I don’t have the good fortune of living in elk country, so one of the first steps that I took in planning my elk hunt was to decide what state I was going to hunt. I began my research and quickly became overwhelmed by a dizzying array of rules, units, costs, requirements, lotteries, preference points and other details. If you aren’t from the West, and aren’t familiar with their game management rules, I’m sure you’ll discover the same feeling.
To help you navigate each state’s costs, license fees, tag availability, preference point protocols, and application deadlines, I have put together a page which outlines all of these details for every major elk hunting destination state in the West:
Let’s take a look at 5 factors we should consider when choosing which state we should plan our elk hunt in…
1 – Cost & Convenience
How easy is it to get a tag, and how much is it going to cost me? That is the question that almost everyone asks first. And rightly so.
A non-resident can expect to pay $350-$1,500 for an elk tag. The availability of tags across western states may mean playing the lottery game for 20 years, or it may mean buying a tag immediately over the counter. The differences are stark.
2 – Getting There
When it comes to hunting elk in the mountain west, the biggest logistical challenge for flatlanders (those of us from the Midwest and Eastern portions of the US), is without a doubt – travel. Getting a tag is one thing; figuring out how to logistically plan a long-distance hunt is another.
Are you going to fly or drive? How will you pack all of your hunting gear if you fly? And how will you send back hundreds of pounds of elk meat and an elk rack? How will you get to the mountains from the airport?
How long is it going to take to drive? Do you really want to spend 4 days of your trip in a vehicle if you can only get 10 days off of work? Will the drive wear you out so bad that you aren’t ready to attack the mountains when you get to the trailhead? Do you even have a vehicle that is capable of a hauling all of your gear halfway across the country, and then is able to get you into the mountains? How much will gas cost? The questions are numerous.
3 – Population & Popularity
What is the elk population like in the areas that you want to hunt? You, as a non-resident, likely don’t have time to pre-scout areas much. So you want to go somewhere where there is a lot of elk, right? Of course! But so does everyone else.
Your spot may hold a lot of elk, but how many hunters will be there? Will the area be so popular that you spend your time avoiding hunters instead of hunting elk? Maybe the cheapest, most readily available tags aren’t what you want to hunt with.
4 – Trophy Potential
What type of elk are you trying to kill? Do you want a certain caliber of bull? Will you be happy with a cow? If you are looking for trophy potential, then you should choose your state and tag carefully. More than likely you are going to need to play the lottery game. If you want to give yourself the best chances of harvesting a trophy bull, then you should probably skip over the counter tags and begin building points in key states.
5 – Terrain & Topography
Far too many flatlanders plan their western hunts without considering the variety of terrain and topography that they have the possibility of hunting. Not everyone is capable of chasing elk at 10,000′ in the Rockies, nor should they think that they have to do so. Compare states like Idaho, New Mexico, and Washington – each have vastly different landscapes to offer when compared to one another, and even a variety within their individual state. Do you want to hunt high mountain meadows, dense forests, canyonlands, or another type of terrain? Consider your options.
Okay, So What Do You Do?
Each of us have different expectations, goals, budgets, schedules, and capabilities, so each of us should choose our elk hunting state with careful consideration. Although a couple states are considered the best and easiest states for non-residents to hunt, that doesn’t mean you should limit yourself to these states. In fact, it makes a case for the opposite – maybe you would have better luck by avoiding what is popular.
I can’t tell you where to hunt, but I can tell you why I chose Colorado.