All about "the draw" and Utah's big game permit system
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Silhouette of a hunter in a field, carrying a rifle

All about "the draw" and Utah's big game permit system

Answering your questions about annual permit numbers, changes for the 2023 big game application period and more

By Darby Doyle

We get a lot of questions about why Utah has the hunting permit system that it does. Hunters wonder how we decide which permits are part of the permit drawing or sold over the counter, and in what order are the permits drawn, just to name a few frequently asked questions.

Silhouette of a hunter in a field, carrying a rifle

Lindy Varney is our Wildlife Licensing Coordinator, and has been with the division for a little over 15 years. As our in-house expert on the intricacies of the permit system, she talked with us about some misconceptions — and fixable common mistakes — that we see in the application process. We also sat down and talked about these issues in a recent episode of our "Wild" podcast.

For questions about Utah's big game bonus points and preference points system, see a more detailed conversation with Lindy in an upcoming blog post about Utah's big game bonus points and preference points system.

Question: Why do we have a big game drawing in Utah and why did we start doing it?

Answer: The bonus point drawing system was established in 1993 for our limited-entry and once-in-a-lifetime species: buck deer, bull elk, buck pronghorn, moose, bison, mountain goat, desert bighorn sheep and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. We started noticing an increased interest in these quality hunts where we offered a lower number of permits.

In 2000, we added general-season buck deer to the permit drawing system. Prior to 2000, these were an over-the-counter permit, but each year a few of the regions would sell out quickly. In response to public support for a more equitable system of distribution, general-season buck deer permits were placed in the drawing and a points system was associated for those hunters who did not draw a permit. This created the preference point drawing system.

Question: How does the DWR decide what permits are in the drawing and which ones are sold over the counter?

Answer: Typically, if we are managing a unit as a limited-entry or once-in-a-lifetime hunt, we will offer that hunt in the big game drawing. That is because we offer a limited number of permits for that particular hunt, and there's usually high demand. We offer most of our general-season permits through the drawing, as well, because the demand for these permits has grown over the years.

Bison crouched in brush and snow

We have a few general-season permits offered over the counter for big game species, but they sell out within hours. Public feedback has been strong that many hunters still want to have some over-the-counter permits available on a first come, first served basis.

Question: Walk us through the process of applying for a permit — what do I need to know?

Answer: First, it's good to know that you must have a valid hunting or combination license to be eligible to apply in the big game drawing. Each year, if you want an opportunity to hunt big game in the state of Utah, you can apply in the big game application. This application allows our hunters to apply for their desired weapon type (season), hunting area (hunt unit) and species. It's important to make sure you review the current year's Big Game Application Guidebook and the Utah Hunt Planner while making your preparations to apply. Currently, the big game application guidebook is available on our website and is available in print to pick up at your local DWR office or at hundreds of locations around the state.

If you are a resident of Utah, you can apply for one limited-entry species and one once-in-a-lifetime species. However, you may only draw one of these types of permits. You may also apply for a general-season buck deer permit. This year (2023), the application period opens up on March 23, and you have until 11 p.m. MDT on April 27 to complete your applications. You can apply online anytime during the application period or call a regional office during normal business hours.

Question: Why is the application later this year — beginning in March instead of January — and is this change permanent?

Answer: For years, we have heard concerns from our hunters about applying for hunts without knowing exact permit numbers, and frustration with the length of time between when you apply and when results are posted. For the first time in years, applicants will be able to view proposed permit numbers during the big game application period, but in order for us to do this, we had to push back the application period.

Bull elk in the forest

It will now open on Thursday, March 23 at 8 a.m. MDT, and you have until 11 p.m. MDT on Thursday, April 27 to submit your application. You will be able to view those proposed permit numbers the first week in April either by viewing the Utah Hunt Planner — or the Regional Advisory Council packet that will be posted on our website — starting April 5, 2023.

We anticipate that this timeline shift will stay in place, and we'll continue to improve our transparency by gathering feedback on the changes, and providing hunters with the tools and information they need to make informed decisions about their applications.

Question: Why can't the permit numbers be finalized before we apply?

Answer: We make science-based and data-driven hunt recommendations. It takes time to collect, compile and analyze all of that data. The information we use includes post-season deer classification, animal survival, hunter harvest, elk survey flight counts and tooth ages from previous years' harvested animals. All of those pieces of information go into our recommendations.

The only way we could set permit numbers earlier would be if we used only data from the previous year. However, environmental conditions and animal survival rates can vary significantly from year to year statewide. And importantly for species sustainability and health, these are best evaluated using the most recent conditions at the hunt unit level. We want to use the most accurate and current information when we make recommendations.

Two pronghorns trotting down a hill

The changes we made this year to our timeline will give applicants a much better idea of what final permit numbers might look like, and it's a big improvement over what we did in the past. Ultimately it's a balancing act in getting the best and most current information incorporated, and also giving applicants enough time to plan.

Question: What are the different hunting opportunities for Utah residents versus nonresidents?

Answer: If you're a Utah resident, you can apply for one limited-entry permit for buck deer, bull elk or buck pronghorn. In addition to applying for a limited-entry permit for one of those three species, a Utahn can also apply for one once-in-a-lifetime permit (moose, bison, mountain goat, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep or desert bighorn sheep). However, they can only successfully draw for one of those permits each year.

If you're not a Utah resident, you can apply to hunt all of the following hunts: buck deer, bull elk and buck pronghorn. Nonresidents may also apply for all once-in-a-lifetime species for which they are eligible (and that have permits available to nonresidents). Again, they can only draw out for one of the above permits each year.

There are additional hunting opportunities available to both residents and nonresidents. Even if you apply for one or more of the limited-entry and once-in-a-lifetime permits, you can also apply for one of our general-season deer permits. As you apply for various permits, please remember that you may not obtain more than one buck deer or one bull elk permit each year. For example, if you obtain a limited-entry deer permit, you may not buy a general-season deer permit.

Question: What if I make a mistake in my application, or change my mind about which hunts I want to apply for after I view the permit numbers on the Hunt Planner in April?

Answer: Another new feature beginning this year that I'm excited about is our hunters will be able to edit their big game applications. If you happen to make a mistake or your plans have changed, you no longer have to go in and completely withdraw your application and resubmit the correct application (which formerly involved another fee to resubmit the new application).

Mule deer buck sitting, partially covered in snow

However, keep in mind that if you want to change species, you will have to withdraw your application and resubmit, paying another fee. You are only able to edit your application for free if it stays within the species you applied for in your original application.

As long as you have your confirmation number and customer ID number, you will be able to edit applications until 11 p.m. MDT on April 27 for free. Go to utah-hunt.com and click the View, Edit, and Withdraw button at the bottom of the page, which will direct you to an option to edit and save changes to your application. The only time you will be charged again is if you completely withdraw your application and resubmit.

Question: What if I need to change my personal information or credit card number after I apply?

Answer: A lot of things can change while you're waiting to find out if you drew a permit. If you need to update your name because of marriage or divorce, or change your address, you can call one of our regional offices for help.

If you need to update the credit card number associated with your application, you can call our contractor at 1-800-221-0659 or visit utah-hunt.com.

Question: In what order are the permits drawn?

Answer: A better understanding of the drawing order may inform which permits you decide to apply for. Big game permits are drawn in the following order:

  • First: buck deer (all limited-entry permits)
  • Second: bull elk (all limited-entry permits)
  • Third: buck pronghorn (all limited-entry permits)
  • Fourth: once-in-a-lifetime permits (moose, bison, desert bighorn sheep, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, mountain goat)

Then, general-season buck deer permits drawn are in the following order:

  • Fifth: lifetime license holders
  • Sixth: Dedicated Hunter Program applications, which are 15% of the permit numbers for a unit
  • Seventh: Youth applications. We allocate 20% of permits to hunters who are ages 17 and younger by July 31. If a youth applicant is unsuccessful in the youth round, their application will be evaluated in the next round.
  • Eighth: General buck deer
  • Last: Draw-only youth any bull/hunter's choice elk

Keep in mind that because of the order in which permits are drawn, you will not be included in the drawing for a once-in-a-lifetime permit if you draw any type of limited-entry permit for buck deer, bull elk or buck pronghorn.

Question: When will we know the drawing results?
Bull moose and cow in a field

Answer: The big game results will be posted on May 31 this year.

Walking through the permit number proposal timeline may help hunters understand the push for a later application period. Based upon the most current science-driven data, the recommended permit numbers are posted to the Utah Hunt Planner starting April 5. The same proposed numbers are also part of the RAC packet that you can review (posted to our website in April), and submit your feedback online.

This year, the big game application period closes on April 27, and the following Thursday, May 4, is the Utah Wildlife Board meeting where the permit numbers will be approved. Only once we get those approved permit numbers can we start the process of running the draw. At several points in the process, we check that we have accurate data, run queries to make sure we don't have any fraudulent or duplicate applications, and overall make sure we have a clean, successful drawing.

So, from the close of the application to the results posted, it's just over four weeks. Much better than in the years past where it was 8–10 weeks of waiting for results.

Question: What does someone do if they draw a permit and then realize they can't go on the hunt after all?

Answer: If something comes up where you find yourself unable to hunt on the permit you drew out for, we do allow those hunters to surrender their permit. If your season hasn’t started yet, you're eligible to surrender your permit. Some things to keep in mind:

  • If you surrender your big game permit 30 days or more before the start of the season, you'll get all of your previously accrued bonus or preference points for that species back, but you will not earn a point for the current year.
  • If you surrender your permit less than 30 days before the season starts, you will lose all previously acquired bonus or preference points and you will not accrue a point for the current year.
  • If it's a limited-entry or a once-in-a-lifetime permit, the waiting period will be waived as long as you surrender your permit before the season opens.
  • If the permit is a once-in-a-lifetime or limited-entry permit that was surrendered to the division 30 days or more before the season opening date, the refund is subject to a $25 handling fee. If the fee is higher than the cost of your permit, you will not receive a refund.

Once the hunt opens, you are not eligible to surrender your permit.

Question: Does the DWR issue refunds for unused permits?

Answer: Generally, we do not issue refunds for permits. However, there are certain exceptional circumstances where a refund may be considered:

  • You are surrendering your permit for medical reasons. If that's the case, the best thing to do is contact your regional office and they can walk you through the process of submitting an application for a refund.
  • The person holding the permit becomes so ill or injured as to prevent that person from participating.
  • A member of the military was called to active duty before the permit was used.
  • The person to whom the permit was issued dies before the authorized activity.
Ram bighorn sheep in southern Utah
Question: How can I learn more about proposed permit numbers and give public feedback?

Answer: The Utah Wildlife Board meets each spring (this year, Thursday, May 4) to approve the DWR's proposed permit numbers. In the weeks leading up to the board meeting, you are encouraged to review the proposals (posted to our website in April), and submit feedback online or attend your local Regional Advisory Council meeting and/or the board meeting. Learn more about how to get involved in the process.

Darby Doyle

Darby Doyle

A communications coordinator with the Salt Lake office outreach team, Darby Doyle joined the DWR in 2021. She's an editor for the DWR wildlife blog and annual guidebooks, and chips in as a backup public information officer when needed. An avid fly angler and self-admittedly mediocre hunter, Darby enjoys gardening, harvesting and butchering game from her family's hunts all over the Western U.S. and spending time outdoors with the family's goofy Labradors.

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