Wednesday, January 13, 2016


As near as I can tell, Montana FWP's "Bonus Point" hunting tag drawing system is based upon this tried-and-true Federal Agency model.



          A few people have asked what possessed me to get goats. The rationale behind the decision requires a column of its own and a rant about one my favorite pet peeves; Montana Fish, Wildlife & Park’s “system” for drawing Special Tags, i.e. moose, mountain goat, and bighorn sheep.
Hunting the high country would be a dream come true. So every spring I am afflicted, thankfully for increasingly briefer periods each passing year, with this insane, wild-eyed delusion that I might actually, finally, somehow, at long last draw a Montana bighorn sheep or mountain goat hunting tag. If I were to ever do so, such a hunt would require considerable preparation.
Historically, this has not been much of a problem. I’ve been putting in the drawings for Montana special hunting tags (goat, sheep, moose and now bison) since 1994 and thus far I’ve drawn exactly zero, zilch, nada, nothing.
I’ve also been putting in every year for the Super-Secret Choco-Fudgie “Bonus Points” ever since FWP initiated that system. In theory, by accumulating bonus points, you increase your future chances of drawing a special tag. In practice, they have proven about as useful as a screen door on a submarine.
Alas, it does not work like Wyoming Fish & Game’s system of Preference Points. In Wyoming, you eventually accumulate enough of these points that you WILL draw a tag. If you started applying at a young enough age, you WILL get a tag for the district you actually WANT to hunt.
Montana’s Bonus Point System, on the other had, appears to have been based on the quintessential federal government program model such is its uselessness and sheer dysfunctionality.
As an example, let’s say you’re trying to draw a tag to hunt bighorn sheep in the Missouri Breaks. Ordinarily, your chance of success is something like 0.00013 percent or one-in-a-hillion jillion (I’ve greatly increased the actual odds for the sake of example). With each Bonus Point accumulated, however, you now get an additional 0.00013% shot to be unsuccessful in the drawing. They don’t actually increase the odds in your favor, they just give you additional one-in-a-hillion jillion chances.
If this were not bad enough, since every other hunter in the state is simultaneously accumulating the exact same number of Bonus Points as you are, the net effect in the real world is that the system increases your odds of a successful drawing from “No Way In Hell” to the “When Pigs Fly” level, which is hardly a marked improvement.
How it worked for me goes like this. Trying to draw a special tag for ten years before the Bonus Point system was introduced resulted in actually drawing…jack shit. By comparison, attempting to draw a special tag for an additional decade while steadily accumulating Bonus Points resulted in…jack shit and higher blood pressure. So you can really see the benefits of the system right from the get-go.
Toss in the wolf re-introduction and how they’ve decimated moose populations, and I’ll bet my odds for that tag now, even with all my “Bonus” Points, are statistically less than they were when I started the ordeal twenty odd years ago.
Whenever I feel bad that I’ve struck out every single time I’ve gone to bat for the last 21 years, I just go over and visit my neighbor Bill, who was born and raised here and has been striking out on special tags for 29 years straight. Of course he’s also been accumulating those handy Bonus Points ever since the system started and of course they’ve done him as much good as they’ve done me.
As a result of all his perseverance, though, Bill’s finally going bighorn hunting this year. Unfortunately, it’s not in his home state of Montana. He got disgusted with the whole thing, sold his very nice life-long collection of elk shed horns, and purchased a guided sheep hunt in Alaska.
Meanwhile, it seems like every time I go to the shooting range or the sporting goods store I run into some (expletive deleted) who’s drawn every special tag for every species multiple times over the years, both with and without Bonus Points. Some guys seem to draw a bighorn ram tag every seven years like clockwork (if you succeed in drawing a special tag for that species, you have to wait seven years to even enter the drawing again).
A young guy in his early 20’s I used to work with in the Forest Circus drew a moose, bighorn and bison tag his first three years as a Montana resident which, by my calculations, is statistically impossible. For all I know he may have drawn a mountain goat tag his 4th year. I had to quit asking him if he drew any special tags and he quit answering because my fingers were grasped so tightly around his throat after the third year.
Then there was the woman I once met who drew a moose, bighorn sheep and Missouri Breaks elk tag her first five years in the state but who didn’t even go on the sheep hunt because it snowed!!! ARRRGGHHHH!!!!
So apparently the entire system all boils down to pure dumb luck. When it comes to that, I’m right up there with the stub-tailed, 3-legged, one-eyed dog named Lucky. I have all kinds of “luck”, but nothing you could call “fortune”, with one very big exception; meeting my wife. Olivia’s such a peach sometimes I suspect I used up my entire lifetime supply of fortune in finding her.
Come to think of it, though, perhaps more than just random chance is involved in drawing Special Tags. After all, when I accused that guy I worked with who drew all those special tags in a row of having photographs of the FWP Director in bed with a Girl Scout, a nun and a goat, he just laughed…but he didn’t actually deny it.
By my calculations, if I keep entering the drawings and accumulating bonus points, I should be able to hunt the Montana high country myself somewhere between the ages of 197 and 324. Considering how gimpy I am now, I don’t think that’ll work out too well.
Anyway, twenty plus years of this has led me to think that if I’m ever going to be able to at least hunt a bighorn sheep in Montana once in my lifetime, I’m gonna have to break down and do one of the unlimited hunting districts down by Yellowstone National Park.
I’m not all that thrilled with the idea. The Boulder River country especially is wild and desolate and steep and rocky; the entire landscape is essentially one giant rock pile about three degrees shy of vertical. There are actually Forest Circus trails in that country where you skin your nose by simply walking uphill. It kicked my ass twenty years ago before I got all busted up. Nowadays, I have to take a handful of Ibuprofen and a couple of Tylenol just to look at a topographical map of the area.
And if the terrain doesn’t kill you, the grizzlies might. It’s Grizzly Bear Central down there and, after four decades of federal protection, they have come to think of mankind as little more than fat, slow and easy-to-catch snack food located considerably lower on the food chain than they are.
Twenty years ago, I considered that fun; all part of the adventure and the challenge of solo back-packing the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. Then again, I was fresh out of the service and “young & dumb & full of come.” Plus I got all my information on the terminal effects of the .44 Magnum solely from Clint Eastwood movies. I slept soundly under the stars way back then, my trusty Smith & Wesson by my side, secure in the knowledge that I was ten-foot-tall and bulletproof.
Today, just sleeping on the ground requires a recovery period lasting until early afternoon. Not that I get much sleep what with that nagging little voice in the back of my head telling me that if there’s a Griz around I won’t know it until the sonofabitch is licking my ear. Now a combination sleep apnea, damaged vertebrae, a pinched nerve that sometimes makes my left arm go numb, a hearing impairment and being legally blind in one eye (don’t forget your night vision starts to go to shit this side of forty, too) lead me to believe that maybe…just maybe…I may no longer be able to whip a big boar grizzly in hand-to-hand combat anymore.
I kinda figure the only way I can even hike that country nowadays would be if I had somebody else do all the heavy lifting for me, i.e. carry the packs. I might still be able to hunt the high country if I restrict myself to a carbine, canteen and binoculars, and I’m not too sure about the binos. Hell, with only one good eye I probably should switch to a monocular anyway.
Anyway, back to the heavy lifting, none of my buddies are dumb enough to want to hunt that country with me and even if the spirit were willing, the flesh is usually as weak (and old and gimpy) as that of yours truly. I’m not quite sure how this came to pass, or even the precise decade in which it occurred. I’m going blame it all on Global Warming rather than give any credence to my wife’s ridiculous theory about a large number of accumulated birthdays.
At any rate, the desire (desperation?) to hunt the Boulder was the convoluted stream of logic that led me to the conclusion that I should get me a string of goats for use as pack animals.
Little did I know that merely acquiring goats was only the beginning of a long adventure/ordeal and the Boulder River country doesn’t yet appear any closer from the current vantage point despite the increase in elevation from a three-inch layer of goat poop.
But, at least the chances of success appear much better than drawing a special tag.


Cj said...

Your success drawing special tags mirrors my success in harvesting a white tail in Ohio this year. I found your writing refreshing... thanks for a few laughs!

Jim Fryar said...

I note from your post that we seem to both be in the position of trying to compensate for the bits that are performing a bit sub par at present. A coupe of days ago on the web, I was offered the chance to enter a competition for a free hip or knee replacement but deleted it. I'm sorry now that I didn't pass it on to you.

Bawb said...

Thank you both. I'd take you up on the offer, Jim, but I need four new discs in my neck. Got any coupons for those? It ain't the years so much as the mileage, I reckon.

Jim Fryar said...

I'll keep you in mind if it comes up Bawb.