A Hunter's Gamble: Waiting for the Deer Draw

It's that time of year again. The time when your heart starts pounding, your mouth goes dry, and you keep checking the calendar every few minutes.  You start thinking up new cuss words every time you can't see it, and when you do, it either feels like Christmas in July, or you feel a like loser with a consolation prize.

I'm talking about The Draw.

It's like crack for sportsmen and -women.  It's gambling, but only takes some of your money, unless you score.  Losers get most of their money back--minus some draw fees and online convenience fees--and winners end up a lot poorer but with coveted tags in their pockets.

It's a racket, I tell you.

 This Year in the Draw

Lotteries are for people who can't figure out the draw.  To say that Montana's draw is complex is an understatement.  There are actually three major draws: permits, big game, and biggest game.  It depends on whether you're hunting deer, elk, antelope, bison, moose, bighorn, or mountain goat. The permit draws are in addition to the regular tags.  They happen in March. You have to own a tag in order to have a permit.  Hence, you've tied up your money already, and you can't use the tags until almost eight months later.

If you're planning to hunt the really big or exotic game, i.e., moose, bighorn, bison, or mountain goat, you've got until May 1st to get your draw application in.  Someone [cough] forgot that it was May and not July, like she was thinking... So, we're guaranteed to not have a moose or bison tag this year.

Then, there's the BIG DRAW.  You know, the one that specifies if you can hunt antelope, or antlerless deer, or antlerless elk.  In some cases, it can mean antlered mule deer or even bull elk.  Each game unit has its own set of rules. Sometimes the units nearby have similar rules, but don't count on it. 

Confusing?  Sure.  But it's gambling at the hunter's level, with complex rules and big stakes. And you become addicted quickly when you're a locacarnivore and need to put meat in the freezer. Let's face it: antlers are nice, but they don't feed you.

Code Talkers

Every year, Larry and I speak in code.  It's often sounds like this:

Me: Do you think we should hunt 494 this year?
Larry:Which one is that?  Is that the one we're in?
Me: No, we're in 404, but shoulder season starts mid-August and we have to call up that rancher.
Larry: What about 435?
Me: They only allow doe hunting on private. We could go to 735, but that's way south...
Larry: What does 456 do?
Me: Shoulder both sides of the general season, oh, and the tag will work for 450 also...

If someone were listening, they'd be hard-pressed to make any sense of what we're saying, without the super-secret decoder book you can pick up at darn near any gas station, sporting goods store, or FWP approved license seller.  Not to mention the Montana FWP website...

But None of this Matters, or Things to Do While Waiting to Hunt Deer

At some point, you look online for the millionth time and see that dreaded word, "PENDING" over your draw tags, and wonder if you could do anything else to keep yourself busy while you wait.  Here are some handy suggestions that might help:
  • Count the packages of game meat you have left in your freezer.
  • Grind the meat scraps you've been saving for hamburger.
  • Pretend you're hunting whitetails while shooting ground squirrels with your .22.
  • Get reacquainted with the strangers in your house who claim they are your family.
  • Learn to fish (it is that other season).
  • Clean the deer blood off the kitchen floor that you laid down last November when you butchered the deer, but were so darn busy you still haven't done it.
  • Take up knitting.
But at some point, the thought of the draw and deer hunting will enter your mind again.  And you go back to looking online to see if they've finalized the draw.  That's the only known cure for it.