The best and most coveted Western Big Game tags

For years every June and July (the months when the lottery results are released), I would roll my eyes and throw up my hands with every “Thank you for your application, but we regret to inform you…” email that hit my inbox. Then in 2021, after 19 years of applying, I pulled a tag to archery Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and checked a true dream hunt off the bucket list. Last summer, my number came up again and I was able to chase elk on a prime unit of the Centennial State that I had dreamed of hunting since I was a kid.

Some tags may seem impossible to draw, and some you’ll never draw, but like the lottery, you can’t win unless you play. One thing’s for sure: You’ll never hunt elk in the Ferris Mountains or muley in the Henrys or bighorns anywhere in the West unless you put your name in the hat. So go ahead, take a chance. Here are eight dream hunts with tough odds you should apply for anyway – because if you hit the jackpot, you’ll be in for the experience of a lifetime.

1. Mule Deer of the Henry Mountains in Utah

  • Weapon: Rifle
  • 2022 season dates: October 22 – October 30

In 2021, the success rate of rifle hunting for mule deer in the famous Henry Mountains was 96 percent, up three percent from 2020. Those who have hunted the Henrys will tell you to expect to spend the most a lot of time behind the glass studying horns — and if you can move it, bring help. Many hunters who pull this tag of 0.8 percent success rate at 25 points (it’s 100 percent at 26 points) assemble a team of helpers to earn a lifetime buck. Managed for trophy potential, the Henry Mountains range in elevation between 5,000 and 11,522 feet, and the current cost-to-do ratio is estimated at 44:100. Hanksville is the closest town and there are a number of places to camp in the unit. At roughly 1,345 square miles, the unit is 98 percent public land, and finding a buck that pushes the buck past 190 inches is a real possibility.

2. Wyoming Unit 22 Ferris Elk Mountains

  • Weapon: Rifle
  • 2022 Season Dates: October 8 – October 31

Unit 22 of Wyoming’s high desert, known simply as “The Ferris,” is spoken of in reverent tones among deer fanatics. Like other countries where bulls are managed for trophy potential, the odds of a draw are slim – less than 15 percent for non-residents with 14 points and roughly 13 percent for those with 15 points. However, if you hit Cowboy State Gold, you will be hunting a unit that is loaded with BLM and state lands and where your chances of finding a bull that will mark 340 inches north are good. If that wasn’t enough, you’ll have a long season to get the job done as well. Most of the roads are well maintained on this 88 percent public land unit and the bull to cow ratio is crazy. The latest information from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department shows 102 bulls for every 100 cows. The success rate in 2021 was 68 percent for rifle hunters.

3. Nevada Pronghorn Unit 67 and 68

Photo of pronghorn antelope
Start hunting season off right with a Nevada bow hunt. Photo by John Hafner
  • Weapon: Archery
  • 2022 Season Dates: August 1 – August 22

Draw this tag and you’ll be able to start your bow season in early August with a great chance of landing a speedy buck that pushes the bar north of 75 inches. The typical drill is to find a few well-used waterholes, spend some time glassing to find a good buck, and then put a blind in the bow range. The success rate for unit 67 and 68 pronghorn in 2021 was 33 percent for archery hunters. More than 60 percent of the area is public land, and hunters who put in the time will find no shortage of goats in this bushy part of the state. The current money-to-doe ratio is 33:100 and once non-residents accumulate more than 11 points, the odds of withdrawal increase to over 20 percent.

4. Montana Unit 123 Cabinet Mountain Bighorns

  • Weapon: Any
  • 2022 Season Dates: September 15 – November 27

With only a handful of tags awarded to this unit each year, the chances of drawing, even with 20 points, are less than 1 percent. But as Lloyd tells Mary in Dumb and Dumber, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.” As someone who’s been lucky enough to pull a big tag and get a big ram, I can tell you there’s nothing quite like it, and this northwest Montana unit has everything you want: a physical challenge, scenery spectacular, a healthy horn population. , and the ability to lower a ram over 180 inches. The Cabinet Mountain unit is more than 85 percent public land, and although the terrain is rugged, hunters who tough it out and put in their time are almost certain to find a decent ram. In 2021, hunters in the unit recorded a 100 percent success rate.

5. Colorado Unit 76 Shiras Moose

  • Weapons: bow, muzzle or rifle
  • 2022 Season Dates: September 10-30 Archery; September 10-18 Loading nozzle; October 1-14 Rifle

Known for producing monstrous Shiras year after year, Colorado Unit 76 is what every western louse hunter dreams of. The unit is massive and has a wide range of topography, from low mountain valleys to rugged alpine basins above timberline. Hunters willing to work should be able to wrap their tag around a 50-inch deer. Colorado has a weighted point system for moose, and once you have three weighted points, your name is in the hat. But don’t get too excited; Current success rates for non-residents at 22 points remain below 2 percent. But if you pull a coveted tag of Colorado Shiras, you can hunt all three seasons. In 2021, the state issued 22 non-resident bull tags and 21 non-resident cow tags. Colorado Unit 76 is just under 1,000 square miles and is 94.3 percent public land.

6. Arizona Unit 13A Mule Deer

  • Weapon: Archery
  • 2022 Season Dates: August 19 – September 8

Home to some of the most impressive mule deer anywhere, Arizona’s Unit 13A, known as “The Strip,” draws attention from mule fanatics spanning the globe. Although deer density is low, quality is extremely high, with many 200-inch bucks taken each year. Over 80 percent of the unit is open to public hunting. Non-resident archery hunters have less than a 1 percent chance of ever drawing this tag, but it’s not impossible. If you’re so lucky, it’s a good idea to enlist the help of a guide who is willing to give you the hours before your hunt to find and land a giant. That is, if you can’t make it from August 1 to the start of the scouting season. Rolling, sage-strewn hills and deep canyons make up most of this unit, and it’s worth knowing where the water sources are. In 2021, archery hunters here posted a 44 percent success rate.

7. Utah Plateau, Elk Stone Unit

picture of bull deer
Utah is home to an absolutely huge bull. Photo by John Hafner
  • Weapon: Archery
  • 2022 Season Dates: August 20 – September 16

If I could only hunt one state, in one unit, once for a monster bull, it would be the Utah Plateau, Boulder unit. As a non-resident, I have a 1.2 percent chance at 21 points, and odds are I’ll never set foot in the unit, but I won’t stop trying either. Part of Garfield County, the area is known for big bucks, with more than 25 B&C entries for typical deer and 13 for atypicals. While they’re hardly hidden in any wood pocket, 380-inch-plus bulls are possible, and with 97 percent of this nearly 5,500-square-mile unit being public dirt, you’ll have plenty of room to roam.

Read more: Best Elk Heads of 2022

8. New Mexico Unit 13, 17, 19, 20, 26 and 27 Desert Bighorns

  • Weapon: Any
  • 2022 Season Dates: August 12 – August 21

The Land of Enchantment offers a single non-resident tag for desert sheep, but if lightning strikes and you’re a lucky recipient, you’re in for one hell of an adventure. As of 2012, the number one Pope & Young all-time ram and the number five all-time Boone & Crockett ram have come out of the state. The season is short, so plan to work with a specialist or get to the area early to scout. Hidalgo County is a popular place, as is Socorro, and if you take your time, you’ll find the desert horns of life.

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