Play the Odds to Get Drawn
by Rory K. Aikens
Arizona Game and Fish
When it comes to applying for a big game hunt permit, you can put in for your favorite area, then just cross your fingers and hope. Or you can play the odds and give "Lady Luck" a better chance at working for you.

So here's the information on how to make the system work in your favor, not to give you a guarantee, but at least for a better chance of success — chance being the operative word. A computer does the big game drawings randomly — it's all chance. It's a four-tiered process.

First, the computer randomly assigns each application a number from one to 999,999. For each bonus point you have earned for a particular species, the computer assigns other random numbers. Then the computer selects the lowest from all those randomly assigned numbers and that is the number given your application for the actual drawing process.

Secondly, the computer does a drawing run for those with the most bonus points (the 10 percent rule). We will discuss this more later.

The third step is the drawing for first and second choice. Hypothetically, say you are putting in for Hunt No. XX, and that hunt has 100 permits. Those 100 first and second-choice applications with the lowest randomly selected number assigned to them will get those 100 permits (or actually 90, since 10 of them went to those with the most bonus points).

Okay so far?

Say there are only 75 applications for those 100 permits, leaving 25 permits remaining following the first and second-choice computer run. The computer reshuffles, starts all over again, assigns each application a randomly selected number again, and once again matches up the 25 applications that have the lowest randomly selected numbers assigned to them.

With that in mind, the first thing to do is look in the back of the Hunting Regulations and find the pages with the odds sheet for last year, telling what hunt units had the highest application pressure, drawing success rates, and hunter success rates. For those of you who bet at the horse or dog tracks, that is like your handicapping sheet.

Now you are ready to "handicap" the hunts and put the smart money on the hunts with the best chance of getting you drawn. However, most hunters do have a preferred area to hunt. No problem. Make that area your first choice, even if it is a long shot. Long shots can pay off.

Now comes the second choice. If you really want to hunt - badly - put in for the hunt with the best odds of drawing success last year. For elk, that would have been a cow hunt.

The third thing to keep in mind is your third, fourth and fifth choices. Last year, some cow elk and alternative elk tags did last until the third, fourth or fifth choices. Don't count on those for bull elk. But for deer, the third, fourth and fifth choice might just get you afield.

If you want to play the odds, don't pick hunts with lower odds of success than your first and second-choice selections. It's like buying a second lottery ticket then losing it — it doesn't have a prayer of doing you any good.

There is also another wrinkle to the process — 10 percent of the permits (cream off the top) go to those applicants with the most bonus points that have applied for that hunt. That happens even before the computer does the random drawing for first and second choices.

Sounds extremely complicated. It's not.

Take the Hunt XX example from before that has 100 permits. Ten of those permits will be the bonus-point cream. Say there are five people who have applied that all have eight bonus points — they all get a permit. Three more have seven bonus points, and they get a permit. But there are eight people with six bonus points. In that case, the two with the lowest randomly assigned numbers will get the remaining permits. That leaves 90 for those who didn't have the most bonus points.

With that in mind, there are a number of strategies to employ. There are those who keep trying to defy the high odds and apply solely for the early bull hunt. They may still have to wait a number of years to get drawn. But that's a valid choice.

However, if you are playing the odds and really want to go hunting, once again look at last year's odds sheet and find the hunts with the greatest applicant drawing success, and apply for those hunts. Sound familiar?

There are a lot of variations you can employ. Come up with your own strategy. It doesn't mean you have to be a math wizard (we do the math for you in the odds sheets), but it does mean you need to be practical. If you really want to go hunting this year, play the odds. If you desperately want those early bull tags or Kaibab deer hunts, play the long shots — just don't have any false expectations because no matter how many bonus points you have, it is never a guarantee.

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