The Rub Line: Application and map strategies

Hunting western terrain for big game is an evolving sport, as online resources, mobile apps and GPS capabilities further arm hunters with additional information that not only helps during a hunt, but also in the planning stages of a hunt as hunters apply for tags and scout. Photo by Zach Pawlowski,

By Dana R. Rogers

They say hope springs eternal, and, with that in mind, no other time of the year is more important to big-game hunters with plans to travel and hunt out of state than the spring application period.

Within South Dakota we have sheep, mountain goat and elk applications coming around, typically in May. If your dreams and desires pull you to regularly hunt other species or locations, then nonresident applications need to be submitted and, quite often, preference points built up before one of those coveted tags comes in the mail.

Over the past decade or so, a few application services have come out and some publications even list draw odds to help you plan and choose more regular hunting opportunities. The accuracy of those publications and services often comes into question. If you use several research publications and websites in your research, as I do, then you know how varied they can be.

One subscription website that offers the latest in mathematical algorithm use for researching draw odds is goHunt Insider ( This site doesn’t have South Dakota content for drawing odds and strategies, but it does for those western states you may dream of hunting. You can find some great content on their website or on YouTube that will show you how to navigate different states’ draw odds for resident, nonresident, archery, muzzleloader, rifle, and guided or unguided hunting opportunities if you subscribe to their “Insider” access section.

If you’ve taken the time and expense to purchase bonus or preference points, this algorithm will also allow you to enter your point totals. You can calculate the odds of you drawing the tag this year. Don’t want to wait to hunt? Then use the check boxes on the tools to find your higher-end draw odds for the wild game species and weapon choice you prefer to find quicker success.

Additionally, you can use the “Insider” feature to sort unit preferences for state, species, trophy potential, draw odds, season dates and harvest success. They provide a great resource for showing public land and private land ownership, as well as access. The site lists terrain types, vegetation, access, camping, lodging, historical temperature and precipitation. The site also offers some great giveaways, links to states’ rules and regulations, strategy articles and species breakdowns.

If you want to hunt every year, then you can with some general tags in states such as Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. By using goHunt, however, you can put yourself ahead of the game with the additional research information it provides. Check them out at

No matter if you are hunting in another western state or here at home in the Dakotas, GPS maps can be absolutely critical to success and ensuring you have legal access. A great tool for online map research and GPS map downloads is onXmaps at This site includes maps for all of the states, and they are absolutely phenomenal. You can order paper copies tailored to your state and draw unit, and downloads or chips for each state are regularly updated.

An absolutely critical feature on their maps is that a premium subscription will include landowner names and property boundaries. That way you can find out who to call and ask for permission.

The hunting units, roads and trails, different color codes for public and private land demarcation zones, and the ability to save your maps for off-line use at a later time are added benefits. The map overlays can be used online and on your GPS to provide some great granular details that can really make a huge difference in scouting and strategizing over prime hunting locations, allowing you to filter through areas so you don’t have to waste boot leather and days of scouting when you want to be hunting. I’ve used these maps for a few years now, and I also order paper copies, just because I want to hedge against my batteries dying in the field and my eyes aren’t nearly as sharp as they used to be.

Knowing the way draws are run can’t be overstated. Here in South Dakota, for example, every year I hear so many hopeful hunters that get very upset that they have a certain number of preference points but still can’t seem to draw their preferred license.

In reality, South Dakota doesn’t have a true preference system, even though we call them preference points. We also have different draw sequences for deer and elk.

For example, inside the firearms deer draw is the initial draw for landowner preference. That allows for up to 50 percent of the licenses in each unit to be allocated to landowners with at least 160 acres. Then, once that number is taken off the top, the remaining licenses are drawn for hunters with a preference point. Now, there is even more detail and granularity involved, such as a pass with two or more points, then another pass with one or more points and then any remaining with zero points.

Also, you have to take into consideration the specific license you’re applying for. In other words, are you applying for an “any deer” license or an “any whitetail” license? That can make an absolutely huge difference.

For example, if you want to apply for a Black Hills deer rifle license, there were 200 resident and 16 nonresident any-deer tags in 2016. Now, remember that up to 50 percent of those available any-deer licenses go to qualifying landowners, which means those 200 licenses are now 100 licenses available. The next pass with two or more preference points had 1,729 resident applicants. Obviously, no tags were left for the 2,551 applications with one preference point, or the cumulative total of 4,061 applicants who desired that license. In fact, the odds of drawing as a nonresident are better than a resident’s chances.

Now, if you want to hunt the Black Hills with a rifle and are OK with hunting just whitetails, your odds rise dramatically. Last year there were 3,500 resident and 280 nonresident any-whitetail permits available. Only 41 resident landowners applied for preference on the 50 percent (1,750) of landowner tags allotted. You are probably sick of numbers, so I’ll just say that every single applicant for an any-whitetail license with two or more preference points, and 67 percent of applicants with just one preference point also drew the any-whitetail license.

This is just one example of why getting the correct draw information and doing some research is so important if you want to have a more constant flow of the tags you want in the locations you want to hunt. Get online and do some research to give yourself a better chance of success in the draws. As always when afield, respect the land, respect the landowner and respect the wildlife.

About the Author: Deer columnist Dana Rogers grew up in central South Dakota and now lives in the Black Hills. Contact him at