Wyoming Wildlife - January 2021

The Wyoming elk draw

Elk populations throughout the cowboy state are booming. Hunting opportunities match that ascending trend, as do the number of prospective hunters vying for a license. Learning how to master the draw is the first step in pursuing one of the most coveted species in the west. 

1/1/2021 10:08:13 PM

The definitive expert in the Wyoming elk draw is Jennifer Doering, Wyoming Game and Fish Department license section manager. She’s detailing the ins-and-outs of applying for an elk license and answering some of the most common questions from hunters.

Q: What types of elk licenses are offered and what are the costs?
Jennifer Doering: Wyoming offers “ full-price” and “reduced-price” elk licenses. For a  full-price license, hunters typically apply for a Type 1, 2, 9 (archery only) or general. A  full-price license usually allows a hunter to take “any elk” — a bull, cow or calf. It is important to review the specific license limitations in the Wyoming Game and Fish Department Hunt Planner. The cost for a  full-price license is $57 for residents, $692 for nonresidents. Nonresident hunters can apply for the  full-price license in the “special” draw for $1,268 — a premium draw with frequently better odds.
A reduced-price license is typically a type 6, 7, or 8, which are cow/calf licenses. That fee is $43 for residents, $288 for nonresidents.
License fees are paid when submitting the application. Fees are returned to the credit card used to apply following the draw.
There are additional costs to consider in addition to the license fees. Residents are charged $5 per application submitted and nonresident applications have a $15 fee. All elk hunters are required to have a valid Wyoming Conservation Stamp for $12.50. Other permits are required for early archery seasons (excluding type 9 license holders) and hunts within areas with elk feedgrounds.
Other terms you will hear related to your license are “limited-quota” and “general.” An elk hunt area that offers limited-quota licenses will have a finite number available and limits hunting to that one, specific elk hunt area. General elk licenses are available in unlimited quantities for residents; they are limited in number for nonresidents. However, with a general elk license, hunters are able to hunt in all areas designated as general, within each area’s season dates and any other limitations.
The majority of hunting and fishing license fees are set by Wyoming state statute; reduced-price and pioneer heritage license fees are set by Game and Fish Commission regulation. License fees are the main source of funding for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Q: How many licenses do Wyoming residents get compared to nonresidents?
JD: The quota split for resident/nonresident elk licenses is initially 84 percent/16 percent of the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission-approved quota. “Quota” means the total number of limited quota licenses available for the whole state. Commission regulation also states that the nonresidents elk license quota is 7,250 licenses. In the simplest terms, nonresidents initially receive 16 percent of all limited-quota licenses; the remaining of the 7,250 licenses are “general” licenses.
The number of licenses available are approved by the Commission each April. The Commission hears from biologists who make recommendations for license numbers based on their population estimates and other data. These recommendations are important because hunting is a tool to manage wildlife populations.
Following Commission approval, the department will calculate the quota splits for residents and nonresidents.
Residents and nonresidents are limited to no more than a total of three elk licenses within the calendar year. That can break down in various combinations of licenses. But, in the initial draw hunters are limited to applying for one  full-price license and one reduced-price license. In the leftover draw or first-come, first-served purchase, a person can receive up to a total of three elk licenses; only one can be  full-price general, type 1, 2, 9 or 0.

Q: How does the limited-quota elk draw work?
JD: The Wyoming elk draw is admittedly very complicated and has numerous steps. The elk draw is different from other big game license draws because the nonresident draw is conducted first.
It starts when applications open in January. The deadline for residents is the end of May; for nonresidents it is the end of January, and nonresidents can modify or withdraw their applications until the beginning of May.
In the initial draw, nonresidents apply for 16 percent of the elk license quota through two draws: the special and the regular. The nonresident quota is divided 40 percent to the special draw and 60 percent for the regular draw. Each of these draws includes a preference point and random draw with 75 percent of licenses reserved for the preference point and 25 percent for the random draw.
Note: This draw process is conducted for each hunt area for all hunters’ first-choice applications. Anything that remains could be allocated to a hunter’s second or third choice in the random draws. Only after first, second and third choice draws are conducted do the quotas roll over. For nonresidents, preference points only apply to first choices.
The nonresident landowner draw
Nonresident landowner licenses are allocated first. The licenses for landowners come out of the nonresident quota. The remaining quota balance moves to the next step of the nonresident draw.
The nonresident special draw
The special draw, which allocates 40 percent of the remaining nonresident elk licenses, is conducted next. This draw is for a higher-priced license with sometimes better drawing odds. During the nonresident special draw, 75 percent are allocated through the special preference point draw and 25 percent through the special random draw. The special preference point draw is run first. If there aren’t enough applications to fulfill the quota, remaining licenses are rolled over to the regular draw quota. The special random draw is next. Everyone goes through the random draw as long as they weren’t successful in the special preference point draw. Any licenses left over from the special random draw are rolled over to the regular draw, adding to the 60 percent quota.
The nonresident regular draw
Next, the regular draw quota is divided 75 percent for preference points and 25 percent for the random draw. Just as in the special draw, the preference point draw is first and then the random draw. Any quota remaining from those draws is used in determining additional general licenses to meet the 7,250 requirement. There’s a chance there could be undersubscribed limited-quota licenses.
At this point Game and Fish calculates the number of licenses remaining from the 7,250 nonresident elk licenses allocated by Commission regulation. This determines the number of additional general licenses needed to be added to the nonresident quota. Special general applicants have the first chance at these licenses and anything remaining is available to regular general applicants.
Everyone who applies for a full-price license goes through the preference point draw, regardless if he or she has preference points. 
Resident quota calculated
After the nonresident draw, the resident quota is calculated. Residents have 84 percent of the quota, plus any licenses leftover from the nonresident draw.
The resident landowner draw
Like in the nonresident draw, landowner licenses for residents are allocated first. 
Resident draw
The resident draw follows the landowner draw. It is random, and conducted in June.
Leftover draws
Any licenses remaining after the resident draw are available in the leftover draw. The reliability of leftover licenses changes each year because they are exactly that — what is left over after the initial draws. The leftover draw is random and open to residents and nonresidents equally. Licenses available following the leftover draw are sold first-come, first-served. Leftover licenses are typically for private lands with difficult access, so hunters should arrange permission to hunt prior to purchasing. 
Resident general licenses
Beginning in mid-July, Wyoming residents can purchase a general elk license over the counter as long as they don’t already hold a full-price license—excluding Types 4 and 5. There is no limit on how many general resident licenses Game and Fish sells. That’s a great benefit to being a resident hunter; a general license is always available. Nonresident hunters are required to apply for general licenses, and those licenses are limited.
Reduced-price draws
For reduced-price cow/calf licenses, the quota split works the same with 84 percent to residents and 16 percent to nonresidents. For residents and nonresidents, there aren’t preference points for reduced-price licenses or a special draw. They are allocated through a random draw in each respective quota. 

Q: How does Game and Fish physically do the draw?
JD: All draws are conducted electronically using a secure system. They are conducted secretly to maintain the integrity of the system, so only a handful of people know when they occur. The system deidentifies hunters, which means the person conducting the draw can’t see names or other identifying information. It takes time to verify applications, conduct the draw, make sure the results are completely accurate and then post online. That’s why it takes several weeks for you to find out if you drew a license.

Q: How do preference points work?
JD: Elk preference points are available to nonresident hunters. Nonresidents can accumulate points at the rate of one per year that help better their chance of drawing a license in competitive hunt areas. Preference points are only for full-price licenses and first-choice applications. Having preference points ranks you in the draw. Those with the highest number of points get first preference in the application pool for their desired hunt area in the preference point draw. 

Q: Lots of residents want elk preference points. Why hasn’t Game and Fish instituted a point system for residents?
JD: Feedback from Wyoming residents is consistently split on preference points for elk, deer and antelope. Through multiple surveys, Game and Fish heard strong voices in favor and against the system. So, it’s a topic the department continues to evaluate. It would require action from the Wyoming Legislature for a preference point system to be implemented for residents.

Q: How does applying as a party work? Does it better my odds of drawing?
JD: Up to six hunters can apply together in a party group. Party applications must be identical. That means the same residency, hunt areas, license types and draw (special/regular for nonresidents). You can’t mix these components because all draws are conducted separately.
For nonresidents, the party’s preference points are averaged four decimal places to determine the party’s points total.
In resident and nonresident draws, each party member’s application is assigned the same random number. If that random number is selected, that means everyone in the party draws the license, even if it oversubscribes the quota for the hunt area. Conversely, if the random number isn’t selected, no one draws.
Applying as a party doesn’t improve your odds of drawing, but does give certainty that everyone in the group will draw or not. The only exception is a nonresident who has no points applying with others who do. In that case you can boost someone’s odds of drawing a license because of the party’s preference point average. 

Q: How can you use drawing odds to inform your elk hunting application?
JD: Drawing odds are very important to determine your chance at drawing your desired license. Anyone can study this data on the Game and Fish website. What hunters see is data from the prior year’s applications, so it’s not foolproof. The number of licenses and applicants change annually. But, it’s a good way to make informed decisions for your current-year’s application.
The odds are separate for resident and nonresident draws. Nonresident odds are more complex because of the special draw and preference points. Look at all the sets for your residency. You’ll begin to notice where your drawing odds are better and where you need to keep saving preference points.
This is key: If there isn’t a 100 percent chance of drawing a license with the first-choice, there is no chance to draw it on the second or the third choice. Putting an area second or third choice with zero odds of drawing gives no benefit to your application. Similarly, putting the same area for first, second and third choice doesn't improve your chance at a license.

Q: Some residents are unsuccessful each year drawing their target hunt area. Why is that?
JD: In some of Wyoming’s hunt areas, resident demand for licenses is very high. All the resident draws are random so everyone has the same chance. We often have applicants who are unsuccessful frequently simply because the competition is so high for some areas, with many hunters vying for a license.
I really encourage residents to look at the drawing odds. Keep applying for your coveted, hard-to-draw areas. It’s always worth a try. But, make sure your second and third choices are areas with a 100 percent chance of drawing on a first choice so you have the best chance at drawing a license for the year. There are many hunt areas in Wyoming that you can draw on a second or third choice. Residents also can purchase a general elk license and have many opportunities to hunt on that license.

Q: How can I avoid common elk application mistakes?
JD: Check your hunt areas and types before submitting. Remember there are different types within full and reduced-price licenses, and for nonresidents a special and regular draw. Once submitted, you can’t switch between full and reduced-price types and draws. If hunters need to change, you’d have to withdraw the application, submit another and wait until after the draw for a refund.
Make sure you complete your application and submit payment. Sometimes hunters will put applications in their cart, but don’t finalize with a payment. Other times, the payment is declined or incomplete. Hunters will know their application is paid for and complete. Immediately following submission and payment you will get a receipt on your internet browser from Game and Fish. Save the receipt for your records.
Finally, don’t wait until the last minute to apply. Submit your application early so if you run into trouble we can help.

-Sara DiRienzo is the Wyoming Game and Fish Department public information officer.



Subscribe to read more like it in Wyoming Wildlife.