Montana Preference Points VS Bonus Points
Montana FWP has 2 systems at work for license and permit drawings. Residents and Non-Residents can pay to participate in these systems, but only Non-Residents are effected by the preference point system. Both systems are put in place to better the odds for an applicant with more points. But, they are both very different and one is more effective than the other in accomplishing that goal.
Let's start with the PREFERENCE POINT system. Preference points are only used for non-resident's and are only good for the drawings for non-resident elk and deer combination licenses. Residents do not have to do this obviously, so a resident will never have to think about "preference points." As it applies now, non-residents can purchase a preference point once a year. Either with their application for a license in March of that year or from July 1st through September 30th of that year. They can only by one point during one of those times of the year. Preference points are not species or license specific, instead they are used towards whichever license they choose to apply for at time of application. Right now the max preference points allowed is 2. The preference point system is a true preference system. 75% of the total licenses go to those applicants with the highest preference points. The remaining 25% go to all other applicants remaining through random drawing. With this system, the applicants with 2 preference points are more likely to get a license than applicants with 1 or 0 points. It's important to remember that this system only works for non-resident deer and elk combination licenses. It does not work for any other license or special drawing, including special deer or elk permits.
Montana's BONUS POINT system works for both residents and non-residents in all the special license or permit drawings. Applicants can again, only purchase a bonus point once a year for each permit or license they are applying for. This can be done either at the time of application or from July 1st to September 30th. Unlike preference points, bonus points are species and licenst specific. So applicants can accumulate points for all species and types of permits they apply for (except Bison, for which there is no point system involved with those licenses). Bonus points do not work like a preference point system. An applicant with 13 bonus points and a first time applicant with 0 points, both have a chance to draw a license or permit. Instead, bonus points are squared and that is the number of times an applicant is placed in the drawing. So if an applicant has 3 bonus points, they would be entered in the drawing 9 times. This system is a far cry from guaranteeing anyone a special license or permit. There are many applicants with max bonus points and have yet to draw a specifice license or permit. There is no cap or maximum allowed bonus points. Max bonus points is really just the number of years the bonus point system has been in effect, and each year that number goes up by 1. Having max points means nothing more than you've purchased a bonus point every year since the start of the program.
The two systems are both very different, but often get confused with one another. We hear guys say they have max points for a Montana sheep tag and they should get it in a year or so. Once you understand the system and how it works, you may quickly realize that it may be a while before that sheep tag shows up in the mail and that lady luck still has a big role in drawing that license. It is not to say that the bonus point system doesn't work or give applicants a better chance at a license.
The issue with bonus points arises with how many applicants with a bunch of bonus points are putting in for handful of licenses. If there are 1,000 applicants applying for 10 permits, there's a good chance that 500 of those applicants have max points and the rest have any number of points. So an applicant is still competing for 1 of those 10 licenses with a large pool of other entries. So in the end, a lot of luck still needs to take action to get that highly sought after license.
Once we understand the two systems a bit more, we see the effects of both and how they actually work. The Preference Point system is working and functioning to get applicants licenses, but only applies to non-resident deer and elk combination licenses. The Bonus Point system works for all applicants, whether resident or non-resident, and gives the applicant more names in the hat during the drawing process.