Deadline's at hand for special hunting permits

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Welcome to the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks annual million-dollar license raffle.

Friday is the last day to apply for your special moose, bighorn sheep and goat tags. Montana is unique among most states because each year hunters have a chance to receive a coveted special license to hunt and kill a moose, bighorn sheep or mountain goat.

While anyone can apply for these special licenses, donít hold your breath waiting to get the actual license!

For some species such as bighorn sheep, the odds of actually getting a sheep license are less than 1 percent. But, hey, someone will get that license and it may be you.

I have been very lucky in drawing permits.

Most hunters wait a lifetime and never get a sheep license. But both my wife and I each have received two. Sometimes you can make your luck by being persistent and studying the odds.

Thirty-five years ago, Fish, Wildlife and Parks started a hunter preference system where hunters who had been unsuccessful in these special drawings would get a preference to draw a permit in future years. Most hunters ignored the early years of this preference system. I didnít.† So when my wife and I each had five years of preference, very few hunters had as much preference.

One spring my wife and I had six years of preference and applied for sheep hunting licenses near Thompson Falls. We did not draw sheep licenses. All the sheep licenses went to six-year-preference applicants, but not us. Then we noted the Kootenai Falls hunting district gave sheep licenses to some hunter with only five years of preference.

We figured that next year, when we would have seven years of preference, unless other hunters made the switch to the Kootenai Falls hunting district, we should get our sheep licenses. It worked. The next fall we each received a sheep license in the Kootenai Falls hunting district and each bagged a trophy ram.

So it pays to be persistent.

The old preference system was junked because it became unwieldy in that pre-computer era. Now with computers, a new preference system is in place. This system squares the years you have applied unsuccessfully.

Hereís how it works.

Say you apply this year for the first time. Your name goes into the drawing hat just once. But say your buddy has applied for five years unsuccessfully. He now has five years preference. When five years is squared, he has his name in the drawing hat 25 times. Now that doesnít guarantee that he will get a license before you, but the odds are that he will. †

I just applied for a sheep license where the odds of getting a license are about half of 1 percent. That application cost me $10 plus another $2 to be in the ďbonusĒ point system. One sheep hunting district had 1,160 applications for three sheep permits.

That means that if Fish, Wildlife and Parks received $12 from each applicant, it gets $13,920 from the application process and only $375 for selling the three sheep licenses. Who says Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists are not good business people. The special license application process is big business for Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

For hunters, itís fun to study hunting districts and the odds, then make your applications. Then come several weeks of anxious waiting and hoping.

Two weeks ago a received a call from my son, Mike. He was bubbling with excitement. He had just received notice he had drawn a coveted bull elk permit for the C.M. Russell Wildlife Management Area.

This is truly first-class hunting for world-class bull elk. Both of us will now apply for special cow elk licenses so next fall we could go hunting with a bull tag and two cow tags in our pockets. This will be a boat-in hunting and camping trip and will be a great father-son hunting trip. Both of us can hardly wait.

So donít delay, get you applications in.

The deadline is Friday, May 1. You can apply online, at Fish, Wildlife and Parks headquarters on Meridian Road or at your local sporting goods store.†

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