Year after year, I hear sportsmen complain about how they can't draw tags for deer, elk, antelope and sheep. Some think the draw system is flawed. Conspiracy theorists go so far as to say that the system is rigged by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, which of course is ridiculous.
In reality, most sportsmen really don't understand the draw system in Arizona.
Many are not aware of the bonus point system and how it works. Most know little if anything about the loyalty point, the 20 percent pass rule and even the 10 percent cap on non-resident tags.
But there is publication out there that answers these and a lot more questions that sportsmen may have.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department has a publication called, "Hunt Arizona 2015 Edition."
This 209-page document is free and is a downloadable PDF publication from the Game and Fish website. You can also purchase a hard copy of this publication at the Region 3 office.
This publication includes draw, survey, and harvest statistics for a five-year period.
It also gives information on the distribution, life history and behavior of big game, small game and other wildlife species that are found in the state. It addresses bonus points, how to use survey and harvest data and lists bonus points by species.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department states that, "This publication is easy to use, and includes the latest data on units/hunts with the highest hunt success, hunts with the best draw odds, etc."
This publication can be an important tool for any sportsmen when it comes a formulating a draw strategy for whatever species you are seeking a tag for. With the application period for spring turkey, javelina, bear and buffalo coming up in a few months, it is a good source of information on how to draw a tag for any of those species.
Here is an example of the kind of information you can obtain from this publication that just may explain why you have not drawn an Arizona Strip (Unit 13B) mule deer tag.
Arizona is on the bonus point system. You accumulate bonus points a couple of ways. You can get a permanent bonus point for taking and graduating from an Arizona Hunter Education course.
And each year you are not successful in drawing a tag for a particular species, you get a bonus point that is added to your next year's total. Once you have had five years of unsuccessful applications, then the department awards you a loyalty point.
Even if you draw a tag, you don't lose the loyalty point if there is no break in your applications.
Many think that every bonus point you have is another entry into the draw. That is wrong. What a bonus point does is give you another opportunity to draw a LOW NUMBER in the draw.
Example: You have applied for six years for deer in Unit 13B. You have six points for the unsuccessful draws, one loyalty point for participation in five or more straight years of application, and we'll just say you've taken Hunter Education.
So right now you have six, plus one, plus one point. That is eight total. But you also get an application point for this year's draw, so you have a total of nine points. The computer will generate you nine random numbers and the LOWEST of those is your actual number on the drawing.
Another not-so-known fact is that when you apply for a species, like mule deer, you are in the mule deer draw and are "competing" against everyone who has applied for a mule deer tag.
In the case of Unit 13B, it's not just those who have applied for this particular unit/hunt.
That is why your random number may not be so low, and yet you have the opportunity to draw a tag.
In 2014, six sportsmen with just two points drew a 13B mule deer tag. How? They got a low random number.
It sounds complicated, but it isn't once you understand how the draw system works.
So let's take a closer look at the information the Department has about the most famous deer unit in the state, Unit 13B.
I'll use 2014 data, as that is latest that is available.
In 2014, there were 70 general deer tags authorized for Unit 13B.
Under the 20 percent rule, those sportsmen with MAXIMUM bonus points, which were 17, got the first 15 tags that were issued.
There were 12 resident and 159 non-residents who had maximum points. They were all in the bonus point pass together.
Out the non-resident pool of 159 sportsmen, they ended up drawing seven tags, or 10 percent of the total tags authorized for Unit 13B.
Under Arizona law, a maximum of 10 percent of the tags for most big game species can - not will - go to non-residents. The 159 non-resident and the 12 resident sportsmen were in a pool together, and non-residents are limited to a 10 percent maximum, so Arizona residents received eight tags in the 20 percent bonus point draw.
Now here is where it gets interesting.
Since the full 10 percent of the tags that non-residents COULD draw (7) for Unit 13B was filled out of the pool of those who had maximum points, the remaining 152 non-residents and every other non-resident sportsman who applied for a Unit 13B tag in 2014 were prohibited from drawing a deer tag there.
Residents, on the other hand, no matter how many bonus points they had, were eligible to draw one of the remaining 55 tags in the second draw.
According to Game and Fish, 4,062 sportsmen in 2014 applied for the 70 Unit 13B tags, which meant the draw odds were an abysmal 1.7 percent.
Now are you still feeling lucky about drawing that tag?
Another interesting fact is that in 2014, only 51 bucks were taken by the 70 permit holders. That works out to 73 percent hunt success.
When you consider how tough it is to draw a tag there, with some sportsmen waiting 15 or more years to draw, and knowing that almost one-quarter of the permit holders brought home an empty, unfilled tag, it kinda gives you a little different outlook on applying year after year for this "magical" unit, doesn't it?
The bottom line is this: Before you apply for tags in the future, you might want to look at this free publication and develop a real knowledge of how the draw system works.
Then, when you apply for a tag, you will have a realistic expectation of whether you will draw the tag or not.
Or you can continue to just hope that Lady Luck smiles on you.
It's your choice.