Bonus Point Implosion
The goal of this website is to help archers of every age and background find more success afield. Unfortunately the greatest obstacle to success these days is simply procuring a hunting tag!
Back in the eighties and nineties a hunter could swing by a sporting goods store on his way out of town and buy an OTC deer tag. Today, just drawing a general tag for a lousy unit can be a multi-year fiasco. The problem is simple: supply and demand; too many people vying for our scarce resource, our wild game animals.
The Point System
A couple decades ago most states attempted to rectify this problem by instigating a bonus point system which gives preference to those hunters who’ve been applying the longest. Although the point system varies somewhat from state to state, applicants basically accumulate a bonus point for each year and species he applies for (and doesn’t draw), thus placing him further ahead in line as points are accumulated.
The point system worked for awhile, but is now crumbling under the weight of exponential inflation, aka point creep. Presently, any new or young hunter entering the system will likely never draw a decent tag in his lifetime, much less a premium or once-in-a-lifetime tag.
Still, every potential hunter is required to pay an application fee or in some cases even buy a license just to apply for a tag he’ll likely never draw. Thus, the wildlife agencies get rich while providing virtually nothing in return. The once promising point system is quickly becoming a real scam bordering on a Ponzi scheme.
The Real Picture
To further understand the severity of the problem, let’s take a look at the coveted Utah Henry Mountains archery deer odds (see example photo below).
According to the 2020 draw odds, it currently takes 21 points (see figure 1) to guarantee a deer tag. But don’t be fooled! That doesn’t mean if you start putting in today you’ll draw a tag in 21 years. Why? Because there are 533 hunters ahead of you with 1 point or more.
The DWR only gives out 9 tags per year (5 going to max point holders and 4 to the random draw), which means all 533 people will have to draw with either max points or the random draw before it’s your turn. Therefore it will take 59 years (not 21) to reach max points. These “draw odds” are plainly shown at the bottom of the page (see figure 2).
But it gets worse. The draw odds are actually much higher than 1 in 59 because unless you have max points, there are only 4 tags in the random draw available to you and the other 528 applicants. So for 2021 the actual odds of drawing a random tag are 1 in 132! (see figure 3).
Can It Get Any Worse?
Yes, it always gets worse… Because 9 applicants are removed from the overall pool each year, you might think your odds are improving over time, but they’re actually getting worse. That’s because 42 new applicants are entering the pool each year. If this trend continues, your actual odds go from 1 in 132 (in 2021) to 1 in 140 in 2022, and so on. In other words, for next 59 years the odds of drawing a random tag go down each year.
Now if you think that’s bad, take a look at the Henry’s rifle deer tag which currently takes 191 years to reach max points. Or how about 971 years for the Henry’s bison tag? The point is, the vast majority of applicants will never draw a premium tag, but they’ll still have to pay a lifetime of app fees just for a sliver of chance in the random draw.
That’s bad news for hunters, but great news for the Utah DWR who receives 10 dollars per app per species per year with only a tiny fraction of hunters ever drawing a tag.
Currently the Utah DWR rakes in 1.5 million dollars per year in limited entry and OIAL app fees alone. If you add in non-resident fees, that number doubles to 3 million dollars. This amount doesn’t include the cost of the tag (assuming you ever draw one), so what are sportsmen really getting for their money? It smells like a scam to me.
Since the point system is obviously failing, what’s the solution? A pure lottery system of course! Unless Utah and the majority of other Western states change to a lottery system, things can only get drastically worse, and fast.
Currently only two of the eleven western states have a pure lottery system: Idaho and New Mexico. Long ago, and in the spirit of fairness, these two states anticipated the inevitable collapse of the point system and thus incorporated a pure luck draw. Surely the other nine states anticipated the same, but the potential revenue in fees was just too much to ignore.
Thus, greed has turned the management of our precious game animals into big business. Remember, the animals belong to us, the citizens, not the state. Shouldn’t every citizen have equal access to his resources?
Inevitably, every state will be forced to change to a pure lottery system. This will obviously screw over thousands of sportsmen who’ve paid into the point system for decades, but the long-term benefits will be worthwhile, and here’s why.
First, at the current rate of inflation, most youth and novice hunters will never draw a decent tag in their lifetimes. Unlike previous generations, they don’t have fair access to hunting opportunities.
Second, a pure lottery system increases opportunity for everyone, especially hard-core hunters, by weeding out non-committed or fair-weather hunters who have little interest in hunting but still apply simply because they are too invested in the point system.
Thirdly, people’s lives, interests, and situations change over time. Most hunters would prefer to apply only in years when it’s convenient for their family situations, work schedules, or budgets.
Lastly, many hunters with unlimited resources use loopholes in the point system, such as building points with multiple non-hunting family members and then averaging in with them to get tags sooner than hunters who apply alone. Thus, a lot of great tags go to waste that would otherwise go to real hunters.
Bottom line, the point system is bad for all hunters, old and young, veterans or newbies, and good for the states who’ve turned our big game animals into big business. Rest assured the point system will fail someday, the only question is when? In my opinion, the sooner the better! The longer they wait, the more hunters will be cheated out of decades of investments.
Whatever the case, a pure lottery system increases odds and opportunity for everyone. Hunters will finally be free to apply when they want rather than out of fear of falling behind in the pool and never drawing that long-awaited tag, whether they really want to hunt or not.