Hunt Elk in Wyoming with Over-the-Counter Tags

wyoming archery any elk units over-the-counter with public land

Figure 1. Wyoming Archery Any Elk Over-the-Counter Hunt Units.

Wyoming is another state that offers Over-the-Counter (OTC) elk tags, but has now been limited to residents only. Wyoming has 112 wildlife management units 84 hunts in 77 of those units have general season (OTC) elk tags available to residents. Non-residents can buy general tags for $591 for Bull Elk or Any ELK and $302 for a cow/calf (antlerless) license, but have to apply to get them, but many units in Wyoming have nearly a 100% chance of drawing a tag.

Over-the-Counter Elk Tags Available to Wyoming Residents

  • Elk Archery – Any Elk can be hunted in all 77 units (See Figure 1)
  • Elk Rifle – Any Bull Elk can be hunted in 5 units (See units 28, 36, 68, 68 & 87 in Figure 2)
  • Elk Rifle – Any Bull Elk except Spikes can be hunted in 9 units (See units 56, 59, 70, 71, 73, 81, 82, 83 & 84 in Figure 2)
  • Elk Rifle – Any Elk can be hunted in 34 units (See Figure 3)
  • Elk Rifle – Antlerless Elk can be hunted in 24 units (See Figure 4)
  • Elk Rifle – Any Elk except Spikes can be hunted in 5 units (See units 12, 59, 60, 85 & 110 in Figure 5)

Key to Wyoming OTC Elk Hunt Map Images

wyoming rifle antlered elk units over-the-counter with public land

Figure 2. Wyoming Rifle Antlered Elk Over-the-Counter Hunt Units.

In all of the map images (Figures 1-5), I superimposed public land on top of the Wyoming elk units that have OTC tags available. Public Land is shown in orange/yellow and private land is shown in white. Grey areas indicate no OTC tags or no hunting areas. National Park Service and Military lands are shown in black. Red indicates Wilderness Areas (also public land).

Elk Habitat and Wyoming Ecoregions

wyoming rifle any elk over-the-counter units with public land

Figure 3. Wyoming Rifle Any Elk Over-the-Counter Hunt Units.

Most elk in Wyoming are found in the rocky mountains, but elk also occur in the higher hills and low mountain ranges within the Wyoming Basin and even in patches in the Northwestern Great Plains between the Black Hills and the Bighorn mountains and in the High Plains east of the Laramie Mountains. Wyoming consists of the Great Plains in the East and the Wyoming Basin and the Rocky Mountains in the West.

wyoming rifle antlerless elk over-the-counter units with public land

Figure 4. Wyoming Rifle Antlerless Elk Over-the-Counter Hunt Units.

In Wyoming, the Southern Rockies ecoregion occurs in the south where the Laramie and Medicine Bow Mountains extend north from Colorado. The Middle Rockies cover most of the north western corner of Wyoming in the Yellowstone region, but also includes the Bighorn mountains (north central) and the Black Hills (north east) along the border with South Dakota. The Wyoming Basin is the largest ecoregion in the state and covers most of the south western and central parts of Wyoming. The the High Plains is found in the southeast portion of the state and the Northwestern Great Plains in the north east corner of the state.

Hunting on Public Land in Wyoming

wyoming rifle any elk except spike over-the-counter units with public land

Figure 5. Wyoming Rifle Any elk except Spike Over-the-Counter Hunt Units.

As with most western states, there is plenty of public land to hunt in Wyoming. There is over 9.2 million acres of US Forest Service land and 18.3 million acres of BLM land. In addition, there is over 3.8 million acres of state lands open to hunting for a total of over 31.4 million acres or about 50.5% of the state. If we only considered the 9.2 million acres of forest lands as elk habitat and with 57,331 elk hunters in 2012, that equals 160 of public land per elk hunter (worst case), since we know many of those elk hunters never hunt public land and we know the hunting pressure is spread out between the various archery and rifle seasons and there are millions of acres of BLM and state lands that also hold elk. For you eastern hunters, just think about having nearly one square mile to hunt all to yourself. You just have to get off the roads to find it.

Wyoming Elk Harvest and Hunting Success

According to Wyoming Game and Fish data, total elk harvested the last five years has ranged from a low of 23,189 in 2011 to a high of 26,365 in 2012 (Table 1). In 2015 24,749 elk were harvested by 58,959 total hunters in the field for 41.9% total hunter success.

Table 1. Wyoming Total Elk Harvest 2011 – 2015

Year Bulls Spikes Cows Calf Total Elk Total Hunters Non- Res Hunters Success Avg. Days Hunted
2015 10,015   934 11,526 2,274 24,749 58,959 12,068 41.9% 8.1
2014 10,021   955 12,567 2,362 25,905 58,266 12,037 44.5% 8.5
2013 10,012 1,264 12,536 2,156 25,968 57,785 11,673 44.9% 8.0
2012 10,284 1,365 12,582 2,134 26,365 57,331 11,183 46.0% 8.1
2011 8,955 1,284 10,919 2,031 23,189 55,258 10,646 42.0% 8.0

Elk hunting success rates in Wyoming are very good, ranging between just under 42% to 46% total success rate between 2011 and 2015, considering all elk harvested from all methods and all units. This high rate is mainly due to the high success rate from the limited quota draw hunts, but still, the overall success from the general licenses (OTC) I calculated back in 2012 was 28.9%, with the overall archery success rate of 15.6%.

Wyoming Law Requires Non-residents to have a Guide to Hunt in Wilderness Areas

If hunting Wyoming as a non-resident, be advised you can not hunt in designated Wilderness Areas without a guide. Wyoming Statute 23-2-401. Guides required; exceptions; issuance of resident guide license. (a) No nonresident shall hunt big or trophy game animals on any designated wilderness area, as defined by federal or state law, in this state [Wyoming] unless accompanied by a licensed professional guide or a resident guide. Read the full law here (§ 23-2-401) If you have a friend that lives in Wyoming, they can be your guide if they follow certain rules: Any Wyoming resident can act as a guide if they also have a hunting license and apply for a resident guide license (no charge). They must sign an affidavit stating:

  1. The names, addresses and license numbers of the nonresidents to be guided
  2. The game to be hunted
  3. The area to be hunted
  4. The resident has not or will not receive any compensation

The resident guide can not guide more than two nonresident hunters in any calendar year. I’ll be damned if that’s not big brother getting involved in your personal business.  I can understand the need to require people going into Wilderness Areas to post a bond in the event they need to be rescued, but in my opinion, it is a scam to require hunters to hire a guide to hunt on public land, but more about that later. At least there are plenty of elk outside of the Wilderness Areas.

Hard to find Information at Wyoming Game & Fish Website

A friend of mine that lives in Oregon suggested we try to draw an Any Elk tag to hunt in western Wyoming. My friend used to live in Wyoming, so is familiar with many of the units there and should be familiar with the Wyoming rules and regulations. I suggested we look for OTC tags in case we didn’t draw, but he was sure non-residents can not buy OTC elk tags in Wyoming. Since he is a reasonably intelligent guy and he is my friend, I believed him. But while searching the Wyoming Game & Fish Department (WGF) website for information about elk tags we could draw, I found some information that led me to believe we could buy tags OTC. Why is this fact so hard to find? Probably because WGF wants you to enter the drawings.

To make sure, I called WGF directly and was told by a friendly woman, I could buy OTC  tags to hunt elk or deer in Wyoming. When I told my friend this, he still didn’t believe me and was so adamant that he convinced me that I must have misunderstood the woman at WGF. So, I went online to try to buy an OTC tag. After registering as a non-resident, I was assigned an ID number at the WGF website. With that ID number, I was able to see all remaining tags that were available to buy immediately (Full Price or reduced). Just have your credit card number handy. All of the The “Any Elk” tags were sold out in the unit we wanted to hunt, but we were able to buy cow/calf tags in the same unit.  But non-residents can buy tags OTC if they do not sell out. The Website says tags are shipped in 10 days. That was easy, so easy to buy tags on-line, so why is it such a big secret? Remember that most OTC tags have a quota, so first come first serve. Just check at the website to see if any tags are left.

I’m not sure what Wyoming is trying to pull or what they are trying to say to us out of state hunters with the law requiring non-residents to hire guides to hunt in Wilderness areas. I guess we could all just hunt in another states. Maybe that’s what they want in the first place. If Wyoming residents can hunt in my state without requiring a guide, I say “screw em”. Hunt elk in Wyoming and stay out of the Wilderness Areas until that ridiculous law is repealed. Just thinking about logistics, if you’re not bringing horses with you, you’re not going to hunt the Wilderness Areas anyway.

My DIY Elk Hunting Guide is now available as PDF or ebook

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  1. So .……what areas can a non resident hunt elk without paying for a guide? Please help me out, as I want to follow the laws.

    • Jack: The only areas that require a guide are in the officially designated Wilderness Areas. All other BLM, Forest Service and State lands are available for non-residents to hunt without a guide. There are plenty of areas to hunt outside of the Wilderness Areas.

      Here is a list of Wilderness Areas in Wyoming with maps. You will not accidentally drive into Wilderness because there are no roads and it is usually very hard to accidentally walk into a Wilderness Area.

  2. Ok. But how long does the elk hunt last? I’m just curious because there are two birthdays I don’t want to miss. Sep 15 And Oct 29. It’s been 4 yrs since I’ve been hunting with my bow. So I need some refreshments.

    • Kayla:
      Wyoming is a state that makes it hard to find all the info you need to hunt. They have just redesigned their website, but the info we need is still hard to find.

      To answer you question about actual season dates, I assume you are talking about the General Season (OTC) hunt, but you need to know which unit you are hunting. (This page) shows the 2015 elk season info, but still lists dates as tentative with no closing dates.
      (This pdf download) shows dates and closing dates for all elk hunts limited entry and general.

      So, for example in unit 9, the general hunt is Any elk, spikes excluded, the hunt dates are Aug 15- 31
      Unit 10, (also Any elk, spikes excluded) – hunt dates Aug 15- 31
      But unit 21 (Any elk) – Hunt dates Oct 15 – 25 and the Antlerless elk hunt dates are Oct 26 – Nov 15.
      and unit 28 (Any elk) – Hunt dates Oct 1 – 9.

      I have links to all the important info for the 7 best western elk hunting States in my DIY Elk Hunting Guide. The guide also helps choose places to hunt and gives lots of information about logistical and survival issues out of state hunters may need.

      Anyway, you need to pick a unit, buy the tag and get to practicing…
      Good Luck

  3. Dave Jaeger says:

    Hi there! I would like to know exactly what I need to do to come out there and bow hunt a bull elk with a over the counter license in 2018 for my 50th birthday. I have a cousin who has a horse ranch outside of Cody and would more than likely be willing to help me with guiding and or carcass removal.
    This will be my first elk hunt as there are few here in northern Minnesota. I have bow hunted, trapped and enjoyed the outdoors my whole life. I even spent 3 yrs. in Alaska and do have some mountain experience and extensive outdoor survival skills.
    I would be interested in hunting unit 56 Wapiti Ridge. Any suggestions, Maps or Tips would be greatly appreciated!
    Sincerely, Dave J.

    • Hi Dave: Sorry for the delay, but I’ve been outside fishing and scouting most of the week.
      If you have started looking at the hunting regs for Wyoming, you probably learned they are complicated compared to most states in the east.
      But the first thing I would do if I had a cousin in Wyoming would be to get their advice. You can analyze harvest data and look at Google Earth and maps until you are cross-eyed, but your cousin probably knows where you need to hunt and where he is willing to go and you also need to know if you can use his horses or not.
      If he hunts, your cousin can also walk you through the application process. He can also be your guide if you want to hunt in one of the Wilderness Areas (guides are required, but they can be friends or family if they are willing to sign an affidavit).
      My best advice is to go to the website and to read the Hunting Application booklet.
      By the way, unit 56 hasn’t allocated any bull elk tags to non-residents to take bull elk. See draw odds for 2016 non-resident and non-resident special (Archery is type 9).
      There is no guarantee you will get the tag you want for 2018, but you have several chances. The non-res special license means you pay more for a better chance to draw. Also, left-over tags can be purchased in early July, but I would know the exact date each year and would be ready to buy a tag first thing in the morning.
      Anyway good luck with getting the tag you want.

  4. I have an opportunity to hunt unit 7 September 2017 as a non resident with a resident that knows the unit well. I only have one preference point. Is there any chance I can get a tag in that unit? The Wyoming fish and game site is the most confusing state site I have ever tried to figure out. Thanks in advance!

    • Yes, all of the state websites are hard to navigate and to find the information you need. But we don’t have a choice, we use their websites or we don’t hunt. Get your buddy in Wyoming to help you figure it all out.
      If you look at drawing odds for 2016 (Non-res with preference points)…
      You will see for 2016 in unit 7, there were 82 any elk tags for non-residents. 65 of those tags went to hunters with at least 8 points and 17 tags went to applicants with less than 10 or 9 points. 1025 applicants with 8 points or less did not get a tag.
      But for antlerless elk, there were 96 tags and 87 tags went unclaimed. Everyone that applied for a cow tag got one, the remainder were sold during the left-over license sale that started July 6.

      You could try to improve your odds for an any elk tag by applying for the special hunt (costs more) (see drawing odds here)
      There were 56 Any Elk tags and 43 went to applicants with at least 7 points. 14 tags went to applicants with less than 8 points and 370 applicants with less than 7 points did not get a tag. There were 39 special tags for antlerless elk but nobody applied.
      These tags also would be sold during the left-over license sale that started July 6.

      So if you are willing to hunt antlerless elk only, you can be sure to get a tag. It will be difficult to get one of the any elk tags. Worse case scenario is you try for the any elk tag and don’t get one, you can still go on the hunt, you just won’t have a tag. The cow elk tag would be better than nothing. Make sure you get a cow tag, go on the hunt with your friend and gain the experience. Go on as many cow hunts as you can while waiting for a chance to hunt Bull Elk.

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