HuntScore Methodology Explained

When researching a new place to hunt in your home state, out of state, or comparing your favorite area to a new possible honey hole, it can be difficult to find reliable characteristics for an accurate comparison. You may be asking yourself, "is it worth my time to hunt this new unit in Wyoming next year, is there anything else closer to home that looks attractive, or should I just stick with my current plan?" A HuntScore can help you make this decision without information overload.


A HuntScore measures the overall quality and potential of a limited license hunt or hunt unit. The HuntScore methodology is developed by the HuntScore team with the assistance and feedback from wildlife biologists, professional hunt planners, and hunters like you.

As our team adds more data and users provide feedback reviews, the system learns from use and the scores continually improve in accuracy. Our data sources include individual state wildlife agencies, BLM, USFS, Google, Boone and Crockett, NOAA, USGS, ESRI, wildlife biologists, HuntScore members, and a few others.

There are some characteristics of a HuntScore that are accurate without any additional input like the purely quantitative sources such as drawing data, applications, applicants, geographic locations, weather patterns, and climate conditions. We can apply our algorithm to these inputs to paint a fairly accurate picture. Then there's the data that is usually incomplete, inconsistent, or more qualitative in nature. Here we rely on traditional statistical methods to get us most of the way there, and HuntScore member reviews provide additional feedback that our system uses to improve a score's accuracy.

Most of the data used in our calculations use a three-year mean (average). Why three years? Drought, heat, wildfires, and other circumstances can impact any given year. We find that three years is usually sufficient in smoothing out data inconsistencies. The one exception is trophy potential where we examine ten-year trends. Either way, the takeaway here should be that comparing trends are more important and accurate than looking at an individual year.

It's also worth mentioning that a high HuntScore will not guarantee you success, and your work doesn't end by just picking the highest HuntScore. However, it's a great place to start. A single score cannot possibly encompass every hunter's goals and priorities. Everyone hunts for a different reason. That said the basic HuntScore should apply to about 75% of Western big game hunters especially those that are DIY public land hunters because public access, ease of drawing, and percentage of success are heavily weighted in the score calculations.

Finally, you will not likely find many (if any) perfect 100 HuntScores. We do not "grade on a curve," and we're conservative with the points we award. True perfection is rare, but that's life. Right? However, if you think we're off on a particular score, let us know by providing a brief review. Every score review helps improve the accuracy of our system.

HuntScore Description
90-100 Dream Hunt
These hunts and units are few and far in between.
70-89 Honey Hole
These are the hunts you seek. The majority of our top recommendations will fall within this range.
50-69 Sleeper
It's probably not going to be our top choice. That said, there are still great opportunities and fewer crowds to be found. Many prime private land hunts and units will fall into this category.
25-49 Keep Looking
Sure there are animals here, and you may get lucky, but there are many places better than this. We'd recommend you to keep looking because you can do better than this. That said, some good private land options can be found here.
0-24 Don't Bother
A score would likely fall into this range for only one or two reasons. Either there are few to no opportunities here, or we just don't have enough data score it. The latter is possible but unlikely.

Wait, there's more. We could just throw a bunch of data at you, provide you with a dizzying number of filters, and let you sort it out yourself. However, we choose to approach hunt planning from a different angle.

Over the past three years, our research concluded there are three basic categories of hunters - those looking for the best overall experience with no particular priority, those primarily looking to fill the freezer, and there's the trophy hunter. For those looking for the best overall experience, look no further than the basic HuntScore. A HuntScore is comprised of nine different characteristics with public access, ease of drawing, and percentage of success being the most heavily weighted.

For everyone else, we have created the supplemental Freezer Score and Trophy Score.

Freezer Score

The Freezer Score is a weighted version of the basic HuntScore with emphasis on harvest success regardless of sex or trophy potential. Are you mainly looking to fill the freezer? The Freezer Score is the score you'll want to use as it heavily weights odds of harvest success, public access, and opportunity. Freezer Score is a paid feature available to HuntScore Pro members.

Trophy Score

The Trophy Score is, also, a weighted version of the basic HuntScore. However, its purpose is to help those chasing the big bulls and bucks. Are you looking for the highest trophy potential? The Trophy Score is the score you'll want to use as it heavily weights trophy potential, odds of harvest success, and the room to breathe. Trophy Score is a paid feature available to HuntScore Pro members.

Score Breakdown

The HuntScore, Freezer Score, and Trophy Score consists of nine (9) different characteristics. Each characteristic is shown as a sub-score allowing you to determine what is the most important to you and your hunt. Here's a breakdown of the meaning and calculations of each sub-score.

Score Example

Ease Of Drawing

This score is based on odds of drawing a tag as your first choice. It is derived from a three-year average accounting all drawings for this species including all manner, sex, and seasons. The data source for this comes almost entirely from state wildlife agencies and the drawing reports they produce.

Those units not included in the draw process for limited licenses will likely have a low score or be marked with an N/A. It's important to note that unlimited over-the-counter licenses and over-the-counter with caps licenses are not included in this score.


2020 Update: This score is loosely based on the odds of harvesting an animal. It is derived from a three-year average accounting all harvest reports for this species including all manner, sex, and seasons. The data source for this comes almost entirely from state wildlife agencies harvest surveys and the reports they produce. Sometimes, hunter numbers are not available making it difficult to ascertain the success rate. In these intances we fall back on the square miles per harvest for a species across all states.

Ever hunt a unit with a 100% success rate and not see any deer? If you're nodding your head, then you're one of the people who knows that statistics are a good guide, but they aren't a guarantee. The accuracy of this raw score can be, at times, unreliable as different wildlife agencies report harvest success through a variety of methods, and many are not very accurate or reliable. Additionally, we find that small units and units with limited opportunity are the least accurate. There are instances where not enough hunters respond to the post-hunt survey inquiries and therefore it isn't possible to report any data for a particular hunt. To augment this deficiency, we incorporate HuntScore member reviews and expert advice from wildlife biologists. As more HuntScore member reviews are submitted, this score will become more accurate.

Those units and hunts without sufficient harvest data for limited licenses will likely have a low score or be marked with an N/A.

Trophy Potential

This score is primarily based on the harvest of trophy animals over a ten-year period. The primary data sources are harvest reports, state records, Boone and Crockett records, and HuntScore member reviews.

This can be a tricky score to assess, and has the potential to reveal a few occurrences of false positives. The potential problem is that B&C and state agencies record trophy kills at the county level and not the unit level. So, we have to account for them accordingly. If a large unit lies within multiple counties, it could receive credit for additional records than it deserves. That said, you will not find a truly fantastic trophy unit with a low score.

Units and hunts without a trophy score are usually due to incomplete data, there were no B&C records over the ten-year period, or the unit/hunt only had female animals harvested. Obviously, an all-female hunt will have a trophy score of zero, and a unit/hunt with mostly female limited license opportunities will likely have a low score.

Public Access

This score is based on the amount accessible of public land within the unit. A low score usually means mostly private land. We acquire this data through a variety of sources and will calculate from spatial files when otherwise unavailable — there are still quite a few units where we don't have information yet.

This score is of great use to the DIY public land hunter. However, it is worth mentioning that for large units or those with a patchwork of land ownership, the numbers can be misleading. A unit may have 80% public land, but a particular species may only occupy 20% of the entire unit. And that 20% species distribution may lie 100% within private lands. Does that sound confusing? Just remember that there are always exceptions to the rule, and land ownership is just one piece of the puzzle.

It's, also, worth mentioning not all public lands are equal concerning access. While BLM and USFS lands may have unfettered access, some lands do not allow hunting or are significantly restricted. DoD, Indian, NPS, and State lands, in particular, have their own issues. When known, we account for these differences in our scoring algorithm.

Ease of Terrain

This score is based on the difficulty of the terrain in the unit. The lower the score the more difficult the terrain. Now this is, of course, highly subjective as each hunter has different levels of fitness and access to transportation like 4x4s or horses. That said, we have applied an approach that should be fairly consistent across all states. If you know what an Ease of Terrain Score of 80 is in Colorado, that should be the same as an 80 in Idaho.

To get this calculation, we programmatically examine the topographic relief across a particular unit. We look at the amount of flat or rolling land to steep terrain, and we calculate various elevation differences across a set distance. The average elevation difference and slope angles help us arrive at a score. Then we combine that with HuntScore member reviews to help improve the accuracy.

Room to Breathe

This score is based on hunter density and the pressure put on the animals. The lower the score the more crowded and pressured the unit. This score is calculated based on the number of limited licensed hunters in a given unit. We also factor in the size of the unit and the species. Different species have different levels of sensitivity to the level of hunter pressure.

As always, areas with high deer and elk numbers also have the highest number of hunters. To find an area with fewer hunters, you may have to settle with an area with lower deer and elk numbers or be willing to hike away from the crowds. You may be surprised how few people are willing or capable of hiking in more than a mile in from the trailhead.

As with other scores, we also factor HuntScore member reviews into the final calculations and with time the scores get more accurate.


2020 Update: This score is calculated from the total tag quota for the unit divided into the square miles. We look at the this distrubtion across all states and units covered and assign a score based on that distribution. Distributions are computed on a per species basis since each species has a particular carrying capacity and requirement for space.


This score is based on access to modern conveniences within a 20-mile radius of the unit. What do we consider for modern conveniences? We count hospitals, hotels, grocery stores, and campgrounds. A low score means it's off the beaten path. A very high score indicates it is near urban areas.

There's a direct correlation to the Convenience Score and the Room to Breathe Score. Convenient areas are going to see higher pressure—especially those with OTC opportunities.

Ease of Effort

This score is based on the average number of days a hunter spends hunting this unit. There's no real magic here and not incredibly revealing for units with a lot of opportunities. However, it is interesting to see low Opportunity units with high Success Scores and high Ease of Effort Scores. For example, you may have a trophy sheep hunt which issues only five licenses. In that particular year, there was a 95% success rate and hunter/days around 1.2. That can be loosely translated as almost everyone got their sheep on the first day. Well, that's a bit of interpretation you could make by reading these scores.

This, like other harvest-related data, mostly comes from state wildlife agency reports. It should be mentioned that these reports usually summarize the responses from hunter surveys, and cannot be relied upon for exact accuracy. In most states, the surveys are voluntary and don't always reflect reality. Also, units and hunts with few issues licenses tend to be the most inaccurate. That said, it's just one more piece of data that factors into an overall HuntScore.

Improving The Scores

The HuntScore team is continually adding new data and making improvements to each of these scores, and you can contribute as well. As a HuntScore member, we welcome your review of each score. We then use that feedback to improve our algorithms.

Score Feedback

To provide a review, click on the icon at the top right of every score section. There you'll have the opportunity to rank each of the nine characteristics and provide additional comments.

Posted: September 12, 2020

Written By: Matt Habiger

About: Matt grew up running around the oaks, pines and birches in central Minnesota. He spent his youth hunting, fishing and riding bmx. For better or worse he's a restless hunter, prone to wandering the reaches of public land. Many youthful days were spent dreaming about chasing elk, deer and bear across mountain sides with a butterscotch maple Interarms 300 Weatherby from his father. 25 years later he still has the same dreams they just happen to come true every Fall and Spring.

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