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Unsuccessful - Didn't Draw a Tag? Now What?

 hi70-md-pkendall-02The most dreaded word of the spring. Draw results are starting to roll in from across the western mule deer states. Mule deer hunters are obsessively checking their email inboxes to see if they got lucky and drew the mule deer hunt of their dreams. Odds are, you’re not going to find yourself as one of the lucky few to have an Arizona Strip or a Henry Mountain deer tag in your pocket. Pretty good odds you might not even find yourself with a Wyoming Region G, or any other number of popular deer tags in your pocket. If you’re really unlucky, you didn’t even draw a deer tag for one of the many Utah general deer units. Sometimes life just isn’t fair! Hopefully you’re a savvy hunter and you have a backup plan. Landowner tags are always a good way to guarantee a hunt if you have the means to afford them. Colorado, Utah, and Nevada seem to offer the best options for guys willing to spend some money on a guaranteed tag.

Colorado offers a number of landowner tag options—from unit-wide to private-land-only. Landowner vouchers have to be purchased directly from the landowners in Colorado. Do your homework before purchasing a voucher in Colorado. Ranching for Wildlife (RFW) hunts in Colorado offer another option, but most of these hunts will require using an outfitter.

Similar to Colorado’s RFW program, Utah’s Cooperative Wildlife Management Unit (CWMU) program gives hunters an opportunity to purchase mule deer tags on some of the best private grounds in the beehive state. Utah also offers more “conservation” tags than all the western states combined. These tags are good, unit-wide, on some of the best mule deer units in the world—just as if you had beat the odds and drawn. The majority of these tags will have been sold by now and are not in the budget of most hunters.

Nevada offers unit-wide landowner tags as well. Unique to Nevada is a hunter-friendly regulation that allows hunters to hunt all open seasons for that unit until they fill their tag. If you have a lot of vacation time, are single, or have a very understanding spouse, Nevada might be your best option for a couple of months in the field looking for that one special buck. But wait, Nevada allows you to purchase as many landowner vouchers as you can find or afford, so you can hunt and hunt and hunt. For the most part, Nevada’s deer tags are priced on the high side for the quality of the deer; but they err on the extreme high side for the quantity of hunting opportunities they offer.

Over-the-counter tags (OTC) were once available pretty much everywhere for resident and nonresident hunters. But no more. OTC tags for most nonresident hunters are now just a distant memory and a passing memory for residents of some western states as well.

Idaho offers the best OTC opportunities for nonresident mule deer hunters. Hunters willing to do their homework can still find some great bucks and ample hunting opportunities. Arizona offers quite a few decent OTC options for nonresident archery hunters. Pretty hard to beat chasing rutting mule deer in the beautiful state of Arizona when most other western states are buried under a cold, white blanket of snow.

Generally, “leftover” tags are left over for a reason, but some great deer are killed every year with leftover tags, wherever they can be found. With some homework you might find a secret spot on a leftover tag that can produce some good hunting for years to come. There’s a lot to be said for sticking to an area and learning it, while waiting for a dream draw tag, or saving your pennies for landowner-type tag.

Successful in the Draw? Now what? After months of anticipation and driving your spouses, friends, and coworkers crazy, you finally get the email of all emails. Maybe you’re as obsessed as we are. You’ve checked your credit card for pending charges, spent countless hours on  hunting forums just waiting for the rumors to start, tried every “back door” method known to man—just short of illegally hacking your way into the draw results (you know who you are, and so do they). Hey, we understand!

Be Prepared

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail,” Benjamin Franklin.

Opening day is going to be here before you know it. Don’t start preparing tomorrow. Start preparing right now. Think you’re in shape? Think again—Prepare to get high—especially in Colorado. Altitude affects everyone. Give yourself a day or two prior to your hunt to acclimate whenever possible.

Practice Makes Perfect

“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect,” Vince Lombardi.

You’ve applied for years, you saved for years, you’ve dreamed for years, the shot presents itself and you MISS! Don’t just sit there (on the shooting bench)! Shoot! Shooting from a bench is great for groups, but once you get dialed in, mix it up. Think you can hit the bull’s-eye off-hand at 100 yards? What about shooting 300 yards prone, off of your backpack? It’s time to start practicing—off of your bipod and shooting sticks. Try to simulate hunting situations regardless of your weapon.

Equipment? Check

You finally drew that 102 deer tag in Wyoming, or a fourth-season mule deer tag in Colorado. If you have a spouse, you now have an automatic “hall-pass” to upgrade your equipment. Take inventory on what you currently have and what you may need to make your hunt more successful.

This is supposed to be fun! Enjoy it-

Sounds simple enough right? But for many hunters this is the hardest thing to do. Enjoy it! Some tags come with heavy pressures that we put on ourselves. They may take years to draw. Many are literally “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunities, only drawn after decades of applying. Not only are you financially invested, but emotionally invested as well. Enjoy the journey and the little things along the way—from scouting, to looking at maps, to meeting people, and experiencing new places. Slow down and appreciate the entire experience. Take a lot of pictures. Taking pictures forces you to look for the things that make hunts memorable. Even if a tag goes unpunched, pictures will always be a trophy to share with others long after the fall hunting season. Did I mention—take a lot of pictures!

Be realistic. Even the best tags in the West don’t guarantee you’ll have a taxidermy bill. If you’re hunting an area that hasn’t produced 200” muleys since 1982, you may want to think twice about passing up that 180” buck.

Good luck-

“I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it,” Thomas Jefferson.

The mountains and open spaces of the West are calling. It’s time to go mule deer hunting.