The Rocky Mountain West provides numerous and diverse opportunities to hunt big game. The opportunity to chase the majestic bull elk, iconic mule deer, and plentiful pronghorn antelope, is truly a blessing for those of us fortunate to visit or live here. Even with this abundance, wildlife managers and agencies choose to limit the number of individuals that may be able to pursue these species in any given area, or during any given time of year, to accomplish a variety of goals – to maintain a healthy herd, to manage for a certain age-class, to mitigate impacts on habitat or public lands, or to create a certain type of experience for the hunter (e.g., low hunter density, unpressured animals, mating season, etc.).
Naturally then, when opportunity is limited in areas (limited quota units) that accomplish these goals, the desirability of hunting them increases. Unfortunately, this often means there is more demand for these experiences than the supply will allow, necessitating wildlife agencies to facilitate processes that determine who the fortunate ones to get these coveted licenses are and those who don’t. In nearly all Western states this is accomplished through some type of drawing system whereby hunters apply for the opportunity and the wildlife agencies conduct a lottery to determine which ones receive it.
In many limited quota units, the demand far surpasses the supply. As a result, the calculated odds of drawing one of these licenses (or permits, tags, etc.) can be extremely low. It is not uncommon for drawing odds in some units to be in the low single digits. Thus, individuals may go their entire life without ever realizing the opportunity to hunt in certain limited quota units.
To address this, most Western states have implemented “point” systems whereby applicants who are unsuccessful in drawing a limited quota license one year earn a point that would help improve their odds of drawing in later years. There are two basic types of point systems – preference and bonus.
Preference Point Systems –are those that award limited quota licenses to the individuals with the most points. In essence, each year an individual applies for a limited quota license and is unsuccessful, they would earn a preference point. When they have amassed enough points to be above all other applicants, they would draw the license. The general philosophy behind this is that those individuals who have applied for the longest time without drawing should have priority for the licenses.
Bonus Point Systems – in these systems, applicants who are unsuccessful in drawing a limited quota license are awarded a bonus point that give them additional entries into subsequent years’ drawings. For example, a person who applies for the first time would have one entry in the drawing. If unsuccessful, they are awarded a bonus point, and in the next year’s drawing they would have two entries. The general philosophy here is that individuals should be given slightly better chance at drawing a license for each year that they apply, but not guarantee it.
Although state point systems may have a variety of nuances – percent of available licenses for preference point holders, combination preference and bonus point systems, squaring of bonus points, etc. – most all systems will fall into one of these two general categories. There are also some other states that have opted not to use point systems, such as Idaho, New Mexico, and for resident Elk, Deer and Antelope limited quota licenses, Wyoming.
There are pros and cons to any point system, as there are for having no point system at all. These will be touched on briefly in the following.
NO POINT SYSTEM
– Simple to administer. Every applicant is entered a single time and a random lottery drawing is conducted to determine who receives the licenses. No need to track or monitor accumulated points or status of applicants.
– Equitable. Everyone has the same odds of drawing each year, whether this is the very first time someone has applied or if they have been applying for some time.
– Perpetually low draw odds. Applicants who have applied for many years will never improve their odds of drawing the license.
– Perceived fairness. It is possible (and happens) that individuals may be fortunate enough to draw highly coveted limited entry licenses multiple times while others never do.
PREFERENCE POINT SYSTEM
– “Guaranteed” draw. Theoretically, all applicants will eventually amass enough points to be the highest point holders and know roughly when they will draw the license.
– Works well with higher license numbers. When there are larger numbers of licenses available, the system has enough supply to address demand – this may work well with Wyoming Antelope because of the large number of licenses and having all units already on a limited quota draw.
– Point creep. Simply put, states with preference point systems are witnessing that the maximum number of points necessary to draw a license gets higher and higher each year. This is a result of small quota of licenses available and increasing applicant numbers.
– Does not work well with low license numbers. Unfortunately, most states (including Wyoming) use preference point systems for species offering the fewest licenses (e.g., Moose, Sheep, etc.).
– New applicants are disadvantaged. In pure preference point systems where the demand exceeds the supply, first-time applicants do not have an opportunity to draw a license. This can prove to be a major deterrent to new hunter recruitment and youth hunting opportunities.
BONUS POINT SYSTEM
– Odds improve over time. As bonus points are accumulated, the number of entries an applicant has increases, thus increasing their odds of drawing a license.
– You can draw the first year. Just like a no-point system, it is possible to draw a license the first year an applicant enters the drawing.
– Fairly easy to administer. Pure bonus point systems simply provided additional entries into a lottery draw based on the number of points an applicant has.
– Lower odds at first. New applicants will likely see lower odds in the first years they apply as compared to what may exist under a no point system, although the odds for new applicants are improved over a preference point system, as it is possible to draw in your first year
– Highest point holders are not guaranteed to draw. It is possible that the highest bonus point holders will not be the ones to draw a license.
It is evident there are appealing aspects and challenges with each system. Some Western States have tried to blend approaches to capitalize on the best aspects of each system. In doing so, however, the actual benefits of the different systems may be muted. Generally, it is political pressures that have led to the hybrid systems. For example, point creep in preference point states such as Colorado and Arizona have led to changes in their systems that provide random or bonus point licenses, even though the odds of drawing one of these coveted tags are nearly zero.
Some states have also implemented other special provisions to mitigate some of the challenges with the different types of systems. These are typically done to suppress demand so odds can be improved. The primary strategies used include mandatory waiting periods after a limited quota license is drawn, forcing applicants to choose specific species in drawings, establishing youth-only seasons, setting permits aside for applicants who agree to use a guide/outfitter, and charging different types of fees (e.g., non-refundable general hunting licenses, paying the entirety of the license up-front, application fees, etc.).
A PROPOSAL FOR WYOMING
Wyoming has used point systems for non-resident Elk, Deer, and Antelope, as well as for resident and non-resident Moose and Sheep licenses. This paper is not intended to explain, analyze, or propose changes to any of these systems. That said, any proposal for implementing new point systems in Wyoming should learn from these systems, as well as those from other Western States.
This paper proposes the creation of a Bonus Point System for Resident Elk, Deer, and Antelope units that are based on limited quota licenses. Wyoming may be the ideal state for such a system for its residents for a variety of reasons. First, Wyoming is generally blessed with abundant numbers of these game animals. This provides opportunity for general seasons or over-the-counter (OTC) licenses that give new and experienced hunters opportunity to go afield each season. In addition, the number of animals, thus the number of licenses available, minimize the challenges of point systems where demand far exceeds supply. For example, Wyoming offers the most antelope licenses of any Western State and all of those are issued through a drawing and the use of set-quota hunting units.
Another reason Wyoming is ideal for a Bonus Point System is the balance between general hunting areas and limited quota units. Most states are either overly weighted to one side or the other. For example, Montana manages for opportunity with most licenses available OTC and few limited quota areas which increase demand. Arizona on the other hand is predominantly a limited quota state with relatively few OTC opportunities. Wyoming offers a more appropriate balance.
Last, Wyoming’s smaller population of residents, matched with healthy numbers of Elk, Deer, and Antelope, help mitigate the issues of demand escalation and supply diminishment that other, more populace (or growing) states are experiencing.
The remainder of this paper will focus on the specific recommendations for the establishment of a Wyoming resident Bonus Point System for Elk, Deer, and Antelope limited quota licenses.
Recommendation #1 – Establish a Resident Elk, Deer, and Antelope Bonus Point System
Every year an individual applies for a limited quota license and is not successful in drawing, they would earn a bonus point. Points would be species-specific, but not unit specific. For example, if an individual applies for an Elk limited quota license, a Deer limited quota licenses, and an Antelope limited quota license, and were unsuccessful in all drawings, they would earn one (1) Elk bonus point, one (1) deer bonus point, and one (1) Antelope bonus point. Once an applicant is successful in drawing a limited quota license, all of their bonus points for that species would be purged.
Recommendation #2 – Square Bonus Points
A challenges with bonus points, especially during the early years of implementation is the “clustering” of applicants with similar point numbers. This results in smaller variations in draw odds between point holder groups. States such as Nevada and Montana have had success in providing greater separation between point holders by squaring their bonus points prior to entering them into the drawing. This separation results in greater variance/improvement in drawing odds as bonus points are accumulated.
For example, an applicant with four (4) bonus points, once squared, would have 16 entries into a drawing for a limited quota license (i.e., 4 x 4 = 16). An applicant with six (6) bonus points however would have 36 entries into the same drawing (i.e., 6 x 6 = 36).
The one disadvantage for this approach is that it exponentially increases the number of entries into any limited quota drawing, and thus may further disadvantage younger or newer applicants. The next three recommendations attempt to mitigate this impact.
Recommendation #3 – Preserve General/OTC Hunting Opportunities
The establishment of a Bonus Point System should not incentivize the reduction of general season or OTC hunting opportunities. New hunter recruitment and youth hunters benefit from opportunity, something Wyoming’s general Elk and Deer licenses and units offer exceptionally well. Simply stated, Wyomingites should continue to enjoy the general license hunting opportunities they do today.
Recommendation #4 – One-Time Transfer of Bonus Points to Qualifying Youth
A common concern expressed about point systems is their perceived impact on the opportunity for youth hunters and new hunter recruitment of youth. Although there is little or no research to substantiate the correlation between point systems and hunter recruitment, the lower draw odds for new entrants into point systems are a reality. These are very significant in Preference Point Systems, but they also exist to some extent in Bonus Point Systems.
To mitigate this, Wyoming’s Bonus Point System should allow for the one-time transfer of bonus points from an adult to a qualifying youth. A qualifying youth would be a dependent youth, between the ages of 12 and 16. Thus, a parent who has accumulated a number of bonus points may decide to transfer their points (by species) to their son or daughter. This transfer would be a one-time opportunity and cannot be reversed. The transfer could be for all species with which the adult has Bonus Points, or by specific species. It will allow an adult to increase the opportunity for their children or dependent youth to hunt a limited quota for Elk, Deer, or Antelope.
Recommendation #5 – Average Points, Then Square in Resident Party Applications
Another way to mitigate the reality of lower odds for new applicants (e.g., those new to hunting or youth hunters) is to allow for the averaging of bonus points in resident party applications prior to squaring them for entry into the drawings for limited quota licenses. This would allow a high bonus point holder to essentially share their points with a low bonus point holder, or new applicant, to improve their odds of drawing a limited quota license without the necessity of applying for many years and accumulating numerous bonus points.
With this recommendation, one resident applicant could enter into a party application with one or more other resident applicants. Their bonus points would be averaged across the group to come up with a party bonus point total. The party bonus points would then be squared, and each applicant would have that number of entries into the drawing.
For example in a party application, if applicant #1 with 12 bonus points applies as a party with applicant #2 with three (3) bonus points, and applicant #3 with zero (0) bonus points, their party average would be five (5) bonus points (12 + 3 + 0 / 3 = 5). These would then be squared, so each applicant would have 25 entries into the drawing. While this clearly disadvantages applicant #1 (who would have had 144 entries), it advantages applicants #2 and #3.
Recommendation #6 – Other Considerations
There are other considerations that should be researched, discussed, and debated for incorporation into this system. Different elements considered for incorporation will have different impacts on the system. This paper does not have specific recommendations for which to include, or in what format they may be included into the system. Some of these considerations include:
– Waiting periods for applicants who have successfully drawn a limited quota license (these may be different if applicants are successful in harvesting an animal).
– Purging of bonus points if an applicant fails to apply for a specific number of years.
– Ability of an applicant to apply for points only (similar to non-resident option currently in place).
– Any costs associated with earning a bonus point, and if so, the option to choose not to earn a bonus point in lieu of the fee.
– Purging of points only on the successful drawing of a first choice unit (e.g., if a second or third choice is drawn bonus points remain intact).