As most people who currently live in the Western U.S. can attest, the 2016-2017 winter has been brutally cold accompanied with tremendous amounts of snow. If you are a skier or snowboarder, this is a dream season in most areas with epic powder to enjoy. However, if you are an ungulate trying to dig through deep snow and survive extremely cold temperatures while being chased by wolves and other predators, you are wishing you could sprout wings and fly south for the winter. Refer to the diagram at the side of this blog for 2017 Mountain Snowpack and you will see what I mean. Montana has lower than average snow depths but has recorded the coldest winter in almost 40 years. As a result of this uncommon snow and frigid temps, many Western States have either banned or strongly advised against shed horn collection as a result of the weather until early spring in order to alleviate the major stress most wildlife are already experiencing. This includes a statewide ban by the State of Utah until March 31. This is a great initiative by the State Wildlife Agencies to reduce the amount of stress on all wildlife during this difficult winter. Unfortunately this means a lot of avid shed hunters will have to wait until late March or April to start hunting for drop tines.
What does this all mean for hunters with a major collection of bonus or preference points going into the 2017 application season? Well you could finally score your once-in-a-lifetime tag and be disappointed with horn growth and the number of healthy mature animals available this coming hunting season. These types of winters take a major toll on animal populations in addition to the increasing pressure of rapidly expanding predators like wolves and grizzly bears. It may be a bit early to tell if the winter has had a major effect on animals but according to a few sources, some species in certain areas are already experiencing major die offs. The coming few months will be critical to stabilize the herd population and be a productive fawn and calf season.
What is the difference between bonus and preference points? Think of bonus points and just more chances in the hat to draw a tag. If you have been applying in Utah or Arizona for 12 years, in the bonus point pass, your name goes into the lottery 12 times (plus current application) with more chances or odds to draw that tag. In the preference point system, tags are issued beginning with the applicants with the highest number of preference points first. Thus giving applicants with more preference points preferrential treatment over those with fewer preference points. Some states have both bonus and preference point systems and also a modified preference point system. Every year, different states change up the their systems to enable the odds in the applicants favor. Similar to the change Arizona made in 2016 with splitting the 10% non resident quota to allow 5% in the bonus pass round and 5% to a random draw. This does not help the applicant who has applied for 20 years, but does help the guy who has 3 points to statistically draw a trophy unit tag. The bottom line is, it can be complicated but everyone should be accumulating points in the Western states for big game. Be mindful, there are states like Idaho, New Mexico, and Alaska that do not have either point system and my odds are as good as your odds for drawing a tag. Hence, why this makes a state like Idaho a great state to apply for "Once in a Lifetime" type permits... Just saying :-)
In my opinion, you are better off putting in for tags when you can draw them than waiting for that once-in-a-lifetime permit that may never produce the high quality buck or bull you have been waiting 10+ years for. Start dumping your points and get out there and hunt. We have friends at RnA Outdoors where this perception became reality. They applied for 18+ years to draw a tag and due to weather, predators, habitat destruction or a number of other causes, they were deeply disappointed in the quality of animals available once they did finally draw the tag. Quit holding onto your points as you could have hunted a high quality area twice by the time you draw one tag in that impossible draw area.
With that said, maybe 2017 could be one of those disappointing years. Don’t get me wrong, there are always quality animals available but unless you are willing to put in the extra effort to find one, this might be a disappointing year for people that utilize all their coveted points on an area that requires 15+ points to draw. Good luck on your adventures and continue to follow us for more information on the 2017 application season. You can email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or just want to kick around some ideas and talk hunting.