2021 Heads Up: Draw Applications, OTC Tags and Preference Points for Most Popular Western States

The world of limited draw, application dates, preference points, and alternative over-the-counter options in the USA is so wide and various that a comprehensive review for any given year could easily fill a 1,000-page volume. In this post, we’ll give a brief overlook on a non-resident hunter’s prospects of hunting in the most popular states in the West. If you think we missed something, tell us all about it in the comments!


The application period for the 2021 elk and pronghorn permit-tags limited draw is January 20 – February 9. However, there are usually quite a number of leftover permit-tags, mostly for the low population density areas. Unlike most states, Arizona accepts applications for leftover hunt permit-tags only by mail. The applications are accepted from May 22 to May 29, after which date the remaining permit-tags will go on sale.  

You cannot return your tag and get a refund in Arizona, but there are two options for you to make the most of it in case you can’t make it to the hunt this year. One is to transfer the tag to your own minor child or grandchild, a child with a life-threatening condition, military veteran with service-related disability, or a non-profit organization for the benefit of the two previous categories. The other is to use the PointGuard rule, and surrender your tag before the start of the season. Surrendering the tag doesn’t reimburse your expenses, but helps secure your accumulated bonus points for the next draw. Bonus points are awarded automatically for each unsuccessful draw application. If you haven’t entered the draw this year, you can purchase them. 


Application dates for all species of big-game in Colorado are March 1 to April 6. Application for deer, elk, pronghorn and bear secondary draw are accepted from June 16 to June 30. To enter a big game hunting draw you must possess a qualifying small game or turkey license. There is a landowner preference quota in Colorado, with the licenses transferrable to hunters. 

If you have not been successful in the draw, you may try your luck with over-the-counter tags. Colorado offers a variety of OTC elk permits: antlerless and either-sex tags for the archery season, and antlered tags for the second and third rifle season. There are also unlimited elk hunting options for certain units in the plains areas of the state, where the goal is to reduce the elk herd, but hunting in these areas typically has a low success rate. Over-the-counter tags in 2021 go on sale on August 3, this includes both regular OTC tags and leftover limited draw licenses.  


Idaho controlled hunt permits are drawn in two tiers. Application dates for the first draw are April 1 – April 30 for moose, bighorn sheep, and mountain goat, and May 1 – June 5 for deer, elk, pronghorn, and black bear (fall season). The tags that remained after the first draw will be available in the second draw. The second draw application dates are June 15 – June 25 for moose, bighorn and mountain goat, and August 5 – August 15 for deer, elk, pronghorn and bear. If you want to try your luck with Idaho’s Super Hunt, you will have to submit your application by May 31 for the first drawing, and August 10 for the second drawing. 

Idaho does offer a generous opportunity for non-residents to purchase over-the-counter tags; however, general hunt tags go on sale in December of the previous year, and typically sell out fast (we covered the issue in detail in a previous post). Don’t forget that since 2019 Idaho doesn’t accept applications by mail. You can only apply at a vendor, a regional office, by phone, or online.


Application dates for all species in Montana start on March 1. The deadlines are: April 1 for deer and elk, May 1 for moose, bison, sheep and goat, and June 1 for antelope, elk “B” tag and deer “B” tag. If you don’t plan to take part in this draw, but have plans for hunting in Montana in the future, don’t forget to purchase a preference point for the species that interest you. Previous years’ stats suggest that two preference points boost the odds of your drawing a non-resident big-game combo or elk combo license to 100%. If you don’t purchase a bonus point for three years running all your previous points are lost.

Landowners can sponsor deer tags for non-resident hunters; 2,000 such licenses per year are allowed statewide. Leftover tags, or surplus licenses left available after the limited draw, are available through a special subscription list, and distributed randomly among hunters who subscribed. The sign-up dates for the list are July 21 to August 7 for deer and elk, and August 12 to August 24 for antelope and special mountain lion tag. Another option to purchase a non-resident license in Montana is the Alternatives List. This is a waiting list for returned licenses: if another hunter returns his or her license, it will be offered to a random hunter from the list. You can put your name on the Alternatives List between May 21 and July 7. 

New Mexico

The application period for the 2021-2022 big-game limited draw hunts in New Mexico is January 13 – March 17. Big game species include Barbary sheep, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, ibex, javelina, pronghorn and oryx. New Mexico allocates a special quota for non-resident hunters who have a contract with an outfitter – 10% of all tags for a certain year (non-residents without a contract with an outfitter are allotted 6% of the tags, and residents get 84% of all tags). Many outfitters can offer you guaranteed tags. Leftover tags are distributed among in the fourth round of draw; to take part in this you will have to tick the relevant box in your application. 

New Mexico does not award bonus points to applicants who weren’t successful in the previous years. There is a landowner preference program that allows the tags to be transferred to non-resident hunters. In fact, when landowners register their property with the New Mexico Game and Fish department, all they need to do is to provide the hunter with a ranch code. Then the hunter can get their tag online on New Mexico Game & Fish website, where they can also find the list of all properties that are enrolled in this program. Not related to license and tag draw, but worthy of mention, is New Mexico’s Open Gates program, wherein the Game and Fish leases private land to open it to hunters. 


The application dates for non-resident big-game licenses in 2021 are January 4 – June 1 for antelope and deer, January 4 – February 10 for elk, March 1 – March 31 for bison, January 4 – March 1 for bighorn sheep, moose and mountain goat. The results are to be announced on May 6 for bighorn, bison, moose and mountain goat, May 20 for elk, and on June 17 for deer and antelope. 

Leftover antelope, deer and elk tags are available through a special leftover draw. Applications for the draw are accepted from June 21 to June 25, and the list of available licenses will be announced on June 18. Leftover draw results will be announced July 8. Wyoming Game and Fish Department warns that the majority of leftover tags are for units with limited access – e.g., lots of private land – and strongly encourages the hunters to make sure they can secure access before purchasing the license. 

Since 2019, Wyoming has started selling landowner preference tags, however, these tags can be issued only to the landowner and his or her immediate family members, and not transferable to third parties.  Another period that you don’t want to miss if you really want to hunt in Wyoming is the purchase of preference points (July 1 – November 2). Preference points greatly increase your draw odds, but in Wyoming they are not awarded automatically in case you haven’t drawn a tag this year. You must specifically apply for your preference point, and if you don’t buy a preference point for two years in a row, all your accumulated points are lost.  


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