All about the Quest for Near-Impossible Permits

Every year, during the few weeks before May 22, a good many of us who hunt begin seriously considering possibilities. We think about hunting some critter we have long dreamed of pursuing, or hunting in some season or place we have long dreamed of hunting. Getting a license for one of these “possible” hunts can be like winning the lottery and chasing those almost impossible permits can drag across decades. Some of our hunting friends chuckle about this and many of our non-hunting friends just laugh and shake their heads. The most often asked question is “What are the odds this year?”

Here’s how this all happens. Sometime in April, the Washington Big Game Hunting Seasons & Regulations booklet shows up online and at license outlets. In that booklet are the dates and conditions under which most any of us can purchase a license for deer or elk or bear or whatever and go hunt one of the “general” seasons for some specific game. In that same booklet, however, are literally hundreds upon hundreds of “special” hunts – those areas with limited access, or permission to take a specific animal not available to general hunters, or at a time outside the general season. One must apply for these special hunts.

On the row for each hunt in the booklet, one will find a) the number of permits to be drawn this year, b) the number of applications for those permits last year and c) the average number of preference points used by last year’s successful applicants. (One gets an additional preference point for each year one is not drawn – an additional “ticket” in the drawing for each point.)

To apply, one buys an application, the cost of which varies with the perceived value of the hunt ($7.10 or $13.70 for residents). One then applies for one or more of the special hunts by May 22, says a series of prayers, or performs traditional rituals, and waits. The drawing results are released by the end of June. This same scenario plays out all over the country.

Most of us have already decided that this is the year we have enough points to finally have a great adventure hunting moose, or bighorn sheep or a big bull elk. This is in spite of rather long odds. Let me give you a couple examples. This is my lucky year for a moose adventure – I can feel it – even though last year 14,149 hunters applied for 21 permits, my 14 points will do the trick. I also will draw a bighorn sheep permit with my 9 points, although last year 5,081 hunters applied for the 4 permits in my area. I have applied for several other special hunt permits, too, each with long odds. Still, I only need one permit in each of those hunts, and this is my year.

In some states, there will be leftover licenses after the draw takes place. Each year, for example, we still purchase “leftover after the draw” licenses for our annual Wyoming deer and antelope safari. And, once upon a time in Colorado, if we weren’t drawn for a tag, we would line up outside the Division of Wildlife gate the night before licenses were handed out on a “first come-first served” basis. All night it was coffee, charcoal heaters and big dreams until the gates opened at 7 a.m. When our part of the line reached the license writers, we would choose from what was still available and likely end up hunting some area we had never been in. It was high adventure. Sadly, such opportunities are becoming ever fewer and farther between.

Alas, in Washington, as in most states these days, there are no leftover permits – just too many applicants. Still, to those of us who annually, ritually, seek special draw-only big game permits, this is sacred stuff. Admittedly, there is the remote possibility that my name will not be drawn for one of these treasured permits. After decades of application, in several states, I have come to understand that NOT being drawn simply means that my number will come up next year.

If you have been procrastinating, I remind you that your special hunting season permit applications are due by midnight, May22. Buy applications at a license dealer or online and submit your choices toll-free at 877-945-3492 or

If we are somehow overlooked again in the June draw, there is always the raffle. For somewhere between 6 and 23 bucks, we can buy a chance on an extra deer or elk permit, a goat, sheep or moose tag or a combination of several of them. Instructions start on page 85 of the 2014 booklet. Purchase raffle tickets by July 15, and we will be notified that we’re winners in mid-August.

Homeys occasionally suggest that all these applications and licenses drive the cost of the meat I make up to “somewhere around ten bucks a pound.” Of course, that is foolish accounting. Any accountant worth his or her salt would assign the cost of gear, fuel, licenses and application fees to recreation – like going out for dinner or a movie. The meat itself is free – a great gift.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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