Top 10 Elk Hunting States in America

Kenny Flermoen - TheInsideSpread

Kenny Flermoen

JUL 19, 2023

vlada-karpovich - Elk Hunting States - The Inside Spread

Category: Elk

Elk Hunting States

American Elk Hunting is a cherished tradition, whether you’re an experienced hunter or a beginner keen to track this magnificent beast. Knowing where to find the best elk hunting opportunities is key. This guide will navigate you through the top 10 Elk Hunting States, considering elk tag availability, the health and size of elk populations, and each state’s commitment to conservation.

Montana, with its abundant elk populations, is indeed a haven for elk hunters. The state’s Fish, Wildlife & Parks Department is dedicated to preserving the future of elk by implementing balanced conservation efforts that align with hunting practices. The department provides comprehensive regulations and maps to guide hunters, with elk regulations typically posted late February each year. To assist hunters in planning their hunts, the department also offers an online Hunt Planner that provides legal descriptions, regulations, and statistics all in one place.

The hunting seasons for elk in Montana are carefully structured. In 2023, the archery season runs from September 2 to October 15, followed by the general season from October 21 to November 26. There are also shoulder seasons that run from August 15 to February 15, with varying dates before and after the archery and general seasons. The department also offers a muzzleloader season from December 9 to 17. The hunting seasons are subject to change, so hunters are advised to check current regulations or use the online Hunt Planner for specific dates.

The state offers a variety of licenses and permits for elk hunting, with different fees for residents and nonresidents. The general elk license, valid for one elk, costs $20 for residents. Nonresidents must apply for a big game or elk combination license to hunt elk. The department also offers special licenses such as the Elk B license, which is an Antlerless elk license valid during a specific time period and in a particular hunting district or group of districts. The fees for these licenses vary, with the nonresident fee for the Elk B license being $275.

Montana also offers a unique opportunity for former residents who were born in the state. The Nonresident Montana Native Elk Combination License is available for these individuals, with other qualifications applying. The fee for this license is $509 for nonresidents. The state also offers the Come Home to Hunt – Elk Combination license for individuals who have previously hunted in Montana as a resident or hold a Montana hunter education certificate. The fee for this license is $352 for nonresidents.

The availability of these licenses varies. While residents can purchase the general elk license over the counter, most nonresidents must draw a Big Game Combination License or Elk Combination License through a random lottery drawing. The Elk B license and the Elk Combination license are available via special drawing. Deadlines for these drawings also vary, with the deadline for the Elk Combination license being April 1.

In addition to these regulations, the department also provides information on aging elk from their canine teeth. This method is quite reliable, and from the canine teeth, an age may be assigned to the particular animal. These ages of animals harvested are important for interpreting the age structure of males and females in a herd and the survival, growth, and longevity of various age classes. This information is required by biologists to formulate annual management programs to regulate a herd.

In conclusion, Montana’s well-managed tag lottery system, comprehensive regulations, and commitment to conservation make it an ideal destination for elk hunting. Whether you’re a resident or a nonresident, the state offers a variety of opportunities to participate in this exciting activity.

Colorado, home to the largest elk herd in the country, offers a unique blend of hunting opportunities for both resident and non-resident hunters. The state’s Parks & Wildlife Department has been instrumental in managing these elk populations, combining ethical hunting with essential conservation initiatives. The department provides a comprehensive Big Game Hunting Planner, which includes season dates for various game, including elk. For the year 2023, the archery season for elk runs from September 2 to September 30. Muzzleloader season, which is by draw only, is from September 9 to September 17. The rifle season for elk is divided into several parts, with the first limited elk season running from October 14 to October 18, the second from October 28 to November 5, and the third from November 11 to November 17.

The Colorado Parks & Wildlife Department has been instrumental in the conservation and management of elk populations. In the early 1900s, only 40,000 elk remained in all of North America due to unregulated market hunting. However, through rigorous studies, relocation efforts, and the dedication of the department’s staff, elk populations have rebounded. Today, Colorado boasts an elk population of over 280,000 animals, the largest in the world. These elk not only provide intrinsic value to Coloradans but also contribute significantly to local and state economies through hunting and wildlife viewing.

The department continues to conduct research, protect key winter range and migration corridors, and improve statewide habitat to ensure Colorado’s elk herds remain abundant for future generations. In 1916, Colorado imported 50 elk from Wyoming to re-establish dwindling herds. These elk were transported and released in Idaho Springs and the Greenhorn Mountains in Pueblo County. From these limited transplants, and through decades of trapping and relocation efforts by wildlife managers, elk populations have soared to the abundant herds for which Colorado is now famous. This successful conservation effort underscores Colorado’s commitment to preserving its rich wildlife heritage and providing ample opportunities for hunters.

Idaho, known for its diverse terrain and healthy elk herds, is a popular destination for elk hunters. The Idaho Fish and Game Department has successfully implemented a tag draw system, making it easier for non-residents to obtain a tag compared to other states. The department provides comprehensive information on elk hunting, including season dates, regulations, and hunting units. For the year 2023, the archery season for elk runs from August 30 to September 30, while the general season varies depending on the hunting unit. The department also provides a Hunt Planner tool to help hunters plan their hunts, including maps of hunting units and information on access points.

The Idaho Fish and Game Department is actively involved in habitat restoration projects to sustain healthy elk populations. The department’s commitment to conservation is evident in their efforts to manage and protect elk populations. They provide a wealth of information on elk hunting, including harvest statistics, drawing odds, and controlled hunt drawing results. The department also provides information on the state of deer and elk, offering insights into population trends and management strategies.

Idaho offers a variety of licenses and permits for elk hunting, with different fees for residents and non-residents. The department provides detailed information on license fees, tag fees, and permit fees, as well as general season tag information for both residents and non-residents. The department also provides information on controlled hunts, including drawing odds, drawing results, and application information.

Oregon, known for its lush forests and rugged mountains, is a prime destination for elk hunters. The state’s tag system is predominantly draw-based, but there are also over-the-counter opportunities. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife manages the state’s elk populations, placing great emphasis on balancing hunting with conservation. Oregon’s elk are one of the most sought-after species for hunters and the second most popular game animal after deer. The state is home to both Rocky Mountain elk, found in eastern Oregon, and Roosevelt elk, found in western Oregon, with most concentrated in the Coast, Cascade, and Blue Mountain ranges.

The department provides comprehensive information on elk hunting, including season dates, regulations, and hunting units. Oregon offers rifle, archery, and muzzleloader hunts, with some special hunts just for youth. Rifle hunting is general season in western Oregon for the most part, except for some coastal units where it’s controlled hunting. There is one week-long general season hunt with a spike only bag limit in parts of NE Oregon, but remaining eastern Oregon seasons are controlled. All the general rifle elk seasons take place in October and November. Archery elk hunting is general season nearly statewide and coincides with general archery deer season. The bag limit is “one elk” in many units. It opens on a Saturday in late August and runs 30 days, ending on a Sunday in late September. Some controlled archery hunts are also available. Muzzleloader controlled hunts are also available.

Oregon’s big game are managed by wildlife management units, particularly for controlled hunts, so hunters need to familiarize themselves with the boundaries where they want to hunt. Hunters in Oregon can access millions of acres of public land open to hunting, including national forests, BLM land, state forests, wildlife areas, plus many private lands open through Oregon’s Access and Habitat program.

Wyoming, with its large tracts of accessible public lands, offers rich hunting grounds for elk. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department operates a preference point system for non-residents, ensuring fair opportunities for everyone. The department provides comprehensive information on elk hunting, including license application procedures, hunting areas, and regulations. The total limit for elk licenses a person may possess differs from deer and antelope. An applicant may apply for or receive no more than a total of three elk licenses in any one calendar year. An applicant may apply for and receive one general or limited quota full price elk license and one limited quota reduced price cow/calf elk license through the initial license drawing.

The department also provides specific information for hunting in Grand Teton National Park and the National Elk Refuge. A person may apply for a reduced price cow/calf elk license without applying for a full price elk license. However, no hunter may take more than one elk in Grand Teton National Park regardless of whether they possess both a full price elk license and a reduced price cow/calf elk license valid for the hunt area in Grand Teton National Park. Applicants desiring to hunt within Grand Teton National Park must apply for Elk Hunt Area 75. After the first week of the National Elk Refuge season, all unused full price elk and reduced price cow/calf elk licenses, excluding limited quota archery only licenses, are eligible for the National Elk Refuge drawing in Elk Hunt Area 77.

In addition to hunting licenses, all nonresident full price elk licenses in Wyoming include an annual fishing privilege, adding another dimension to the outdoor experience. This means that any hunter who is issued a full price elk license does not need to purchase an additional fishing license once their license is received in June. However, if they wish to fish prior to receiving their full price elk license, they must purchase a nonresident fishing license. Reduced price cow/calf elk licenses do not include fishing privileges.

New Mexico takes elk hunting very seriously, with the state’s draw system for elk tags being highly sought after, particularly by youth and seniors. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish prioritizes responsible hunting and works tirelessly to protect and enhance the elk habitat. New Mexico offers world-class elk hunting opportunities throughout the state and is considered a premier hunting destination, known for productive elk herds across diverse landscapes and hunting opportunities.

The department provides comprehensive information on elk hunting, including hunting opportunities on both public and private properties through rifle, muzzleloader, or archery hunting options. Between 2017 and 2021, approximately 37,000 licenses were sold to hunters, resulting in an average harvest of around 8,400 bulls and 6,400 cows. The average hunt success across all weapons and license types was 41.1%.

Elk are managed across the state in three zones, each having different management goals. The three management zones are Primary, Secondary, and Special. Within Primary Management Zones, the department actively monitors herd productivity and recommends license adjustments to manage elk herds within a range of sustainable population metrics and harvest strategies. The total number of elk licenses issued in each Game Management Unit (GMU) are divided between the public draw and the Elk Private Land Use System (EPLUS) based on the percent of public vs private land in the Primary Management Zone of each GMU.

Utah, known for its record-breaking trophy elks, is a haven for hunters. The state operates a draw system for tags, with dedicated conservation units to manage and preserve their elk populations. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) is highly involved in various conservation initiatives, contributing significantly to the success of elk hunting in the state. The DWR operates under the authority granted by the Utah Legislature in Title 23 of the Utah Code, which vests the Division with necessary functions, powers, duties, rights, and responsibilities associated with wildlife management within the state.

Elk herds in Utah were managed by the Board of Big Game Control from 1925 until 1996. In 1996, the Board of Big Game Control was abolished and replaced with five Regional Advisory Councils and a Wildlife Board that regulate the management of all wildlife in Utah. Elk were hunted under a limited entry hunting system until 1967 when the Board of Big Game Control adopted an “open bull” hunt strategy on most large elk units. Smaller elk units continued to be managed as “restricted permit” or “limited entry” type hunts. That hunting strategy continued until 1989 when a “yearling only” regulation was initiated on the two largest elk herds, the Manti and Fishlake. Yearling only was later replaced with a “spike only” regulation and expanded to other units.

Elk herds in Utah are currently managed under a combination of general season (spike and any bull) and limited entry hunting regulations. The any bull units are located primarily in northern Utah and are generally on units with large amounts of private land, large wilderness areas, or units with very low elk populations. Spike hunting is used on most limited entry units and is intended to reduce bull:cow ratios, while still allowing for trophy quality bulls. Any bull and spike hunts are designed to provide hunting opportunity. In 2022, DWR issued over 47,000 general season permits including 17,500 adult any bull, more than 2,200 youth any bull, 15,000 spike, and more than 12,700 archery permits. The harvest rate on these general season elk hunts is fairly low, with success rates in 2021 averaging 15.5% across all general season elk hunts.

Utah actively monitors elk populations around the state and conducts research to improve management of this species. Recent efforts have focused on the use of GPS collars to understand habitat use, movements, and survival of elk in several management units. For these projects, biologists capture elk each winter, conduct a general health assessment, and then fit elk with a GPS collar prior to release. GPS collars provide real-time data on habitat use, movements, and survival. When collared elk die, UDWR biologists and partners with universities and other agencies are notified via email. This notification provides us with data on the location and timing of each mortality, and also allows us to quickly investigate each mortality to determine probable cause of death. By understanding why animals are dying, we can determine what is likely limiting populations and direct management to help alleviate the issues.

Arizona, with its diverse ecosystems, supports robust elk populations and offers a high-quality hunting experience. The state operates a draw system for tags, which may be challenging but is well worth it for the opportunities it provides. The Arizona Game & Fish Department (AGFD) is highly involved in various conservation initiatives, contributing significantly to the success of elk hunting in the state.

Elk were at one time the most widely distributed member of the deer family in North America, found everywhere except the Great Basin desert and the Southern coastal plains. Their population was estimated to total 10 million before European settlers arrived. Elk withstood the impacts of western settlement better than the buffalo because they inhabited rougher terrain. The great reduction in elk numbers is attributable to market hunting and agriculture. The population low of 90,000 occurred in 1922, of these, 40,000 were in Yellowstone Park. The Park’s herds became a reservoir for stocking breeding elk. Between 1912 and 1967 more than 13,500 elk were transplanted from the Park. In February 1913, 83 elk were released in Cabin Draw near Chevelon Creek. From these transplants, the Arizona elk population has grown to nearly 35,000 animals.

The AGFD provides comprehensive information on elk hunting, including hunting regulations for spring hunts, fall hunts, and pronghorn and elk hunts. Interesting fact: Antler development is a function of age. The antler cast occurs in January to March for adult bulls and from March through May for sub-adults. New growth occurs shortly after the cast. The growing period ranges from 90 days for yearlings to 150 days for adult bulls. Therefore it’s possible to see yearlings with old spikes at the same time as bulls with a foot of velvet.

Nevada, with its pristine wilderness areas, offers an exceptional hunting experience. The state operates a draw system for tags, which can be challenging but is well worth it for the high-quality hunting opportunities it provides. The Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) puts a strong emphasis on conservation and sustainability, ensuring that hunting contributes to rather than detracts from the well-being of these majestic animals.

Elk habitat in Nevada varies from prairies, forested areas, sagebrush flats, deciduous forests, to swampy valleys and mountain meadows. The state’s elk population is managed under the authority of the NDOW, which is committed to maintaining healthy elk populations and sustainable hunting practices. The NDOW provides comprehensive information on elk hunting, including hunting regulations, hunting units, and application processes for hunting tags.

Elk in Nevada are a game species, and hunting them is regulated to ensure the sustainability of their populations. Female Rocky Mountain Elk give birth to calves in late spring or early summer. Calves are born with spots and are scentless to help camouflage them and protect them from predators. They also remain as motionless as possible for their first weeks of life, especially when their mothers have to leave them in search of food. Only the male Elk grow antlers, and growing their antlers is a natural feat. They grow and shed a new set of antlers every single year. During the growing season, their antlers are covered in a furry coat called velvet. Velvet is full of blood vessels that bring all the necessary minerals to grow antlers and grow them fast. Elk antlers can grow up to an inch a day!

Kentucky, while not a traditional choice, is a unique destination for elk hunting. The Bluegrass State’s elk herd is the largest east of the Mississippi, offering hunters a unique opportunity to experience elk hunting in the eastern United States. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) operates a lottery system for elk tags, ensuring a fair distribution of hunting opportunities. The department has achieved a successful balance between hunting and conservation, ensuring the sustainability of the state’s elk population.

The KDFWR provides comprehensive information on elk hunting, including hunting regulations, hunting units, and application processes for hunting tags. The state’s elk population is managed under the authority of the KDFWR, which is committed to maintaining healthy elk populations and sustainable hunting practices. In 2023, the department issued 150 Bull Firearm permits, 244 Cow Firearm permits, 175 Archery/Crossbow permits (either sex), and 25 Youth-Only permits. The hunting seasons are clearly defined, with different periods for Bull Firearm, Cow Firearm, and Either sex Archery/Crossbow.

Elk in Kentucky are a game species, and hunting them is regulated to ensure the sustainability of their populations. The state’s elk population has grown significantly since the reintroduction of elk in the late 1990s. The KDFWR actively monitors elk populations around the state and conducts research to improve management of this species. The department also provides a post-season elk hunting survey, which all elk hunters must complete and submit no later than the last day of February. This survey provides valuable data that helps the department manage the state’s elk population.

The Elk Hunting States listed above stand out not only for their substantial elk populations and fair tag systems but also for their commitment to conservation and ethical hunting. Hunting and conservation are complementary practices when managed effectively, ensuring the preservation of wildlife populations for future generations.

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