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 Now that most of the big game permit draw results are out, those of us who didn’t draw something special are feeling pissed off. Ryan Hatfield, from Western Hunter, feels your pain. Here he explains what’s wrong with the draw systems, and how to fix the situation. –SR

Up in Anchorage, there is a famous bar/institution called Chilkoot Charlie’s. It’s one of those go-to places. They have a tongue-in- cheek motto they print on their shirts that says, “We cheat the other guy and pass the savings on to you!”
Somehow, when they came up with that, they must have had bonus/preference points systems in the backs of their minds. A better quote simply couldn’t exist on the subject.
On its surface, the idea of a points system sounds decent enough. Everyone grab a number, take your spot in line, and we’ll all get treated “fairly”. It’s hunting’s version of socialism. The problem with most things of a socialistic nature, though, is that people quickly learn to rely on it and exploit it.
Those who are proponents of such a system tend to look at the more immediate benefit rather than the long-term effects. “If I get in on the ground floor, it’ll put me at the front of the line and I’ll be guaranteed a tag.”
But what about after the first round? What happens then?
There are two overlying assumptions about bonus points. The first is that it always works in all scenarios. The second is that there is no net increase in applicants. Simply put, neither is true.
Let’s back up a second, though. There are a few questions we should be asking to see whether the idea of these points passes the basic litmus test of whether it makes it more likely that you will draw the tag. 1) Does a points system put more deer/elk/sheep on the mountain? The answer is obviously, “No”; 2) Does a points system increase the number of tags? Again, the answer is, “No”; 3) Does a points system make for fewer people putting in for the tag? And that question, folks, is where the light bulb should have just come on.
Let’s address that question in detail. In my home state of Idaho, we don’t have a points system. Along with New Mexico, we’re the last holdouts. Because there is no specific impetus to either put in or risk falling behind in your point totals, there is a percentage of people who are very casual about applying – those who just kind of got busy, or didn’t really have the heart or money this year, or think, “I never draw; screw it, I’m just going to keep my $10 this year.” Under a points system, that percentage of people would now have much more motivation to keep putting in or risk falling behind. My guess is that alone counts for at least a 10% increase in applicants.
Another situation arises in points scenarios where savvy but perhaps less scrupulous hunters will use the system to their advantage by putting in non-hunting friends and family, with the strategy of building up their points over time so that eventually they can put in with them in a party, split/average the points, and draw tags at a faster rate. This creates two problems. First, a person draws tags at an unfair and manipulated rate. Second, that tag that was drawn by the non-hunter either goes straight into the trash can (and right out of the pocket of a deserving hunter) or it ends up going to a person who couldn’t care less about the tag, rather than to a hunter who may have cared deeply about having that tag.
The net result of either scenario, though, is the same. Once you’ve gone through your first round of drawing and now come back in at the bottom, you now have more people in the draw than you would have without a points system. The final net effect is that you have adopted a system that has the same number of tags, with more people in the draw, which ultimately just permanently lowered your chances and/or rate of drawing a tag.
So, we instituted our points system and thus encouraged more people into the draw for the same number of tags. How’s it working so far?
There’s another situation here that makes points a bad idea. What about any group that comes into the draw at a later date? Those who didn’t get in on the ground floor? The one group that we as hunter-conservationists have a proud history of fostering is our youth. “Pass it on” has been a mantra starting from Teddy Roosevelt and now carried today by the likes of the RMEF. This type of points system shoves our youth into a black hole that can take them half or more of their lifetimes to escape.
The longer these points systems stay in place, the more it turns into its own sideshow. Every state that has them has multiple examples where there is still no ceiling. Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and others all are in the mid-20s and still climbing, with no end in sight. They have turned many tags into once-in- a-lifetime tags (at best) by default.
Soon, this nebulous, nefarious patchwork quilt will have new rules adopted on how to deal with “end of life” points debacles. Grandpa will likely be “willing” his 45 sheep points to the grandson of his choice. Families will be fighting over how his points will be split.
Sound ridiculous? Well, it is, but sadly, truth might be stranger than fiction on this one.
Hunting isn’t fair. Of all the endeavors you will pursue in your lifetime, hunting – guaranteed – will be the least fair of them all. That’s why we love it. Each daybrings the promise that it only takes once, and today could be that day. It’s the enticement of hope that keeps us going.
With a simple lottery, everyone has that chance, and they have that chance every year. With a simple lottery, the net odds of all of the most interested parties drawing a tag go up, rather than a net decrease or that non-interested parties have tags in their hands. This is a prime example of using the KISS approach and not overcomplicating the obvious.