For Colorado hunters, April of every year is a time of excitement and anticipation over the big-game license drawing. Although many of Colorado’s big-game licenses are available over-the-counter, hunters must apply for and draw the more coveted licenses for species like bighorn sheep and mountain goat.
This past year, as I was getting ready to submit my license application, I was especially excited because I knew that I had enough preference points to potentially draw a goat license.
When I first started hunting big game in Colorado, I was only interested in hunting deer and elk. However, as a district wildlife manager (DWM) in Summit County, I was fortunate to have both sheep and goats in my district. Over the years, I started applying for both species because they fascinated me. Sheep and goats live in such rugged terrain, and I always thought it would be the ultimate challenge to pursue them.
These days, I work in Denver as a wildlife biologist, and I spend many, many hours crunching numbers (wildlife populations, harvest statistics, license allocation, etc.). So, when it came time to apply for a big-game license, my brain was already dialed in to this mode, and I was ready to dive head first into the application process.
I began studying the harvest statistics on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) website, even though I knew that I already had enough points to potentially draw a goat license anywhere in the state. In the last several years of applying for a license, I had accumulated three regular preference points plus a few weighted points for goats. Although having more weighted preference points certainly improves your chances of drawing a license, there is always a little luck involved with the drawing. In fact, a few lucky hunters with just one or two weighted points will draw sheep and goat licenses every year.
If you are unfamiliar with how the drawing works for sheep and goats, don’t worry. The draw/application process can be a little confusing until you’ve applied a couple times and have gotten the hang of it. If you’re applying for sheep or goat, the main thing to remember is that you can draw a license (anywhere in the state) once you have at least three regular preference points. And if you are ready to hunt, I am a firm believer that you should apply for a license as the “first choice” on your application, instead of putting in for preference point, because you could draw a tag at any time.
Next, I narrowed my search for a place to hunt by looking at the game management units (GMUs) that were fairly close to my home, because I wanted to be able to do plenty of scouting before the start of the hunting season. I also focused on the units that I was already familiar with from my time working as a DWM.
For each of those units, I looked at horn lengths for harvested animals, the number of licenses that are allocated each year and then the number of applicants who apply each season. Checking this data from previous seasons is always a good indicator of the “odds” of drawing a license for a particular unit. However, as I already mentioned, there is some luck involved, and the odds can change from season to season. Like my boss says, “the odds are like the stock market,” and they can go up and down each year.
After doing my homework, I was eager to finally put all this information together and submit my application. In addition to applying for a goat license, I had enough deer, elk and pronghorn points to be in the running for the hybrid drawing for each of those species as well. Nevertheless, submitting my big-game applications always feels a bit like buying lottery tickets: I have much better odds, but a lot longer wait to find out if I “won” or simply need to play again next time. CPW posts the drawing results and mails sheep and goat licenses in mid-May. However, hunters who are too excited to wait for the draw results can find out if they drew a license by checking their preference-point status on the CPW website. If their preference points are zeroed out for that species, then they most likely drew a license.
A couple weeks after the big-game application deadline, one of my coworkers told me that he thought he drew a goat license since his points were at zero. Intrigued, I decided I would check my preference points to see if I drew as well. Sure enough, I looked at my status and my goat points were zeroed out! Shocked, I sat there for a moment in disbelief and then quickly dismissed this as a fluke. Surely this was one of those rare errors with the licensing system . . .
That night, I told my husband about my preference points and how I thought it was some kind of mistake. Beaming with excitement, he blurted, “WHAT? Shannon, you drew a goat license!” My initial response was, “Oh darn, now I don’t get my $250 refund back!” We both laughed and then checked the CPW website again. Yep, my preference-point status for goats still showed “0” for 2014. Even then, I still didn’t believe that I actually drew a tag until I received the license in the mail a couple weeks later.
The only bad part about drawing a goat license is telling all of your relatives that you drew when they didn’t. In addition to applying myself, I always help my relatives submit their big-game applications every season. But, as much as I wanted one of them to draw a goat license, I was more than happy to be the lucky “winner” this year.
In my upcoming blog posts, I will talk about scouting, touch on some goat biology that is pertinent to hunting and, of course, let you know how my hunt turned out. Stay tuned!
This story was written by Shannon Schaller. Schaller is a former district wildlife manager in Summit County and now works as a wildlife biologist in CPW’s Denver office.