Elk Harvest Comparison of Western States 2012 – 2015

bull elk game camera photo

Photo taken with Moultrie Game Cam. Click on photo for larger image.

I live in the Inter-mountain West and can hunt elk every year with Over-the-Counter (OTC) tags, but constantly keep track of harvest data in other western states for an out of state elk hunt.

I gathered data from the state harvest reports and thought it would be interesting to compare the elk harvest data from all western states that still have OTC elk tags in one place.

In 2017, the most up to date harvest data is from the 2015 hunt seasons. This page was originally started in 2012, but has been been updated every year and now includes elk harvest data for each year since 2012.

The new tables also include Total Elk Harvested, Total Bull Elk Harvested, Total Hunters and Hunter Success.

I originally kept track of the elk harvest from 11 Western States, but now only keep collect harvest data from seven Western States that still have Over-the-Counter (general season) elk hunts; Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

Five of these states (Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Utah & Washington) still have OTC tags available for non-resident hunters.

I dropped Arizona, California, Nevada and New Mexico. because these states only offer limited entry elk hunting (except for a very limited number of OTC tags in Arizona).

Table 1. Total Elk Harvested in 7 Western States with OTC Tags 2012 – 2015

State 2012 2013 2014 2015 AVG
Colorado 43,490 43,606 41,900 44,852 43,462
Wyoming 26,365 25,968 25,905 24,749 25,747
Montana 20,550 20,154 25,735 30,924 24,341
Idaho 26,269 26,084 20,076 23,847 24,069
Oregon 17,455 16,596 18,772 18,707 17,883
Utah 16,332 16,879 17,133 19,294 17,410
Washington  9,162  7,246  6,966  7,829  7,801

Note: Table 1 is ranked by highest average total elk harvested to lowest. Total Elk include Bull Elk and Antlerless Elk, which includes all cows and calves, from all general season and limited entry hunts.

Most Elk are Harvested in Colorado

Colorado has the largest total elk harvest every year (Table 1) and also has the most bull elk harvested (Table 2) and has averaged over 43,000 total elk and over 22,000 total bull elk each season.

Colorado should have the largest elk harvest because it has the largest elk population, but there were also twice as many hunters (avg. over 218,000) in Colorado as any other state (Table 3).

In fairness, Colorado has lots of different seasons, so the hunting pressure is spread out. Overall hunter success in Colorado is 5th placed at 19.8% (Table 4).

Table 2. Total Bull Elk Harvest in 7 Western States with OTC Tags 2012 – 2015

State 2012 2013 2014 2015 AVG
Colorado 22,208 22,766 22,435 22,558 22,492
Idaho 17,109 16,816 11,293 13,094 14,578
Montana 10,452 10,446 13,142 13,703 11,936
Oregon 10,963 10,801 12,065 11,598 11,357
Wyoming 11,649 11,276 10,976 10,949 11,213
Utah  7,683  8,131  7,659  8,090  7,891
Washington  4,945  4,075  3,838  4,467  4,331

Note: Table 2 is ranked by highest average total bull elk harvested to lowest. Bull Elk include all Antlered Elk including Spike Elk if the state keeps separate records and includes all general season and limited entry hunts..

Wyoming, Montana and Idaho Elk Harvest Ranked 2nd, 3rd and 4th

I call Wyoming, Montana and Idaho the 2nd tier elk hunting states (for overall elk numbers), with total elk harvests ranging between about 20,000 to 30,000 for the 2012 – 2015 hunt seasons.

The average number of elk harvested is very similar between Wyoming (ranked 2nd) with 25,747 total elk harvested, just ahead of Montana with 24,341 elk and Idaho with 24,069 total elk harvested.

As for total bull elk harvested, Idaho surpassed both Wyoming and Montana and ranks 2nd (average of over 14,000 bull elk). Montana ranks 3rd (average just under 12,000 bull elk) and Wyoming drops to 5th place behind Oregon with just over 11,000 bull elk.

In this group, Montana has the most hunters (108,000) followed by Idaho (93,000), which is less than Oregon. Wyoming has the least number of hunters of all seven states with an average of only 58,000 elk hunters per season.

Wyoming claims an amazing overall 43.3% average hunter success rate (includes OTC tags), followed by Idaho at 26.2% and then by Montana at 22.4%, which was lower than hunter success in Utah.

Note: Wyoming only has OTC tags available for residents and Montana has gone to a draw for Non-residents (but almost everyone still draws). Colorado and Idaho have thousands of OTC tags available for non-residents.

Table 3. Total Elk Hunters in 7 Western States with OTC Tags 2012 – 2015

State 2012 2013 2014 2015 AVG
Colorado 215,326 219,166 217,769 221,274 218,384
Montana 102,861 107,568 107,663 113,959 108,013
Oregon 103,176 106,639 106,982 106,884 105,920
Idaho  83,693  88,978  96,212 103,213  93,024
Washington  67,950  68,572  66,606  68,012  67,785
Utah  59,175  66,374  69,503  71,175  66,557
Wyoming  57,331  57,785  58,266  58,959  58,085

Note: Table 3 is ranked by highest average Number of Hunters to lowest.

Oregon and Utah Elk Harvest Ranked 5th and 6th

Oregon and Utah are third tier elk hunting states because they have less elk habitat than the other states. They were fairly close for the total number of elk harvest with both states having between 16,000 to just over 19,000 total elk harvested in the last four years.

Oregon has averaged about 11,000 bull elk and Utah has averaged about 8,000 bull elk harvested each season.

Oregon averages nearly 106,000 elk hunters each season (3rd highest), but while hunters in Utah are increasing, the four year average has only been about 66,000 hunters (2nd lowest).

In this group, the success rate is lowest in Oregon at 16.8% (6th place overall), but Utah is looking pretty good with a 26.2% success rate (4th place) and both states issue thousands of OTC tags.

Table 4. Elk Hunter Success in 7 Western States with OTC Tags 2012 – 2015

State 2012 2013 2014 2015 AVG
Wyoming 46.0% 44.9% 44.5% 42.0% 44.3%
Idaho 31.4% 29.3% 20.9% 23.1% 26.2%
Utah 27.5% 25.4% 24.7% 27.1% 26.2%
Montana 20.0% 18.7% 23.9% 27.1% 22.4%
Colorado 20.0% 19.9% 19.2% 20.3% 19.8%
Oregon 16.4% 15.6% 17.5% 17.5% 16.8%
Washington 13.5% 10.6% 10.5% 11.5% 11.5%

Note: Table 4 is ranked by highest average Hunter Success to lowest.

Washington Elk Harvest Ranked 7th

Washington State is a 4th tier elk hunting state, but Washington still offers many OTC tags, so there is a better chance to hunt elk in Washington than in Arizona, California, Nevada and New Mexico combined.

Hunters have harvested between 7,000 and 9,000 elk each season in Washington (2012 – 2015) and have harvested between 3,800 and 5,000 bull elk.

Washington has averaged about 68,000 elk hunters per season, which is more than Utah and Wyoming. Hunting elk in Washington must be tough since the overall harvest success is only 11.5%.

Want More Detail about Elk Hunting and Elk Harvest in the West?

For more detailed elk harvest information about each of these seven states, look here: Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

For a more detailed look at elk harvest for the seven states by year, look here: 2013 elk harvest, 2014 elk harvest and 2015 elk harvest.

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  1. All 2012 elk harvest data is finally available, and has been updated in the table.

  2. That is very helpful. Thank you for putting this together! My wife and I are wanting to move out West but have not decided between Montana or Wyoming. One thing is for sure – the land is expensive out there. Here, in Arkansas, we are spoiled to affordable real estate.

    • Yes, the only downside to having so much public land is private land is scarce, so it sells at a premium. It will get more expensive as the population grows and especially as outsiders buy up ranches. The only land that is cheap is land without water.
      Good luck with your quest.

  3. Found this website; I’ve purchased and am now halfway through your DIY Elk Hunting Guide. I must say, it is absolutely perfect for me. My retiring parents are working on selling their farm in central Kansas and moving to the Buena Vista area. I am 35 and have never hunted, but am interested in pursuing the sport for utilitarian purposes – no photos, just meat.
    I knew nothing about tags, points, private vs. public, guided vs. drop camp vs. self-directed, but your book has introduced me to those concepts. From the looks of it, I’ll probably find myself next season hunting the public areas east of Colorado Springs/Pueblo and putting in for tags elsewhere as often as I can.
    Combined with the knowledge of my coworkers and relatives, I feel I can be successful on my first time out in these circumstances.

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