Maximizing Draw Strategies for the Bowhunter | 21st Century Tips and Tactics
By Dan Pickar
Drawing a tag in an area with excellent trophy potential is becoming harder and harder in the 21st century. It seems it is becoming a once-in-a-lifetime endeavor with the ever-growing population of hunters and desire for trophy animals. It has become very difficult for the average guy to harvest a trophy class animal on public land, but don’t let this be discouraging. With modern technology, there is more research and information out there than ever and a lot of the work is already done for you. Knowing this, you can apply for and draw a good quality area and still have a great chance of bringing home a great trophy. With some research and a lot of hard work, a DIY public land hunter can kill a giant without breaking the bank. I’m going to touch on some techniques that will increase your odds of drawing a tag for an area where you will have a chance to take a trophy-class animal.
Being a bowhunter opens up a multitude of opportunities. Thankfully, most western states are very bowhunter-friendly. For the most part, tags are easier to come by and seasons are liberal. With all the information out there, it can be hard to decipher data and make a good choice of where to apply. Let’s start out with the MRS sections in EHJ/EBJ and TagHub, your best research tools to use as a starting point.
The effort the writers go through to gather statistics, talk to biologists and organize data in an easy-to-read format is without equal. You will find information about hunter harvest, trophy quality, draw odds, population statistics, unit trends and the list goes on. This will give you all the tools you need to draw a tag for a quality hunt.
For example, one of my goals is to hunt and harvest a trophy bull elk in Wyoming every year. I look at the MRS for Wyoming elk in the December-January issue of Eastmans’ Hunting Journal or pull up TagHub. I want to hunt in an area with an opportunity at a trophy bull, but I don’t want to wait 8+ years to do it. In most western states, the nonresident is going to need a few points to draw decent tags. The key is to start building points now. Most western states have the option of just buying a point if you are not hunting that year. In this article, I am going to focus on applying for areas that take 2-4 preference points to draw.
There are a few different types of seasons Wyoming offers. I’m a bowhunter, so I am going to look at the archery-only areas (Type 9). As I run my fingers through the charts, I am looking for a limited area with “good” trophy potential. Generally, you will find these areas are easier to draw. Just because your area doesn’t have “excellent” trophy potential, does not mean there aren’t giants roaming the unit. Odds are there will be plenty of mature trophy animals in your unit – it is just a matter of finding them. As Guy points out in the Wyoming MRS, there are a couple cases of archery and rifle seasons overlapping. Make sure these Type 9 licenses don’t overlap with any of the general seasons.
I am also going to pick a unit that has good public access and moderate to rough terrain, which generally means fewer hunters. Does the terrain in one unit match my hunting style better than the other? Do I have private access? These are additional things I consider before I apply. Statistics are also vital pieces of information that will ultimately decide whether or not you will be hunting a limited entry permit this fall.
When looking through the MRS section, some stats to consider about your unit are population trends, draw odds, tag allocation trends and success rates. Success rates are the first stat I look at. Are people killing elk in my unit? Success rates for elk in the 20% range are what I’m looking for in Wyoming because that’s about the average. If the average hunter is punching his tag in the unit, I probably have a good chance of coming home with an elk because I know I’m going to hunt harder than the average guy. After gathering all this information, the options should be narrowed down to a couple units.
The beauty of scouting in the 21st century is being able to use digital mapping tools like Google Earth, onX Hunt or BaseMap. These are tools I go to before I make my final decision of where to apply. This gives me an exact idea of the terrain I am dealing with. Consider your style of hunting when you look at aerial imagery. Do you like to hunt foothills and flats or the more strenuous high country at treeline? The first things I look for are access points into my unit. Then, where do the animals live? Where do they winter? Where do they summer? Once you have an area picked out, look at terrain, elevation relief and find vantage points.
Personally, I like to hunt the high country where I have the best visibility. When I scout and hunt a new area I find it very important to get on the best vantage point I can find so I can look over as much country as possible. For me, this is a priority.
When hunting an area that is easy to draw, it is generally going to have more hunters and be a little more difficult of an area to hunt. Prepare yourself. Get into shape and learn the behavior and habits of the type of animal you are hunting. Get away from roads. For most nonresident DIY hunters it’s going to be difficult to scout because generally your hunt area is going to be far from home. Call Game and Fish and talk to biologists. Again, you can’t look at Google Earth too much, as this is an easy way to find starting points on where to begin your footwork.
As a last resort, plan for a backup hunt if you don’t draw your first choice. Over-the-counter tags offered to nonresidents are something that should not be overlooked. Although they tend to be limited, there are great over-the-counter units all over the West. For example, Idaho has nonresident OTC deer and elk tags available for general areas. It takes a little more time and effort, but great hunting can be found in these areas. Eastmans’ staff writer Jordan Breshears found an OTC spot in Idaho that has some of the best elk hunting I’ve ever seen on public land. After applying several of the techniques mentioned above, he found a spot where elk were very abundant. As a nonresident, he took a great bull on public land with his bow on camera for Eastmans’ Hunting TV.
Once again, the biggest hurdle for the DIY hunter is drawing great tags for areas that are better than average, every year. Start buying points now! This will allow you to plan a future hunt a little easier when you know you’re going to draw. Get into the routine of applying these draw strategies to a handful of western states each year. Focus on areas that you can draw with 2-4 points. Once you start drawing these areas, put in the time. Research your unit. And hunt hard.