Understanding the draw process for each state can feel overwhelming. Many hunters give up and simply decide to hunt over-the-counter (OTC). But, even then it can be challenging to determine which state to hunt and which unit to commit to. This blog provides the best resources for people wanting to learn more about the process as well as a few mistakes to avoid as a beginner.
Backcountry Chronicles and OnXMaps
I really like Backcountry Chronicles for finding out how OTC hunting works in each state. They also do a good job of using charts and graphs, so that you can compare two different states. I recently used them for getting up-to-date on Idaho and Utah opportunities. You can always use online Fish and Game guidebooks, but I think this site does a better job of explaining the basics.
I like to use OnXMaps to calculate the hunter density. I don’t pay for the app, except during the season, but the website will give you a breakdown of each unit’s total land area and public land area. From there you can use backcountry to search for the unit’s total number of hunters and see how crowded it will be.
Both of these sites cover wide areas of the West, so sometimes specifics get lost, and statistics can be deceptive. For example, if you search for the best unit in Utah based on success rate you would see a 23% success rate in San Rafael. However, only 17 hunters were in the unit and all four elk taken were cows. Additionally, if you search across the past five years the success rate averages out to be much lower. I like to search for units with 50-100 hunters and search for the last five years of data.
DIY Hunting Maps
If you hunt Wyoming or Colorado definitely check this site out. Once you specify a unit the site shows success rates for each season along with hunter density and percent public land. Additionally, it lists how each unit in relation to other units around the state. For instance if you wanted to find the unit with the lowest hunter density or something like that.
This guy knows his stuff. Randy hunts a bunch of state and is always in magazines with pictures of the massive elk he has shot. Check out the Hunt Talk site and podcast for more information. Episode 48 gives an overview for each state, and he has other podcasts listed that go into each state with more detail. He has written articles on how to hunt elk every year, and does a good job of describing a long-term approach.
Fish and Game Officers
Field Officers are hit and miss. Some of them are really happy to help, others, not so much. It seems to me that the more rural you get the more friendly/lonely officers get. We have a buddy in Wyoming that chats with us when we go to antelope hunt. Almost nobody else hunts that unit, so he is happy to see us. By comparison, I’ve had trouble even getting a response in Colorado. That’s not a knock on Colorado. I’m sure they get emails daily asking for recommendations and specifics. Lastly, if you call in make sure you get past the secretary and talk to the actual officer.
It seems everyone has a different hunting podcast they follow. Remi Warren’s Cutting the Distance Ep. 81 and 82 cover applying for big game in each of the western states. Another awesome one to follow is the Hunt Backcountry. Ep. 269 features Jerrod Lile of Huntin Fool and gives honest advice for beginners.
Just take it one state and one year at a time. I have built up a couple points in Colorado over the last couple years and I’ll do it again this year. I will also likely get one in Idaho. It’s overwhelming to begin, so start small.