Complexity of license draw 
hinges on preference points

The process of getting your big-game license begins here, with the annual brochure from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, but it should end with you sitting at the computer. Nearly all application mistakes are made by hunters sending hand-written applications.


License apps take jump

Among the notes coming out of last week’s meeting of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission was this item: Applications for big-game draw licenses this year were up by 17,000 over last year.

The total number was 468,816 applications, up 4 percent over the 2012 number of 451,000.

“This is really good news, and it shows there still is a demand for our product,” Parks and Wildlife director Rick Cables said. “And it’s growing, so that’s good news, too.”

Cables said 82 percent of applications were done online.

“That’s really important,” Cables said, “because 95 percent of the mistakes made during the application process are from the hand-written applications.”

No breakdown between resident and nonresident applications was available.

Any questions about how the big-game hunting licenses are allocated can be answered quite simply.

“It all depends on preference points,” said Henrietta Turner, manager of the license administration section for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “It’s a misconception” to think there is any preset order by which licenses are drawn.

Turner’s explanation of what’s typically thought of as a complex system of administrative hieroglyphics came Friday during the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission meeting in Gunnison.

The system starts with each license application number being inverted and then converted to yet another six-digit number by computer to insure the draw is random.

It’s that final number that determines your place in the draw, if you have enough preference points to qualify.

And even if you have the right number of points needed to draw a license, once the license quota for a hunting unit is reached, you may be left without.

Which is why, of two people with the same number of preference points, one may get a license (better draw number) and the other won’t.

And why, especially in the case of the so-called “hybrid draw” for licenses in units requiring 10 or more preference points, someone holding fewer preference points but a better draw order than you might get a license.

The drawing ratio is a “soft cap,” meaning residents and nonresidents are guaranteed up to 65 or 35 percent of the draw licenses, but not necessarily the entire quota, depending on how many preference points the other side holds.

Commissioner Robert Bray of Nucla was on the wildlife commission in 2001 when the 60/40 resident–to-nonresident cap was initiated (it’s presently 65/35 or 80/20, depending on the game unit), but he doesn’t recall voting for a soft cap.

“I was on the commission, but I thought we were voting for a hard cap,” he told Turner.

“I don’t remember either,” Turner said, “but this (soft cap) is our policy.”

State terrestrial manager John Broderick said his staff spent 100 hours looking at the effects of a hard cap (guaranteed license allocations) on nonresident licenses, and the final line showed a $600,000 loss of elk income and an increase of $230,000 in deer income if nonresidents were given a hard-cap preference in the draw.

“That’s an overall loss of $370,000 in income,” Broderick said.

Some of that lost elk revenue was due to the sale of leftover licenses, in which residents, who pay $41 for a license, have a one-day advantage over nonresidents, who are charged $586.

But more came out of the exercise than anyone expected, Broderick said.

It was found that more than 77 percent of all nonresident elk hunters (and 79 percent of nonresident deer hunters) used only their first-choice on their applications, opting for a preference point instead of selecting the second through fourth choices.

In comparison, 45 percent of resident elk hunters (42.5 percent of deer hunters) were first-choice-only applicants with the rest OK with getting a second, third or fourth choice.

This means a majority of nonresident hunters are willing to gamble on getting their first choice, and if not, they will sit back for a year and pay $3 to accumulate another preference point.

This accumulation of preference points exacerbates preference point “creep,” meaning it takes more points each year to draw a license.

“But resident hunters want to hunt every year, so they’ll take that second, third and fourth choice,” Broderick said.

If the nonresidents were under a hard cap, it could result in nonresidents receiving licenses with fewer preference points than residents, in order to meet the mandated hard-cap level.


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