. A draw hunt in Arizona requires a separate application fee from the species permit fee. That may not be the case in your state. Your state’s regulations document will guide you.

States also differ in when they charge you for the hunting permit if drawn successfully. Some states charge your credit card or cash your check immediately upon receiving your application. They’ll issue a refund if you’re not drawn. Other states wait until you have drawn successfully before charging your account.

All application fees for both circumstances are non-returnable. Those funds help support operations and wildlife management in the state you applied.

There is another important factor in a draw but not applicable to the new hunter. The bonus point system. Essentially this is a rewards program for applicants. For every species you apply for, you’ll receive a bonus point if unsuccessful in the draw. When you’re drawn, the bonus points are used and you start over for that species. In Arizona, permanent points can be accumulated by attending hunter education classes or applying for a draw hunt every year for five years. Check the regs for your state.

How bonus points affect the draw is beyond the scope of this article. Check with your game and fish department for a thorough explanation.

The last part of the application process is the hardest: Waiting for draw results! States announce the results according to the application process. If you applied online, notification is published on the website. If it’s a paper only application process, notification happens by mail.

How long you must wait for results varies by state. States with high-demand hunts like elk in Colorado may take a longer than average. No matter the method or wait, it’s incredibly exciting to see a “Draw successful” notice!

Within a few weeks your tags will be mailed to you. The tags are affixed to the animal if you have a successful harvest. States dffer in where they want you to attach tags. So, check your regs for details.

Understanding your state’s application process is critical to selecting your hunts. Review the regulations thoroughly and ask other hunters for guidance if you’re unclear about the specifics. I hope this overview provided insight into the process and helps you formulate good questions as you read through your state application regulations.

Thanks for reading,


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