Annual better luck next year Wyoming antelope post

bts09

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Aug 9, 2017
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271
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Texas
I’m hoping all of you drew the tags you wanted. But for those of us that didn’t, I’m trying to offer a discussion that doesn’t sound like “the sky is falling” or “woe is me” or “close the borders to all non-residents.”

So yeah, point creep was real. And man, it jumped this year in ways that I don’t really think any single factor can explain.

Let’s take a marginal unit and look what the past 6 years have done. Unit 16. Bad access. Overrun with orange. Not a trophy unit in any sense. The sort of unit you used to select as a second or third choice just to hunt something in case you struck out on your first choice.

In 2016, for non-residents, there were 135 tags: 0 first choice, 93 second choice, 17 third choice. So everyone who applied got the tag.​
In 2017, for non-residents, there were 133 tags: 0 first choice, 105 second choice, 49 third choice. So everyone who applied as second choice got it, and most of the third choice, too.​
In 2018, for non-residents, there were 129 tags: 0 first choice, 114 second choice, 87 third choice. So still a 100% second choice unit.​
In 2019, for non-residents, there were 128 tags: 0 first choice, 229 second choice, 148 third choice. So for the first time, it was no longer a 100% unit in the second choice category (but obviously 100% in the first choice).​
In 2020, for non-residents, there were 120 tags: 72 first choice, 173 second choice, 137 third choice. So still, as always had been, a 100% in the first choice, but now, pretty slim odds as second choice.​
In 2021, for non-residents, there were 62 tags: 318 first choice, 204 second choice, 171 third choice. So, that’s pretty remarkable—in one year, it went from a 100% first choice to a 19% first choice (and even if it had been allocated the “normal” 130 tags, it would still have only been a 41% first choice).​

So in 6 years, a unit goes from literally every single person applying being able to get a tag to a 19% non-resident draw odds unit.

To me, there are probably 4 factors at work here.

First, the covid hangover. People want to get out and about. Combine that with having more money (for those of us that were fortunate enough to keep our jobs) and not having spent any on vacations, and it makes for a compelling hunting case.

Two, the headwinds that things might change soon in Wyoming for the worse for non-residents. Tags might be fewer and more expensive, so burn those points, etc.

Three, yeah, western hunting is getting more popular. Though I continue to believe the overall numbers of hunters is not really going up. Instead, people who maybe before were content just to hunt in their state have now learned how to apply in half a dozen.

And four, there were A LOT fewer tags this year in Wyoming. So even if applications were stagnant, it would have taken more points to guarantee a unit (probably).

But like a lot of you have pointed out before, there are still winners in the point-creep world. Concrete example. Look at unit 69 in the special draw. Last year, as a non-resident, you had a snowball’s chance in hell of drawing that unit with no points, even paying the special price—4.8%. But this year, if you were willing to pony up the $600 or so, 37.5%--3 of the 8 that applied. I’m certain that’s because people looked at the odds from last year and thought better of applying there. Those three folks are winners in the point-creep world.

My sense is that one thing that a lot of non-residents are really upset about is the loss (or perceived loss) of the ability to build points to go after a trophy unit while still being able to snag a second-choice buck tag. And at least for non-residents, that is pretty much gone—as in, gone are the days that you could apply for one of the primo units as a first choice, then an OK unit as a second choice, and still be guaranteed to draw that second choice unit so that you could hunt bucks while continuing to add on a preference point each year. (16 was one of those “safe” second-choice units for non-residents for a time.) And residents are no doubt feeling the same squeeze, just without points—fewer and fewer “safe” second-choice units means you might have to apply as a first choice in a less than primo unit.

But if that’s one of the reasons so many people are apoplectic about the current state of affairs, maybe the answer is just to reset (or adjust) expectations. I mean, the old state of affairs, where you could guarantee yourself a buck tag for $350 as a non-resident while gaining a point each year could be seen as too good to be true. In other words, maybe instead of bemoaning the loss of that, we celebrate the fact that it once existed.

It is still very much true that anyone can hunt a buck or doe antelope in Wyoming every year. That’s just a fact. Now, the units you have to choose from get fewer and fewer, the price you have to pay gets higher and higher, and you might have to resign yourself to picking a marginal unit from the get-go. But again, perhaps some of us (me included) have been coming at this from an unreasonable starting point. If my starting point is that for $34 I should be able to shoot two does in a primo, easily-accessed Wyoming unit each year, then yeah, I’m willing to admit my expectations might have been set unreasonably high.

And yes, I agree with what so many others on here have posted. I don’t want hunting to get so expensive that it’s only a rich person’s pursuit. I want states that are rich in federal land to balance their interests in managing their wildlife with the interests of the rest of tax-paying Americans to use the federal lands to pursue that game. I want to see an end to the practice of private landowners land-locking state and federal lands so that they’re inaccessible unless you own a helicopter. And yes, of course we should continue to try to grow the resource itself instead of only focusing on the dream tags. But all of those are conversations for another day. For today, I’m just trying to keep what I believe to be a healthy perspective about how many hunting opportunities we all still have.

I’ll be chasing antelope this year in Wyoming—it won’t be a buck, and that’s ok with me. I’ll be outdoors, I’ll be with friends, and I’ll have a great time. I wish the rest of you success in your hunting pursuits this year however you define that.
 

RobertD

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Jul 16, 2020
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Southwest Georgia (GA)
Excellent post both in the even-tempered perspective you offer and the illustrative data you provide. This was a perfect read posted right in time for my lunch break :)

It's a very interesting topic to me. In fact, of all states and species, Wyoming pronghorn probably interest me the most. One thing I'll add is that of the four reasons you listed, I kinda subdivide them into pairs, where two are state and species specific and two are Western hunting specific. I think reasons one is an accelerant to reason three, and together they represent the cause for the general increase in demand for tags everywhere.

Reasons two and four have a lot to do with why a unit like the one you outlined saw such a massive spike this year. And man did it ever.

So where does that leave would-be Wyoming pronghorn hunters? I think the advice you offered is sound and very useful. Can't let this stuff become something that's too stressful in life - it's supposed to be fun, after all.

But I still feel the sting too. I've been building points, waiting to be through with school to actually put in for a tag. The points have not given me an advantage or even kept me in line with the rest of the pack. They've really just slowed down the rate at which I've been left behind!

When stuff like that happens, you really don't have a choice but to keep a positive attitude and adjust expectations.

So that's what I'll advocate for, along with encouraging everyone I can to use their anger at lost opportunity to fuel increased opportunity by devoting time, money or other resources to actually improving the habitat and gaining opportunity that way. The other side of "getting a tag" can be doing what I can to make sure there's an animal out there to put that tag on. (This includes biting the bullet and paying the increased fees that will soon be introduced!)

All in all, it really isn't the three-alarm fire that some make it out to be. And maybe when all those guys quit applying the odds will improve for those of us that stick it out.

Thanks again for a great post and for sharing the research you did with us.
 

Wildabeast

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Mar 11, 2020
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NC / UT / WY
But if that’s one of the reasons so many people are apoplectic about the current state of affairs, maybe the answer is just to reset (or adjust) expectations. I mean, the old state of affairs, where you could guarantee yourself a buck tag for $350 as a non-resident while gaining a point each year could be seen as too good to be true. In other words, maybe instead of bemoaning the loss of that, we celebrate the fact that it once existed.
A lot of wisdom right there!
 

BuzzH

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Jan 9, 2001
Messages
13,073
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Laramie, WY
I get the frustration but it's simply a function of too many having it too good for too long in particular non residents.

So you have to wait a couple years to draw. Nobody seems to care of complain that they have to wait in line multiple decades in some states for pronghorn tags, deer tags, etc.

Can someone shed some tears because I have 21 points for pronghorn in arizona? How about 22 points for utah deer...I'm outraged! 15 for pronghorn, elk, and deer in nevada...anybody have a kleenex, I'm about to start crying...

Things change I can't draw the area I used to on a second choice anymore and I live here...

It happens no use whimpering about it.
 

bts09

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Aug 9, 2017
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Texas
But I still feel the sting too. I've been building points, waiting to be through with school to actually put in for a tag. The points have not given me an advantage or even kept me in line with the rest of the pack. They've really just slowed down the rate at which I've been left behind!
Look, it's a tough call. There's a reason so many guys are getting out of the points game. And I completely get it. For my money, burn the points on the best unit you can reasonably get with them, and start over applying for a reasonable first choice unit each year. You're not getting younger, and those points (as you note) aren't getting more valuable...
 

.270Rem

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May 27, 2018
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172
Location
Northern VA
I failed to draw either doe tag I applied for and and I will survive. A good friend applied for the first time and got his buck tag so I will be showing him what we have learned and hopefully keeping him from shooting the first buck we see. He backed out one year with his Dad sick, then missed the following year when he lost his Father, and then this thing called COVID arrived and he stayed home again.

Another close friend and his 90 year old Father have several doe antelope tags and a cow elk tag that we will be trying in Wyoming for the first time. It ought to be worth the drive and if I do any shooting it will be at a prairie dog town hopefully.

I made my first trip in 2015 and wish I had applied sooner and for more doe tags. We have had a lot of adventures in the years since and have bounced between Casper, Gillette, and Buffalo and had reasonable success in most areas. You mentioned 16, bts, and we tried it one year and sorted out a few spots worth exploring. I shot my buck with a rifle I inherited from a childhood friend who passed away that year and while it was a short stalk, using that Ruger was pretty cool.

Even though I haven't hunted 16 since I have watched the odds and considered it for a backup several times. And I can't imagine people burning points to jump through the hurdles in that unit. With reduced quotas and more applicants I don't see a big change until the herds rebound to compensate for some of that new demand. I know, that's really clever, Capt. Obvious, but in just the few years I have wandered the sage I have shared my memories and venison with folks, many of them increased their interest in antelope. It's a hunt well within reach for the average person with great potential to fill tags in an awesome landscape, and then you remember that's kinda what got you off the bench to try it in the first place.

Your last paragraph bts nailed the essence of why and what matters most. We will head West and enjoy the sunsets and make some new memories. And hey last year we tried Plan B and went to SD for birds which turned out great. So maybe you can find a good alternative and the tags we get in future seasons will be much sweeter.

Best of luck with the tags you drew everyone.
 

jrisler

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Feb 2, 2018
Messages
12
I have 4 points built up and my general plan has been to get a doe tag in ok to decent units to use that as an annual scouting trip to determine which unit to apply for once I have enough points to consider potential success. At least WY assigns 25% of the tag randomly regardless of points. Hunting two doe tags in 102 this fall. If anything it sounds like it will be a scenic trip.
 
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