Arizona still offers the best trophy quality and variety of any state in the West. If youíre looking for the biggest antelope, elk, mule deer, Couesí deer, desert bighorn sheep, or bison, then you need to be applying in Arizona. Barring any kind of dramatic winter drought, the trophy potential for 2012 should be excellent. There have been dry spots at various times around the state, but for the most part, each county received adequate rain at one time or another.
Arizona has a bonus point system, with 20% of the tags going to hunters with the most points for that particular hunt. If you apply for five consecutive years and keep applying, you will be rewarded with a loyalty bonus point as well. You must purchase a hunting license in order to apply ($151.25 for nonresidents). For the last five years, I have been predicting that Arizona will finally get their online application system fixed and I have been wrong for five years, but it looks like it will happen this year. They used the system for the spring draws (very low participation compared to the fall draws) and from my experience, it worked very well. So keep your eyes peeled and bookmark the AZGFD.gov website. There are two application periods: elk and antelope applications will be due in early February; deer and sheep will be due in early June.
Note: The most overlooked hunts in Arizona are Couesí deer hunts. Tags are very easy to draw, public land is readily available, and if you choose to hire a guide, the hunts are very reasonably priced. If you are a bowhunter, donít overlook the January archery season for deer and javelina. You can hunt both Couesí deer and mule deer in most of the southern units and January is the peak of the rut. Honestly, there is not a better place to be in the middle of the winter than deer hunting in Arizona!
Even with the long history of elk hunting in Colorado, and the fact that they boast the largest herd of wapiti in the country, I would rank them #5 on my list of things to hunt in the state. It wonít come as much of a surprise that mule deer would be #1. Even a poor mule deer unit in Colorado is better than a good unit in other states.
Next, I would pay attention to bighorn sheep, moose, and mountain goat. In order to draw one of these tags, you have to apply for three consecutive years before you are even eligible in the drawing. On top of that, you have to front all $1819 (subject to change) in order to accumulate your point. It weeds out many applicants, so the drawing odds are relatively good for these species.
Colorado is a pure preference point state, which means that 100% of the tags go to the applicants with the most points in that unit. It allows you to plan your hunt a little more accurately, because the number of points needed to draw a unit does not usually change dramatically from one year to the next. On the other hand, youíll have to wait it out since there is no luck involved. Colorado has an easy-to-use online system, but it is subject to crashing in the final 48 hours before the deadline, so donít wait until the last minute.
Note: I mentioned that the mule deer hunting in Colorado is great; actually it is really, really great. Though there are units famous for producing big bucks, a quick review of the record books will show that every county in the state has produced a B&C buck recently. So, if youíre not in great shape and donít want to beat yourself up in the mountains, there are plenty of units in the farm country of the eastern plains that are less stressful. If you donít have deep pockets, you can draw a tag in some units with as few as two points that offer very good potential as well. In many of these units, there are over-the-counter or easy-to-draw elk tags available during the mule deer seasons, so you can scout deer for the future and maybe fill the freezer at the same time. Landowner vouchers can be purchased for many of the units as well.
Shiras moose is a rare trophy but the persistent hunter can draw a tag.
Idaho is struggling. Some of their best elk and moose country is being overrun with wolves. This, combined with a growing human population and some questionable management practices, has reduced the quantity and quality of its big game hunting.
The best part about applying in Idaho is that they donít have a bonus point system. You also must purchase a license in order to apply. When you do apply, you must choose between 1) moose; 2) sheep; 3) mountain goat; or 4) deer, elk, and/or antelope.
Given all of these perceived negatives, many nonresidents donít even apply, so Idaho has some of the best drawing odds in the West. Much of the sheep and mountain goat country is extremely tough, with very dispersed populations, so a guide is worth considering for the nonresident. There are many over-the-counter or easy-to-draw hunts available, especially for bowhunters. The trophy quality may not rival other states, but the opportunity can be priceless.
Montana is legendary for big horn sheep, with tremendous Rocky Mountain goat and Shirasí moose populations as well. If you have any desire to hunt one of these three species then you need to be applying for them. At $750 the tag prices are the lowest for any of the states we have listed and their application fees are reasonable as well.
Two years ago, the state did away with outfitter sponsor licenses for elk and deer, raised the prices for non-residents and started issuing all the tags through the drawing. As predicted, with the steep price increase, a slow economy and weak trophy potential a large number of non-residents just did not apply and they now have left over tags available. I am still of the opinion that quality elk and deer hunting in Montana will continue to be dominated by the resident with time and experience on their side, or within the confines of a private ranch.
Nevada is an amazing state! Not only does it have great trophy potential for a variety of species, but every person in Nevada likes to hunt. Of course this is an exaggeration, but Nevadans love to hunt and they are very good at it, so competition in the field and in the drawing is tough. All tags in Nevada are issued through the drawing. Nevada uses a bonus point system that awards a point each year you are not successful in the drawing. Nevada squares your bonus points, so your first year you have one point (1x1=1), then four points (2x2=4), then nine points (3x3=9)Öso your loyalty is rewarded.
Note: If you are sincere about hunting desert sheep, then Nevada is arguably your best option in the country. For the past decade, the population has continued to grow and the trophy quality just keeps getting better. Mule deer is still the premier species, but I would highly recommend that you consider hiring an outfitter. Nevada has a separate outfitter drawing so do your research early and get to know your potential guide. Nevada has a few landownder tags available but they tend to be very expensive. Nevada is just not one of those states with easy to draw tags, this one will take patience.