I got some bad news last week. For the second year in a row I failed to draw a mule deer tag for western Wyoming. With two preference points to my credit, the odds were statistically in my favor, but the lottery gods didn't smile upon me. I was very disappointed, as I really thought this was the year I'd finally be able to go on the hunt that I've been planning, with a paid deposit in the outfitter's hands, for 3 years now. After a suitable period of mourning, I sat down to consider my options. If and when you find yourself in my shoes, here are your choices.
Take What You Can Get
|Be sure to get on an outfitter's waiting list just in case another hunter has cancelled. photo courtesy of The Hunting Consortium|
The area I'm applying for is in high demand, but that certainly isn't the case everywhere. Most big game draws for western States are either over now or will be soon. At that point, each respective state's game department will be left with some extra tags that weren't awarded because the quota was higher than the demand, particularly for muzzleloader or bow hunts. Contact the State you are interested in, but generally these leftovers become available over-the-counter on a first-come first-served basis. Some tags might be in areas bordering where you applied, or might be even better. Do some research and see what's available.
Get on an Outfitter's Waiting List
Many hunters prefer do-it-yourself hunts wherever possible, however, if you didn't draw a tag and you still want to hunt this year, using an outfitter that has tags is a good solution. Although many will be booked up by now, and few outfitters maintain a formal list of hunters potentially available to take a cancellation on short notice, many are happy to contact you, upon request, if the situation arises. Most outfitters will have last-minute cancellations each year, for a variety of reasons. If you have an outfitter that you'd like to hunt with, particularly one that's booked up years in advance, just ask to be notified whenever something becomes available.
Use a Booking Agent
Booking agents such as Jack Atcheson & Sons, the Hunting Consortium, Butch Manasse Outdoor Adventures or Adventures West Recreation each have a stable of quality outfitters that offer great hunts without having to draw a tag, and some will still have openings for this season.
Wait for Next Year
As they say, "there's always next year." Just make sure that you receive a preference point where applicable to ensure your odds will be better then. Such preference points aren't necessarily automatic if you're unsuccessful in the draw, so make sure you get one.