Guest blogger: Eric Pawlak, WTA TAGS Manager, on Grizzly Tags and the Actual Tags Out there…and How to Get Them
If this tag actually existed, available via drawing, you can bet your bottom dollar someone from the Gunwerks team would almost certainly draw it. Why not – they draw everything else. From Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and Ibex in New Mexico, to the very best antelope tag in the country (Arizona), to mountain goat in their home state of Wyoming, they’ve certainly pulled their fair share of primo tags. Oh, and let’s not forget about the multiple awesome elk tags they’ve drawn over the years. With these guys in the draw, you don’t stand a chance – or do you?
I’m often asked by friends and clients something similar to the following, “Eric, how is it possible that the biggest names in the outdoor industry always seem to draw the very best tags?” During this inquiry, there always seems to be a touch of suspicion in their voices. As if there is some conspiracy between these specific high-profile sportsmen and the Game & Fish Departments in the western states.
I completely understand how how these suspicions arise. In fact, in my younger years, I had these same thoughts. Year after year people are inundated with images of “The Pros” posing with giant elk, pronghorn antelope, magnificent bighorn sheep and completely insane mule deer. Many of these trophy shots are often the direct result of drawing some “super tag” in a dreamland GMU, with almost impossible drawing odds.
Now, after managing a professional licensing service for over a decade, and handling the applications for some of the biggest names in the industry, I can tell you, without even the slightest shadow of a doubt, there is no backroom deal or conspiracy going on.
Here’s how they do it:
The Gunwerks team is no different than anyone else who applies properly for the country’s most coveted tags. The key word here is properly. They do it EXACTLY as it should be done. First, they each apply for dozens of tags. The more states/species you apply for, the higher your probability of drawing a quality tag. Next, they are completely loyal to the process. They renew their TAGS portfolios year after sometimes frustrating year. Therefore, they are “pointed-up” all over the West further increasing their odds of drawing. They apply their kids for the often easier-to-draw youth super tags.
Finally, and just as importantly, they utilize a professional licensing service to handle their applications (WTA TAGS), and when they do finally draw a tag, they take full advantage of it, often hiring the very best outfitter for the game management unit they’ve drawn for.
Winning and Scoring on the Tag
It’s these last two points of which I will now touch on. First, let’s explore the fact that the Gunwerks team annually hires the TAGS team at Worldwide Trophy Adventures to handle their western applications. Why do such experts in western hunting hire a professional licensing service to handle their applications? Because the Gunwerks team is busy developing probably the very best long range shooting system in the world. This obviously keeps them extremely busy. Like most, they simply don’t have the time to keep up with the endless maze of regulations, constant changes, GMU data, preference point data, and the accounting of their applications, including the float. Therefore, they hire a service whose job it is – 8 hours a day, 5 days a week – to stay on top of all this for them.
Each year, dozens of sportsmen have turned over their western application to our WTA TAGS service, and I can tell you with absolute honesty, the majority of these people have been applying incorrectly prior to hiring us. There always seems to be some little tweak or rule that’s been overlooked or missed. The most common mistake I see is when an outfitter is handling an application on a potential client’s behalf. That’s often the worst mistake an applicant can make. Is the outfitter applying you for the very best tag, or is he applying you where the odds of drawing are easier so he can book a hunt? This is a very important question to be asking.
Again, the Gunwerks team does it right.
For the majority of their tag applications, they instruct WTA TAGS to apply them for the very best units in the country. They cast a wide net trying to snag the very best tags in the West. When they do finally strike gold, they often hire the most reputable outfitter for the specific tag they’ve drawn. Which bring us to our final point – hiring an outfitter.
In most cases, upon drawing, Gunwerks will hire an outfitter. Again, ask yourself why. Why would some of the best hunters on the planet hire an outfitter? Simple, to maximize their opportunity. You see, these tags are extremely hard to draw and in many cases you will never again see this amazing opportunity come your way. The Gunwerks guys are keenly aware of this simple fact. Could they get it done going it alone? Probably, but why take the chance?
Don’t get me wrong…
I completely understand and appreciate the DIY hunter. I absolutely love doing it on my own, but I pick my spots. When hunting DIY, most importantly, I make sure I have the time to properly scout the area. Showing up into an area blind, especially after drawing a primo tag that you may never draw again, is a HUGE mistake … and if you think you’re saving big dollars by going it alone, think again. After everything you have into it – fuel, tents, cots, mattress pads, lanterns, food, drinks, maps, the cost of being away from work for an extended period etc. – the expense difference can be marginal. Also, in almost every case, outfitter success rate versus DIY is typically far greater. If your DIY hunt result is an unsuccessful harvest, you now must factor in the costs associated with having to try again instead of moving on to the next species or next great adventure.
I’m not the best hunter. I’m not the worst. I’m probably somewhere in the middle. I’m certainly capable of pulling off a DIY hunt in many cases. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. The last super tag I drew was a New Mexico Ibex tag. Actually, I drew Oryx and Ibex in the same year. I hired an outfitter for both. On the Orxy hunt, I probably could have been successful going DIY, but this was a once-in-a-lifetime tag, so I elected to go with an outfitter. I’m glad I did. I learned a ton, met some great people and in the end harvested a beautiful specimen. On the Ibex tag – thank the lord I hired an outfitter. This is an absolutely brutal hunt where an experienced team of guides is – in my opinion – absolutely essential. In the absence of pure dumb luck, there is no way I would have been able to harvest a billy with my smokepole going DIY. All I’m saying is – be careful and choose wisely.
Applying for limited-entry big game tags can definitely brighten your hunting future. It certainly has for the crew over at Gunwerks. It’s given them multiple opportunities to test their supreme weaponry on the most sought after big game species in North America. It’s gotten their children access to some of the very best hunting country on the planet. When they don’t draw, they are compiling valuable preference points for their future.
They leave the daunting task of applying up to the licensing professionals at WTA TAGS. If they tied to handle all these western applications, it would be like us trying to build custom rifles that can accurately shoot 1,000 yards – absolutely futile. We review their TAGS portfolios once a year, tweak where necessary and then they sit back and wait. They wait for that highly anticipated phone call, “Hey, Aaron … it’s Eric … do me a favor, I can’t get a hold of your brother Mike. Tell him Congratulations. Wyoming just posted – he drew the non-resident Grizzly tag. Boy, what a hunt!!!”
Originally appeared in LongRange Magazine January 2017, a Gunwerks publication.