What are your thoughts on big game draws?
Except for paying taxes, few things frustrate me more each
spring than participating in Western big game drawings. Judging by the
reaction of many Bowsite visitors, I’m not alone. My frustration is not
confined to Elk, Sheep, and Moose either, many deer states are making their
draws unnecessarily complicated and jacking up fees as well.
I realize game management can be complicated. I serve on a
board that oversees management in my home state. I am acutely aware of the
dynamics involved like politics, funding, skillsets, and the complexity of wildlife
biology. And I am not going to disparage any of the hardworking, decent people
who officiate these draws at the state level. I feel for them. This feature
is directed at the state politicians (and bureaucrats) who refuse to fund,
revamp, or even consider the complicated mess many of our big game draws have
become. Some of which haven’t changed since the eighties.
Before I get into it, I need to acknowledge there are variables
out of everyone’s control. Like the increased volume of hunters applying for
tags and point creep. When I first applied for a G5 Colorado Goat tag in 1990
there were 2 nonresident applicants and today there are thousands. More people
are participating in Western draws than ever before. So this article is focused
on the things that are controllable.
My top 5 frustrations
Draws are unnecessarily complicated
Flip through virtually any Western Big Game
brochure. I often feel like I need an attorney to interpret them. It happens
every year. An experienced hunter excitedly learns he drew an Arizona Elk tag,
only to find out they mistakenly chose a cow hunt code and his points are gone.
I’ve made mistakes too. Just this year I applied for a Montana Elk permit in
the breaks. I found out while reading a discussion (on Bowsite) that I should
have purchased an archery permit. The system allowed me to pick an ‘archery
only’ unit even though I didn’t purchase the bow license. My mistake? Yes, but
with today’s technology that should not have been possible.
Drawing Dates too late in Year
I don’t know about you, but my complicated work
schedule requires me to plan vacations early in the year. Finding out draw
results for late summer hunt in June is, well, ridiculous. Many of you who
follow my hunts may have noticed I’ve not gone on a big game hunt in a while. That’s
because I am finally "in the game” on points. I have 10 in AZ, 10 in Colorado,
and similar numbers in other states. So, the possibility of drawing a limited
tag is good. This factors heavily into my hunt planning. Just recently a great
hunt came up for auction at the Pope and Young banquet. I failed to bid on it
because I was confident I would draw a western tag, somewhere. As it turned
out, I didn’t. I accept unsuccessful drawings and am perfectly fine with that.
I just wished I knew about it earlier so I’d have time to figure out a Plan B.
I love preference points, and I hate preference points. Some
draws I’ve abandoned altogether - like Colorado Bighorn Sheep. I applied for
over 20 years for a Colorado Bighorn tag. I reached the 3-point max in the 90’s
and then accumulatied all those ridiculous weighted points. To this day nobody
has been able to explain their value to me. Eventually, I grew tired of lending
thousands of dollars to Colorado for draws with extremely low odds.
In Arizona, I should be at 12 preference
points but I allowed an outfitter to apply for me. He made a simple mistake on
my app and that cost me both the "loyalty point” and the PP for that year.
And in Colorado I have 10 elk
points that I am afraid to use. I often agonize if it’s better to hunt a decent
4-point unit every four years? or go for a primo 15-point unit which I will be
lucky to draw once in my lifetime? Of course, by the time I get that primo
unit I’ll probably be 60, and in a far inferior physical condition than I am
It almost seems like a cruel joke.
By the time you can afford one of these expensive draws you are in your
thirties. By the time you actually draw you may be in your 50’s and 60’s. I
know someone who drew the coveted Desert Sheep tag in his 70’s and was
physically unable to bowhunt. How tragic is that?
I referenced the mistake made by my outfitter which
cost me two points. While I was upset with the outfitter, I was more upset by
the punishment. Lots of states have penalties for not paying attention to their
complicated processes. It reminds me of Catholic school where the nuns would
use negative reinforcement to force participation. This would be fine if you
are lazy and blew off a draw. But someone that makes an honest mistake can find
their points are gone for good. Imagine the guy who has been dutifully putting
in for Colorado Elk for 15 years - and chooses the wrong hunt code on that ‘eye-chart’
of a brochure? He just burned 15 points on a cow elk tag!
Many, state agencies feel it’s OK
to treat hunting applicants the way United airlines treat passengers on an
oversold flight. If the process is easy and straightforward then you have
nobody to blame but yourself for making mistakes. However, we all know that few
of these draws are easy or straightforward. They were designed by a sadist!
I know I’m going to get crap over this (particularly
from residents) but seriously, must a non-resident Elk tag cost thousands of
dollars? Are we really forced to buy a state license (I’m talking to you,
Arizona) to participate in a draw where we will likely never step foot in that state?
Now, I’m perfectly capable of plopping down cash and playing the western draw
game every year. But there are so many people who cannot send Montana $1000,
even if they get 80% of it back if they don’t draw. The politically riskless
notion that a State can keep raising revenues on the backs of nonresident big
game hunters will eventually bite us - in my opinion. When only affluent
hunters can afford to play, the other 90% will not be there when a state needs
us. Just look at what’s happening with limited tags going to groups like SFW
and high end auctions?
If these funds go directly back to
wildlife programs (that can demonstrate success) I have no argument. But many
states have begun claiming portions of that money to fund social programs,
roads, and for covering mismanaged finances. We see it all the time back east. While
it may feel good thinking this money goes back to sheep or elk, it may be feeding
some bloated state bureaucracy. It requires examination.
There must be a motivation for change - especially when you
can all but guarantee that your customer has no other alternatives other than
dropping out. In the case of limited draws, I assume a competent leader could
easily make a financial case for innovation. If I oversaw a Western State
Agency with a slate of Big Game Animals for drawing, here would be my
Many State game agencies have already privatized
their basic hunting and fishing license purchases to a third-party
administrator (TPA). This is extremely cost effective. These firms hire smart,
competent, and innovative professionals. When they approach a new engagement,
they bring in a process re-engineering team who works with the unit to identify
ways to reduce complexity, duplication, delay and inefficiency. I have done
this within my organization. They will ask questions that need to be asked -
like does Colorado really need all of those hunt codes? and is the preference point
system really fair and effective? I don’t know the answers. But
someone should be at least, asking these questions.The hard part will be getting the
State Game Agency to agree with this. I have no doubt privatization will be a
threat to anyone with a personal stake of keeping things status quo. I’ve seen
this happen dozens of times but in the end, the change is necessary and
everyone knows it. Now this is really a stretch but
imagine if one TPA handled all the big game draws? Enter your information once
and then pick the big game drawings you are interested in? I know it’s a pipe
dream do to the ways states operate but it is very doable.
I agree that privatization is aspirational. The
next logical option is Digitization and process re-engineering. I ask these
questions: Why am I mailed a 120-page brochure
every year from each Western Big Game State? When apps are accepted through a
website, why is there no logic that forces prerequisites based on choices? For
example, I want to hunt the Breaks in Montana, I simply go to the Montana Draw website
on my Smart Phone. I enter my ALS# and choose elk. I am presented with a Map
of the Elk units. I first choose that Unit from a drop-down list. Then there
are a series of drop down choices which correspond to what’s available in that GMU;
such as Archery or Rifle, Bull or Cow, etc. After you hit the submit button,
you are presented with everything required to enter that drawing along with an ‘enter-now’
button. All prerequisites are tabulated and then you simply enter your credit
card number for the fees. Done. You get an email confirmation and receive a
successful/unsuccessful notification via text or email when the computer draw
Early, Consistent, and successional Dates
I want to know early what I drew and
didn’t draw. I’m sure there’s good reason for draws occurring in late spring
but if there is no compelling reason for it, why not push them up? I’d love to
know my hunt plans by March 1st rather than June. I think most
hunters would welcome this. I certainly would.
Improved Customer Service
Do away with penalties. Instead, build a process that
prevents human errors and omissions in the first place. Remember, if the
process is so onerous that people are making errors, that is the fault of the
game department, not the customer. If someone can’t read the tiny font on the
game app and uses 16 points on a cow tag in a drawing, then have a process that
reinstates those points - hell, even if you charge a $5 fee it’s better than
ruining the person’s year!
Every company is re-thinking the way they do business, from
using computer automation, to taking a hard look at their processes, to
digitizing their customer experience. The big game drawing system is in desperate
need of this. It is, quite frankly the most ridiculously arduous process I’ve
ever seen outside of DMV. I doubt change is going to come quickly. But just
like hitting refresh fifty times on drawing day - I can dream, can’t I?
What are your thoughts on big game draws?