If you are like me this year, the tag gods did not exactly bless you with a thrilling hunting season. I can’t complain too much because I have been very fortunate in the past and you can’t have the best luck every year. If you did, drawing a great tag would not be as exciting.
With all the excitement over for the main draw, there are often countless left-over tags for premium units that have not been given out. Depending on your state, the leftovers can be up for grabs and can offer you a second chance at a successful hunting season.
When it comes to leftover tags, a little research can go a long way. I have a few tips that can help you wade through the bad units and come up with some potential great second opportunities.
Know the Land Composition
Often times when you see leftover tags, especially out west, it has to do with access. For example, east of I-25 is the majority of private land. As a result, there are always leftover deer and antelope tags available. But remember just having a tag isn’t the gateway to hunting, land access is. So, in Colorado, I almost always count out any unit on the eastern plains. If you have unit-specific maps or national forest service maps, these will help you evaluate which units have accessibility to public land and how you can access it.
Don’t Be Picky
Remember that if you are looking at leftover tags you probably don’t have a tag in your pocket, to begin with. So, don’t go in with the mentality of finding a “magical” unit and killing a giant buck. Don’t get me wrong, this happens every year in some units, but I wouldn’t count on it. A leftover tag is your chance to get out in the field during the fall and have a chance to fill the freezer.
Keep your options open. Don’t be afraid to take a doe tag, this can open up the opportunity to look at a new unit and find something for next year. I find that when you keep your expectations in check, hunting on leftover tags is much more enjoyable and you often find success.
Know Where to Buy
Leftover tags are the “hail Mary” for most hunters, meaning that they can get a little desperate when trying to buy them. Most game agencies have different rules for purchasing leftover tags than they do for the regular draw or over the counter tags. Most of them make you call the agency directly to purchase or go to a physical agency location and wait in line to buy them. That means you can’t just log on to the website and buy them, and you can’t go to Walmart and get your license. It’s almost like they want to see the chaos and panic as some sort of amusement. I have literally seen lines over a block long waiting to see if they will get their tag. Most agencies operate on a first-come, first-serve basis for leftover tags, so even if you wait in line there is no guarantee that the tag will be available when you get your chance.
Although it can be a little hectic and inconvenient, it is often worth it. I have had some of my most memorable hunts hunting on leftover tags. The best part is that I never come away disappointed. I didn’t even expect to hunt anyway, so just being in the outdoors with an opportunity is a success. I always seem to find a cool new unit or see something that I have never had the opportunity to see before. So, if you have struck out on your state draw, I would encourage you to look into the leftover tags in your state. I would be willing to bet that you will find a hunting opportunity and most likely have at least a chance at filling the freezer.