Hunting, planning, and the economy

Big Fin

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Reading a lot of the threads about "is state XYZ worth building points or applying" is what has caused me to try put my thoughts into a cogent message. This interest in multi-state apps makes me think back to when I started doing this multi-state gig decades ago and the upheaval created in 2008.

I started applying in multiple states in 1995. As the economy picked up in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the interest in western hunting and multi-state applications picked up. In 1996 a CPA client who was a sheep guide introduced me to a guy from Utah who was starting a business that would cater specifically to folks interested in multi-state hunting. I signed up for the newsletter, though I passed on his application services, feeling my spreadsheet skills were sufficient to analyze the odds. I secretly thought this guy was crazy to build a business model on multi-state hunting and nobody would leave their application process in the hands of a stranger. Given the success Huntin' Fool had, I was the fool to doubt what a good economy could do to interest in multi-state non-resident hunting.

As 2008 started and application season was underway, things seem to be golden, almost too good. "The market only goes up," or so was the attitude of the day. I remember hearing CPA clients who leveraged their homes for investment property claim, "Nobody ever loses money on real estate." Along came October 2008. A kick in the groin for those not prepared for such. And throughout the west a drop in non-resident hunting applications followed in 2009 through 2013.

For those sitting on some cash and points, this financial turmoil was "the good old days" for a multi-state western hunter. It stayed that way for another three or four years before the economy started to show signs of recovery. I know quite a few Hunt Talkers who were prepared and ended up being able to take advantage of that situation.

Some new to the tag/point game might think this is crazy, but I was picking up Wyoming Region H deer as a left over. I drew many Wyoming pronghorn as 2nd choice that now require 4+ points. Competition for Nevada tags was far less as California neighbors scrambled to keep the foreclosure agents at bay. Point creep that had developed for Colorado's best deer tags flattened out for a few years. Wyoming elk was almost a guarantee if one was not too picky. Combined with a price increase to non-residents, Montana was not selling out the non-resident combo tags. The same scenario was repeated across most western states.

That brings me to wonder what will happen the next time the economy slows, and it surely will; just a function of degrees. When it slows, those sitting on points and cash will be in a situation to take advantage of the disruption. There will be some states/species that will seem immune to such, given the investment many have made in some states. Example being CO elk, for which point creep didn't seem to slow down even during the last recession. I attribute that to CO being one of the first states to have a point system and attracting many "early adopters," the appeal that elk has, and what little investment CO required to continue building points at that time. But, that was the exception to the general rule of soft demand for most states/species.

I learned a few things from that "point market cycle." Multi-state non-resident hunting interest has it ebbs and flows and is a function of discretionary budgets in most households. There are always a few that have hunting as their highest priority and will cut other budget line items before cutting their hunting budgets. I've learned that what I am investing in today for points is not always with a focus on the "state of the market" today, but also a function of what I think the future holds.

Point systems will change. The value derived from your prior investment might not be as good as you expected a few years down the road. It is why I left a lot of points on the table in Oregon after their last big price increase and their reduction in NR tag quotas. It is why I left Wyoming moose and sheep when they increased point costs and have since raised them again.

With time and priority, I've built a very generous budget for hunting applications, at the expense of other household budgets. But, I still look at what is the best value for my investment. Value is what I see as the returns for today, but also when the financial market adjusts in the next few years, as most predict it will. I will bail on Utah once I burn my antelope and general deer points. Now starting at the bottom of the elk/deer point pile there is just not enough value there when considering what interests me and what I can do elsewhere with that money. I'll probably buy more raffle tickets for sheep hunts and feel I get a better return, given my age and my desire to hunt a Desert or Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep before I'm too old. Someone in a different situation of finances or interest would make a different assessment of value than I would. Some with a different interest would maybe keep Utah and drop a different state.

Some might think I have little discretion when it comes to tags and applications, due to what we need for our video content. I surely do, as this endeavor gets funded by my own money when the budgets are bigger than the bank account. I provide my priority below that reflects what I want to hunt and states that offer value for the things that interest me. The states that do not provide much value have been, or will be, dropped and money reallocated to things I find more appealing. I made this priority list a long time ago when I realized I had more hunting interest than I had money. I am glad I did, as it allowed me to focus on what I really wanted and within the confines of my budget. And now looking back, I realize this process allowed me to accomplish a lot of what my goals were.


1. Home state (Montana) - No brainer, given the low cost and points invested.
2. Wyoming - For what I like to do (antelope and elk), Wyoming is a great value and can be done ala carte, without having to buy a non-refundable non-resident license.
3. Arizona - Given my pleasure of quail and archery Coues deer, I will always buy the NR license, so it only make sense to continue applying for all other species.
4. Colorado - I continue to build deer and elk points, though I bailed on antelope once I burned my last pronghorn points in 2004. Never got in the moose/goat/sheep gig here and probably never will.
5. Nevada - If I'm going to hunt mule deer, I enjoy it most when I hunt with a bow. Nevada is a great investment for that option and low cost for adding on the other species if my lucky number comes up.

6. Utah - Soon to be in my rearview mirror
7. Iowa - Have way too many points and someday need to burn them. When I do, I won't be applying again.
8. Kansas - Enjoyed my hunts there, but given the whitetail hunting I can find in MT, WY, and someday in ID, this is not a good investment of my money.
9. Oregon - already bailed on this one
10. California - Never started, as no time in my life has it looked like a good investment


Alaska, New Mexico, and Idaho don't really represent long-term investments, as they have no point system. I look at them as buying expensive raffle tickets after paying the "cover charge" of a non-refundable non-resident license. I can make a choice about them each year, with no lasting benefit/consequences.


If I had one bit of advice, I would be to keep building points in states where it make sense for both your interest and your budget. Don't throw money at states that don't represent value for what you want to do. I would also be hoarding some cash in an account that is off-limits for anything other than hunting, rather than invest in points in states where one has a marginal interest. The next economic downturn will create opportunities in the "hunting market" and such will be significant for those who are prepared. The advantage goes to those who are prepared.

And back to the reason I started this dissertation - when you ask "Is state XYZ a good investment," only you can answer that question. There is no correct answer from others, as the answer is too dependent upon your personal hunting interests and your budget, both of which will change over time due to your own hunting desires and the economic situation of the times.

Sorry for the ramble. Time to start on a few tax projects and replenish the hunting budget.
 
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wllm1313

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Great food for thought!

The trend you mentioned is indeed interesting...

CO total deer hunters all manners of take 2007: 98,283
CO total deer hunters all manners of take 2009: 78,536
CO total deer hunters all manners of take 2018: 88,185
 

Mtnhuntr

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Excellent insight for those of us who have not been in the game as long.
 

JLS

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Ha! A friend of mine last spring said "what our drawing odds need is a good old fashion recession".
He’s somewhat correct, but I think even that will be markedly different than the past. Exposure to and marketing of western hunting has been incredibly successful. I love seeing people participate in the use of their public lands and the wildlife on it, but that never ending promotion also comes with hidden costs as well.
 

VikingsGuy

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I wonder what the age curve looks like in some of these states and whether that too will take off some of the top end. By way of loose example, I am in the process of joining a local long range shooting club (may seem dime a dozen to those in the west, but in the whole state of MN there are only 2 ranges over 600yds). That club had 2-3 year waiting list for many years - this year they are actually undersubscribed - when talking to some members about this shift, they remarked that a lot of long standing members born in the 1930s and 1940s dropped out this year. It was not an economy thing, it was an age thing. It will be interesting to see if big batches of those top point holders “age out” before burning.
 

Big Fin

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I wonder what the age curve looks like in some of these states and whether that too will take off some of the top end. By way of loose example, I am in the process of joining a local long range shooting club (may seem dime a dozen to those in the west, but in the whole state of MN there are only 2 ranges over 600yds). That club had 2-3 year waiting list for many years - this year they are actually undersubscribed - when talking to some members about this shift, they remarked that a lot of long standing members born in the 1930s and 1940s dropped out this year. It was not an economy thing, it was an age thing. It will be interesting to see if big batches of those top point holders “age out” before burning.
That will be an interesting dynamic to follow. If you look a the age curve of the hunting community in general, you will see that the bell curve is more of a wave, with the wave cresting out on the older end of the age line. If many do "age out," that will be of benefit to those younger folks who have made hunting a priority in their budgeting and investments.
 

MT_elk

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Great write up Randy. Thanks for putting down your thoughts on this subject.
 

neffa3

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I wonder what the age curve looks like in some of these states and whether that too will take off some of the top end. By way of loose example, I am in the process of joining a local long range shooting club (may seem dime a dozen to those in the west, but in the whole state of MN there are only 2 ranges over 600yds). That club had 2-3 year waiting list for many years - this year they are actually undersubscribed - when talking to some members about this shift, they remarked that a lot of long standing members born in the 1930s and 1940s dropped out this year. It was not an economy thing, it was an age thing. It will be interesting to see if big batches of those top point holders “age out” before burning.
Every close friend/family I know that hunts out of state are under 40. Instead of buying "X" as there disposable income increases, they choose to hunt.
 

wllm1313

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Every close friend/family I know that hunts out of state are under 40. Instead of buying "X" as there disposable income increases, they choose to hunt.
Kinda on the flip side of that I see lots of GenX'ers leaving Colorado. Tired of the cost, tired of the traffic, they had their fun during their 20s and 30s and now they want to raise their kids near their folks and have a house.

I'm curious to see how many of the millennial out of state hunter's stick with it after they have kids.
 

VikingsGuy

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Kinda on the flip side of that I see lots of GenX'ers leaving Colorado. Tired of the cost, tired of the traffic, they had their fun during their 20s and 30s and now they want to raise their kids near their folks and have a house.

I'm curious to see how many of the millennial out of state hunter's stick with it after they have kids.
Ahhh, kids - where hipster dreams and ideology go to die :)
 

Dsnow9

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Kinda on the flip side of that I see lots of GenX'ers leaving Colorado. Tired of the cost, tired of the traffic, they had their fun during their 20s and 30s and now they want to raise their kids near their folks and have a house.

I'm curious to see how many of the millennial out of state hunter's stick with it after they have kids.
With the Colorado cost of living on the steep increase and the average salary not on that same trajectory you have a point. I have had many friends and family move out of state in order to raise a family.
 

rjthehunter

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That will be an interesting dynamic to follow. If you look a the age curve of the hunting community in general, you will see that the bell curve is more of a wave, with the wave cresting out on the older end of the age line. If many do "age out," that will be of benefit to those younger folks who have made hunting a priority in their budgeting and investments.
This opens my eyes a little more to the points game. I was so on the fence of whether or not I should even bother trying to build points in certain states or if I should just focus my time and money on general and otc tags. Having 0 preference points to my name in any state I struggle to see it ever paying off for me. All of that being said, if all these max point holders are no longer able to physically do these hunts it may be worth it. While I plan on living in the midwest for the foreseeable future, I still want to go west to hunt. Maybe I'll have to start building some points in your mentioned states that are worth it.

One goal of mine is to complete the Grand slam on north american sheep like my grandpa has done. As it's looking now, it's going to be an expensive road to travel being forced to have to go guided everywhere possible. Then just hope someday I can draw any needed tags...
 

BuzzH

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This opens my eyes a little more to the points game. I was so on the fence of whether or not I should even bother trying to build points in certain states or if I should just focus my time and money on general and otc tags. Having 0 preference points to my name in any state I struggle to see it ever paying off for me. All of that being said, if all these max point holders are no longer able to physically do these hunts it may be worth it. While I plan on living in the midwest for the foreseeable future, I still want to go west to hunt. Maybe I'll have to start building some points in your mentioned states that are worth it.

One goal of mine is to complete the Grand slam on north american sheep like my grandpa has done. As it's looking now, it's going to be an expensive road to travel being forced to have to go guided everywhere possible. Then just hope someday I can draw any needed tags...
Tall task, you better have a good job.

I would guess, if you get lucky and never have to repeat a hunt and just buy hunts....18-20K for dall sheep, 55-60K for desert sheep, 45-50K for bighorns, and probably 40K for stone. I haven't really looked much in the last couple years, but I think all those prices would be pretty good.

Throw in some travel costs...maybe another 10-15K.

I don't know if it could be done these days, just buying hunts, for much under 200K.
 

rjthehunter

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Tall task, you better have a good job.

I would guess, if you get lucky and never have to repeat a hunt and just buy hunts....18-20K for dall sheep, 55-60K for desert sheep, 45-50K for bighorns, and probably 40K for stone. I haven't really looked much in the last couple years, but I think all those prices would be pretty good.

Throw in some travel costs...maybe another 10-15K.

I don't know if it could be done these days, just buying hunts, for much under 200K.
Dall sheep won't be quite as much. I have some family up there that can be my resident guide. As far as the rest, it'll be expensive or I need to get really lucky...
 

oswald2581

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Great food for thought!

The trend you mentioned is indeed interesting...

CO total deer hunters all manners of take 2007: 98,283
CO total deer hunters all manners of take 2009: 78,536
CO total deer hunters all manners of take 2018: 88,185
Colorado has also cut deer tags since 2007, see below comparison in tag quota vs application. I had to throw 2018 in there to show how much the applications jumped up due to Colorado changing the application pricing.

1580241432040.png
 

3855WIN

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Big Fin, basically the same age and started building points and following HF around the same time and have dropped most of the states you’ve dropped.
The only advice I’ll add, and one that you’ve touched on in other places, is to make hunts with family.
 
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