For the first time in about a decade of hunting in Wyoming, Kathleen Davis didn’t draw any tags.
The Casper hunter loaded up the Wyoming Game and Fish Department results page on her phone Thursday and saw the same word written next to each of her applications for elk, mule deer and pronghorn: unsuccessful.
“I have two kiddos who are hunting, and my son was also disappointed,” she said. “This is his second year to hunt, and he didn’t draw an antelope tag.”
Thousands of hunters across Wyoming and the country checked their computers, smartphones and tablets Thursday morning to see if they drew their coveted tag for this fall’s hunting season. So many people went online at the same time, in fact, that Game and Fish set up a static web page just for license draw results.
But what about those people like Davis who didn’t draw what they wanted? Is their season over?
Not necessarily, say wildlife managers.
Monday morning opens a five-day window where prospective hunters can apply for any tags leftover from the main draw. It’s not the same as winning your first or second pick – certainly – and options are slimmer than they’ve been in past years, but in that leftover draw are still plenty of chances to have a quality fall hunt and put meat in the freezer.
“It’s a limited time period just to give the hunters a chance to look over the license availability list one more time and decide whether that area would work into their hunting plans well ahead of the start of the season,” said Scott Smith, Game and Fish’s deputy director. “It’s absolutely worth your time.”
The department used to sell leftover tags on a first-come, first-served basis, but found the system couldn’t handle the large volume of applicants at the same time. A lottery also makes the second draw more equitable, he added.
Some leftover draw areas, like those along the west slope of the Wind River Range near Pinedale, still have cow or calf elk licenses in the second draw. The season starts earlier than the general tag in the same hunt area and runs a little longer, giving hunters about three more weeks in the field. It’s not only a way to harvest meat, but also a beautiful hunt, Smith said.
Some leftover licenses may still be available as late as this fall, but any of the ones with decent public land access will likely be gone.
“With the demand lately, that type-6 elk license on the western side of the Winds, those will not make it to over the counter,” Smith said. “They will all get picked up during the second drawing. Demand is still high for those, so I would encourage folks to try for the leftover drawing.”
Hunting is a way Wyoming manages its big game herds, and leftover licenses for some elk cow/calf areas are in places where herds are too big, said Corey Class, wildlife coordinator in the Laramie region.
Area 7 near in the Laramie Range, for example, has hundreds of leftover cow/calf elk licenses because of the high number of elk in the area. Most of them will be picked up during the leftover draw, however, so hunters shouldn’t expect to buy one this fall. If someone wants one, plan to apply this week.
The Laramie region also has some leftover doe/fawn whitetail tags, he added.
While some areas near Casper and Gillette may appear to have plenty of leftover licenses, particularly for pronghorn, biologists caution applicants to first look at public land access before buying a tag.
“The number one message to get out, anytime we’re talking leftover license, if they’re leftover, they’re leftover for a reason,” said Justin Binfet, wildlife coordinator in the Casper region. “It’s because they’re in predominantly private land areas and folks need to know that.”
Not only are some areas predominantly private land, some tags can only be used on private land. Area 23 type 2 tags near Gillette, for example, are private land only. There are hundreds of them leftover, but if a hunter doesn’t have legal access to private land, he or she should not apply, said south Gillette game warden Dustin Kirsch.
Areas 24 and 17 type 1, on the other hand, also have leftover tags and would be a better experience for public land hunters. Those who aren’t sure where to go, or want to know if a leftover license is worth buying, should call a regional Game and Fish office, he said.
Some hunters, like Miles Bundy, manager of Sportsman’s Warehouse in Casper, plan to simply hunt in general areas where licenses are essentially unlimited and hunters can buy one over the counter.
Davis, the Casper hunter, hasn’t applied for leftover licenses before, but this may be the year.
“Usually if I at least draw one thing out of the three, I will focus on that one,” she said.
If she doesn’t get a leftover license? She will hunt a general area, she said, and try again next year.