Getting a coveted hunting tag is part luck and part strategy. You need to plan your tag applications like you do your hunt.
If you want the very best big game hunting tags in the country, you are competing with like-minded sportsmen for a limited resource.
Your application strategy should include a realistic assessment of your goals and abilities. You must consider your physical ability, point status, time constraints, willingness to hunt guided or unguided, most recent GMU data, and the quality of trophy you want.
Where to Apply
Match your goals and abilities with the tag success rate and hunter success rate. You have to play the odds to some extent. If "Area A" has 1:1000 tags to applicants and "Area B" has a 1:5000 ratio, your odds are twice as good in "Area B." Your next concern is to learn the trophy quality and success rates in those two areas. If "Area A" is historically better in these attributes, you then need to see how to get to the parts of "Area B" that butt up against "Area A."
How to Apply
Big game tags are highly regulated. You must fill out the application fully and precisely according to instructions. The application must be postmarked by the prescribed deadline. Fees often must accompany the application, so you must have the funds to send a check with each application.
Figure out an approximate time frame for building up preference points in an area if you do not draw a tag. Within that time frame, consider your physical health, financial situation, and obligations in the future. Match a tag opportunity to these circumstances to ensure you are up to the task when you draw the tag you are focused on. Pick an alternate tag and apply for it as well. You can pursue this alternate tag somewhat less enthusiastically, as you are relying more on the luck of the draw for this one.
Seriously consider an alternative method of hunting, such as archery or muzzleloader. These hunting methods are less popular and often open the door to better odds and shorter waits for a tag.
Some tag applications allow multiple chances per submission. One example is the Maine Moose Permit. An applicant can apply for one to ten chances per application, per year. If you budget correctly, it can increase your odds and your accumulated preference points.
Use a Service
Several professional services can take care of tag applications on your behalf. These companies develop a strategy, complete and submit the applications, and some will even float the fees. You can find resources for these companies through Safari Club International.
Cabela's offers one of the most comprehensive services available, known as the Cabelas T.A.G.S. program. This program has a long history of helping hunters secure big game tags, and they will float the fees for you.
Of course, Fin & Field is always a great source as well. They've compiled over 25,000 operators listed across the US, which is the most comprehensive resource available. You can search, compare, book and share your experiences in one place.
To draw a big game tag, use a strategy, be consistent, and be patient. These tags are worth the wait!