Herald Photo / Provided
ON THE HUNT  — The Golden State boasts six different species of deer.
Herald Photo / Provided ON THE HUNT — The Golden State boasts six different species of deer.
Man, the fall hunting seasons have just ended. Believe it or not, it’s already time to start thinking about next fall’s hunts, especially if you plan on applying for an out-of-state or draw tag. Many of the deadlines are fast-approaching, so forget spooling your ice fishing rods or practicing your turkey calls until you get in your application(s).

For many, western big game hunts are the stuff of dreams and are on most hunters’ bucket lists. But besides the work that must be done before and during the hunt to make sure you are prepared physically, there are also things to get done prior to going to ensure that you even have the opportunity in the first place.

Wyoming offers a species few can for hunters in the lower 48: moose. But drawing a tag can make you feel as if you are playing the lottery, with odds at little more than 4 percent for non-residents and slightly lower for residents. 

Arizona has monster elk, which are nearly impossible to draw a tag for, as well as desert bighorns and javelin, but it also has bison. Not the only state that does, but one of a very few. So, yeah, with that, I’d go bison hunting. It may take several years to get that tag, but it’s a bison hunt. In the meantime, go there to hunt some javelina. You can’t do that just anywhere, and it would be a hoot. 

Elk, deer, or antelope tags are your best bet in Utah. The odds are high for drawing a tag for any of these. Putting in bonus points for a mountain goat tag also is recommended for a chance at one of these unique hunts.

For a big mule deer, Montana is hard to beat. At a better than 50-percent chance of drawing a tag, be ready to pack if you apply. Although, at good odds of drawing an elk tag too, and with the possible new archery world record having recently coming from the state, elk isn’t a bad choice either.

New Mexico is a top destination for those seeking a trophy-class bull elk; Sixteen-percent of allotted tags are available to non-residents, but drawing one does not typically take too many years. The quality of the bulls makes it worth it. 

Colorado boasts the largest elk population in the country. While not the place to go for the best odds at a world-class bull, if elk meat is on your mind, it can’t be beat. Your odds of punching the easy to get tag is about 20-percent. Archery either-sex tags are also available over-the-counter. Another Colorado must-do that is almost a given to draw: pronghorn. 

With Nevada, I think of the desert bighorn sheep, a unique animal with limited availability due to the terrain in which it calls home. Odds of pulling a tag around 60 to 1. Only a lucky couple gets to hunt them each year, but with a 100-percent success rate, it’s a draw to put in for. 

Moose is your best bet in Idaho. With a 10- to 20-percent chance at a tag for non-residents, you will fare better than if you applied for elk, sheep, or bear. 

Spring bear would be my go-to in Oregon for a real shot at a hunt this year, and depending on which area you hunt determines your needing any preference points to draw a tag or not. The lure of Columbian white-tailed and black-tailed deer, along with Roosevelt elk, would be strong for me, meaning I would also start accumulating my points now. 

OK, regardless of the odds, I’d be trying to get in on a Roosevelt elk hunt in Washington. There is something about hunting a different species in the Pacific Northwest rainforest type of thing that interests me. Columbian white-tailed or black-tailed deer and bear are also good bets. 

Think deer here for your best odds of going. The Golden State boasts six different species of them in fact: The California mule deer, Rocky Mountain mule deer, feral mule deer, southern mule deer, Columbian black-tailed deer, and a cross between a black-tailed and a mule deer.  

Duh, no brainer here. If you are going to Kansas, you are probably seeking to hunt whitetails. It is not all that difficult to draw a tag in the state that once didn’t allow non-resident hunters. You have a 70-percent chance or so of scoring one. If it were me though, I’d go for turkeys, first off, because I love turkey hunting, but secondly, because parts of Kansas have both the eastern and Rio-Grande sub-species, as well as the hybrid mix between the two.

OK, here is the state that I should have said ‘duh’ on – more so than Kansas. Everyone knows that truly giant whitetails equal Iowa. It can take a few years to draw a tag here, but when you do, you know you’ll be hunting the greatest whitetail state there is.  

Drawing a western big game tag is not always easy, and sometimes it is depending on what species you are going after or in what units, but keeping track of the dates and deadlines – especially during a time when our minds are focused towards spring-time activities – can sometimes be the most difficult part. If you put in for multiple draws, it compounds.  

Mark your calendars and obtain all the necessary information to make sure you dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s to make sure you have the best chance possible of drawing your dream tag.

Big Game Chart by States

Deer, elk: Feb. 14, April 13
Deer, sheep, bison: June 13, July 19
Spring bison, javelin: Oct. 10, Nov. 21

All species: June 2, June 14

Sheep, goat: April 4, May 11
Deer, elk, moose, antelope: April 4, June 1

Moose, sheep, goat: April 30, May 18
Deer, elk, antelope: June 4, June 24

Whitetail: June 4, June 24 

N/R deer: April 28, May 13

Deer, elk: March 15, April 18
Moose, sheep, goat: May 1, June 13
Antelope: June 1, Aug. 1

All species: April 17, May 27
Mule deer, guided draw: March 10, March 26

New Mexico
All species: March 23, April 27

All species: May 15, June 16

All species: Feb. 28, March 2

All species: May 18, June 10

Elk: Jan. 31, Feb. 28
Moose, sheep, goat: Feb. 28, May 10
Deer, antelope: May 31, June 21

Note: Chart shows application deadline followed by draw results