The Preference Point Game

I obtained my first preference point for elk in my home state of Colorado as a junior in high school. That year, under my dad’s watchful eye, I shot my first deer with a muzzleloader, but did not get the elk tag a sought. I missed out on applying while I was in college, but have consistently applied for tags or bought points since then. I entered the 2013 draw as a 40-year-old Colorado resident with 19 points.

While living in Arizona a few years ago, my wife and I planned to move back to Colorado. I decided to bide my time and wait to become a Colorado resident before trying to draw a tag. We moved back in April of 2012, so in this year I was ready to apply as a Colorado resident!

I studied the draw statistics endlessly. Based on the 2012 stats, I figured I would be guaranteed to draw almost any elk tag in Colorado, other than Ranching For Wildlife hunts. Based on my research, the two tags I was NOT guaranteed to draw were a Unit 201 muzzleloader tag (37% chance) and a Unit 201 rifle tag (0% chance). After much deliberation and conversations with many friends and family, I finally decided to go for broke and apply for the 201 muzzleloader tag. Low and behold, I drew it!

Colorado has already published the stats for the 2013 drawing, and my estimate was close. I guessed that about 4 out of 11 people with 19 points would draw for a 36.36% chance of success. I actually beat even tougher odds than I expected as the one out of seven residents with 19 points to draw the tag (14.29%). There was one non-resident who drew with 22 points, one resident who drew in the hybrid draw, two residents with 21 points, two residents with 20 points, and ME!

Playing the preference point game for more than 20 years taught me the ins-and-outs of the Colorado draw process. Colorado gives tags to the applicants with the highest points, so it’s simply a matter of waiting until you have more points than anyone else. Sadly, if you are just starting out with applications, it will take you WAY MORE than 20 years to draw a Unit 201 muzzleloader tag because of a phenomenon known as point creep. Since more people want to hunt in premier units than there are tags available, there are always hunters with a large number of points who don’t draw this year, and then reapply next year with one more point.

In 2003, it took 13 points to draw the Unit 201 muzzleloader tag. This year it took 19 points. That means that in last 10 years, the number of points required to draw increased by six. Based on that very simple math, it will take 25 points in 2023, 31 in 2033, etc. If you started applying for Unit 201 muzzleloader this year, you would have a chance to draw it in about 50 years. Luckily, I started a long time ago and now that I have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I’m going to do my best to make it everything I have dreamed about since high school.

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Trent Swanson, a Colorado native, is the Mountain Territory Sales Rep for SWAROVSKI OPTIK. You might recognize his name since he used to work with us here at Western Hunter. He is a self-professed “optics nerd” who has been chasing big game critters for nearly 30 years. You can find the rest of the blog posts about his Colorado elk hunt here.

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One thought on “The Preference Point Game

  1. captkirk1963@msn.com

    I have been scouring my past issues of Western Hunter and Elk Hunter trying to find an article that summarized the rules for muzzleloaders by state. I know Zach Bowhay had previously done similar articles for archery and electronics, BUT I am starting to think maybe I was just wishing you folks had put out such an article. A little guidance on whether such an article ever existed would appreciated.

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