Hunting sharpens hunting: Incorporate OTC hunts in 2016

Stephen Spurlock with an archery mule deer

The off season is all about improvement. It is a time for reflecting on the previous season, setting goals for the year to come, and improving skills that will better serve you next fall. The off season is a great time to get back into shape and to finely hone your shooting skills. It’s also a good time to expand your research for the next hunting season and eventually start scouting. You may have some lofty goals for 2016 (I know that I do) and as you start to plan your application strategy for 2016, I suggest taking some time to review the over-the-counter (OTC) opportunity hunts that are available.

There is a guy at the gym I go to that usually wears a shirt with large block lettering that says, “iron sharpens iron.” Try to disregard the testosterone-filled imagery there and focus, instead, on the lesson: if you want to get better at something you have to do it. A lot. I think the same principle applies to hunting. If you want to be a more successful hunter, the best practice is hunting. Yet, in today’s world of limited entry draws, preference points, and lottery systems, the reality is that great tags in trophy units are hard to come by and if your first elk is on a limited entry unit that took 15 years to draw… it is safe to say that you are most likely going to struggle on the hunt due to lack of experience. But there are some hunt options that you can incorporate into your 2016 season that will get you afield and ready for when those rare trophy tags come along.

Tracking blood from a bull elk
Practice makes perfect.

Top five reasons to consider an OTC hunt

1. Tag availability

Drawing a premium tag each fall is not a reality. No matter how strong your application strategy, or how many bonus points you have there are going to be years when you won’t get your hands on a great tag. During these years, keep fresh by challenging yourself on an OTC hunt will help you make the most of the premium tags when they do, eventually, come along.

2. Annual hunts create continued success

Not all of the OTC units in the West are without trophy potential. Many of the OTC opportunities out there can lead to opportunities at trophy animals. By doing your research and investing the time, trophy potential is there! I’ve been doing a lot of research lately on INSIDER by filtering out OTC hunts and using the Trophy Potential slider on Filtering 2.0 to narrow down the units. From there I can then start to research more on those select units that fit my specific criteria.

3. Nothing like doing the real thing

Many of us spend countless hours preparing for hunting season, but the reality is that there are skills that we can only develop by hunting. Glassing techniques, stalking prowess and accurate game shot placement are skills that only time afield can hone.

4. Testing your gear

There is nothing more aggravating than arriving in your hunting area and not having the right equipment. Model your OTC hunts after the premium entry hunts you are after and use your time afield to learn your gear inside and out.

5. The joy of the hunt

Unlike premium units, OTC units provide ample opportunities to hunt with friends and family. Many of these hunts are very affordable and, with a little planning, a group hunt is no problem. There is nothing better than spending quality time afield with friends and family.

Stephen Spurlocks dads archery bull elk
Time afield with my dad in 2013 provided memories that will last a lifetime.

Continued below.

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Must try OTC hunts 

Arizona deer

Big Chino Guide Service over the counter archery mule deer buck
A happy client with a giant OTC archery Arizona mule deer taken with Big Chino Guide Service - a goHUNT Business member

A lot has been written about the OTC deer opportunities in Arizona and the state offers OTC opportunities for both mule deer and Coues deer. With an OTC Arizona deer tag, you have the opportunity to hunt some units in the August/September season as well as the December/January season. There are a wide variety of areas to hunt on these tags and healthy deer populations. Many of you purchase a Arizona hunting license each year in order to build points toward a coveted Arizona trophy unit tag. With this in mind, the only additional cost (if you purchase a license annually) is minimal. More information on these hunts can be found here.

Idaho whitetails, mule deer and elk


The panhandle of Idaho is well known for its whitetail population. Historically, these panhandle units produce some great bucks! Costs for these hunts are around $460, including the tag and the license. For more information, refer to this article.

Mule deer

Idaho is full of OTC mule deer opportunities. A quick look at the units that offer OTC tags in Filtering 2.0 reveals that most of the state is open to OTC hunting for archery and rifle. Historically, Idaho is a producer of great mule deer and, with a lot of research and a little luck, there are OTC opportunities in Idaho that can produce quality bucks. These units range in terrain difficulty, hunting technique and population densities so make sure that you are prepared. OTC deer tags in Idaho run around $460 for nonresidents.


 Idaho Filtering options for over the counter elk hunting

Idaho provides a number of great elk hunting opportunities for the OTC hunter, with opportunities ranging from the northern end of the panhandle down to southeast corner of the state. Despite the presence of wolves and bears, most of the units in Idaho still meet their state mandated population objectives. There is some truly remote and wild country in Idaho and the state is definitely worth a look if you find yourself without an elk tag after the draws. An OTC elk tag in Idaho runs around $575 for nonresidents. Explore the early archery, late archery, early muzzleloader, late muzzleloader, early rifle and late rifle opportunities in depth on Filtering 2.0. For more information, you can refer to this article.

Colorado elk

Colorado is home to the largest elk herd in the West. With hundreds of OTC elk options, Colorado provides a plethora of good hunts for the hunter willing to spend time researching and learning backcountry. The units ranging from the north central part of the state down to the southern edge provide some great OTC hunting. You can check out the OTC units for archery, 2nd rifle, and 3rd rifle on Filtering 2.0.

The cost of these tags is around $630 for nonresidents. If you aren’t lucky enough to draw an elk tag this year, Colorado is worth a look. For more information, you can refer to this article.


The last several years Montana has leftover deer and elk tags that are available after the draw results. Each year less and less people are applying for tags, so these are becoming OTC type hunts. These tags are then available on a first come first serve basis. The great thing about Montana… general season deer and elk tags are valid in almost every Hunting District in the state.

The cost of a nonresident deer tag is $597 and $851 for elk.


Elk with arrow shaft

OTC hunts can be tough. There is no doubt about that. Fighting the crowds and finding game isn’t always easy on these hunts, but in attempting them you will grow as a hunter. The off season is the time to start planning OTC adventures. With a little research and a lot of hard work, an OTC hunt next fall may help fill your schedule and maybe even your wall!


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