The Big 3 – Elk, Moose, and Bighorn Sheep Hunting

February 20, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

A chance at a moose in ND is extremely rare

A chance at a moose in ND is extremely rare

March 19 is the deadline for the “big three,” or moose, elk and bighorn sheep license applications in North Dakota. I’d wager a guess that even some non-hunters have heard discussion on the odds of winning the big three lottery, and we’re not talking a financial lottery either.

Hunters nod with understanding when the moose, elk and bighorn sheep licenses are referred to as the big three, as they are all once-in-a-lifetime hunts and the odds of drawing also can be accurately associated with big, as in big odds to overcome.

Here’s a quick rundown of last year’s big three numbers: 146 moose licenses were available and 13,216 applications received; 435 elk licenses and 12,991 applications received; and five bighorn sheep licenses and 9,632 applications recorded. It’s easy to see how far hunter interest outweighs hunting opportunity.

The March 19 deadline means hunters need to do more than just haphazardly throw their name in the hat, especially for elk hunting in North Dakota. “Hunters need to think about a few things, even before applying,” says Randy Kreil wildlife division chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. “If you’ve never been to the badlands, our elk hunts in North Dakota are not like deer hunting. A success rate of 40 percent for elk is considered very good, especially when looking at other states. If you take a room of 10 hunters and tell them six of you will be unsuccessful, that’s hard for North Dakota hunters to swallow.”

Something view hunters can witness in North Dakota during the hunting season

Something view hunters can witness in North Dakota during the hunting season

Especially for deer hunters accustomed to success rates of 75 percent over much of the state. “Don’t just send in an application without considering the time investment needed,” Kreil advises. “First, make sure you are mentally and physically prepared to hunt. We’ve had scenarios where once-in-a-lifetime license holders have made one trip out to the badlands and never returned.”

It’s really not that different than planning a once-in-a-lifetime family vacation. You’ll spend countless hours researching and planning. If you draw one of the big three licenses, you should be willing to do the same thing.

Jerry Gulke, Game and Fish data processing coordinator, has a few interesting numbers relating to odds of drawing elk or moose licenses, depending on the unit and whether the hunter isn’t worried about whether the license is for a bull or cow.

“If you apply for cow tags, the chance to draw is similar to drawing a mule deer buck tag in many units,” Gulke said. “In E3 (elk unit) last year there were 55 licenses with 44 applications, and the last three or four years the odds have been pretty good in that unit of drawing a cow tag. And the same goes for cow tags in E1 with 6-to-1 odds and E2 of 4-to-1 odds.”

Looking at moose, the best odds for a cow moose license have been in units M10 and MC at 9-to-1. At the other end of the spectrum, last year unit M8 had 4,345 applications for a mere 15 tags, or odds of 290-to-1.

That’s a lot of numbers to digest, but as I mentioned before, these are once-in-a-lifetime hunts for North Dakotans. We should feel fortunate just having a chance to apply for these licenses, and those of you (this does not include me) who have beat the odds should feel blessed for having the opportunity to hunt one of the big three.

Next week I’ll walk through the many adjustments to elk management in North Dakota that will be part of the 2008 season.


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