Top 25 Idaho General Elk Rifle Hunt Units for 2018

elk herd climbing hillsideI ranked the top 25 elk rifle hunting units in Idaho based on the most recent harvest results, so those planning a DIY public land elk hunt for 2018 can start the process for picking a hunt unit while Over-the-Counter (OTC) tags may still be available.

There have been a few changes since last year but in Idaho, Elk can be hunted during the General Season Any Legal Weapon (Rifle) tags in 74 different Game Management Units (GMUs) with 127 different hunt unit/season combinations and 42 different elk zone/season combinations.

For 2018 Idaho offers up to five sex/age options to hunt elk during the General Elk Rifle (Any Weapon) Season, which are broken down by All General Rifle Tags combined, Unlimited Tags and tags with a limited quota in Table 1.

Table 1. 2018 Idaho General (OTC) Rifle Season Elk Hunts

Quota/ Unlimited Hunt Zones GMUs Seasons
All General Rifle Antlered Elk   15    48    66
Antlerless   11    37    34
Spike Elk    3    10    10
Any Elk    2     8     8
Brow-tined Bull    1     1     3
Unlimited Antlered Elk    6    22    25
Antlerless   10    31    31
Spike Elk    3    10    10
Any Elk    2     8     8
Limited Quota Antlered Elk    9    26    41
Antlerless    1     3     6
Brow-tined Bull    1     1     3

The number of licenses issued for 47 hunt units are not limited (74 hunts), but there are quotas in 50 hunts in 27 GMUs.

Limited quota tags go on sale for residents in July before the hunt season. For non-residents, tags go on sale the previous December.

So if you want to hunt a unit that has limited quota, it may be too late to hunt for 2018. You will have to buy tags starting December 1, 2018 to hunt in 2019 and December 1, 2019 to hunt in 2020.

2018 Quotas for General Rifle Season Elk Hunts

  1. Antlered Elk – Quota 550 – 4,000
  2. Brow-tined Bull Elk –  Quota 1,551 – 1,636
  3. Antlerless Elk – Quota 1,900

In Idaho, elk are managed in 28 Elk Zones, so unless there is are specific exceptions, the tag is good in all units of the same Elk Zone.

The latest available harvest data is from 2016. The top 25 General Rifle GMUs were ranked by Total Harvest (left side of Table 2) and by Hunter Success (right side) in Table 2.

Table 2 Top 25 Idaho General Elk (OTC) Units (Rifle – Any Legal Weapon) 2016

top 25 Idaho OTC elk rifle units for 2016

By the Numbers – Total Elk Harvested

Note: After I originally published this post (Feb 12), I noticed the 2016 General Season Elk Harvest data at the Idaho Dept of Fish & Game (IFG) website had changed. No notice, no comment, no “Corrected Data” flag, nothing… just very different numbers for harvest, hunters, success and hunter days for most units from what was originally available to download. So I re-analyzed all the 2016 data and updated Table 2 & Table 3).

Should we have any more confidence in the new data? Probably not, but I will still rank the top units with data provided by IFG.

Like all government bureaucracies, we have to play by their rules, but we will take all future Harvest Data from Idaho with a grain of salt, because it is may change again in the future.

I cut off the units at the Top 25, which was all units with at least 122 elk harvested. For comparison, at least 100 elk were harvested in 32 units and at least 50 elk were harvested in 46 units.

I did not separate the Bull Only units from units that allow Any Elk or Antlerless, so “Elk” in the table is the combination of all General Season Any Weapon hunts in that unit.

In Table 2, the data also include both unlimited and limited quota tags.

The total number of elk harvest (“Elk”) ranged from 566 elk in unit 39 down to 0 (zero) elk in 12 units (which had a combined total of 179 hunters and 946 hunting days).

Half of all elk (50.2%) harvested were from the top 13 units and 72.9% of all elk harvested was from the top 25 units (left side Table 2).

The total number of hunter days per harvest in all units ranged from 8.1 to 128.0 days. In the top 25 units ranged from 11.6 hunt days per harvest in unit 50 to 52.5 in unit 24.

By the Numbers – Hunter Success

Before ranking units by Hunter Success (right side Table 2), all units with less than 20 total elk harvested were eliminated (23 units). Usually some of the low harvest units have some of the highest hunter success and one of the eliminated units had harvest success over 40% (Unit 68; 11 hunters harvested 5 elk).

So Hunter success in the top 25 units ranged from 63.4% in Unit 30 to 21.7% in unit 36B and Total Harvest ranged from 339 in unit 63 and 26 elk in unit 37A.

When ranked by Hunter Success, half of all elk (51.7%) harvested were from the top 33 units and 34.0% of all elk harvested was from the top 25 units in Table 2.

Also for the Hunter Success side of the table, the total number of hunter days in the top 25 units ranged from 8.8 hunt days per harvest in unit 30 to 29.2 in unit 36B.

Note that 10 units (hi-lighted) are in the top 25 for both total elk harvested and by hunter success in Table 2.

Idaho Elk Units Ranking for both Total Harvest & Hunter Success

Let’s take a look at closer look at those 10 units.

Table 3 includes the 10 units that ranked for both total elk harvested and by hunter success and includes additional information about those units during the 2016 General Elk hunt.

Most of these units had either Antlered only (Bull Elk) or Antlerless Only (Cow Elk) hunts, with one Brow-tined Bull elk hunt in unit 27.

Table 3. Selected Idaho Elk Rifle Units from 2016

Unit – Zone Sex/ Age Public Acres Acres/ hunter/day Note/Quota/Tag/Additional Units
8 Palouse Cow Elk  16,104     NA A Tag; Within 1 mile private outside NF
also hunt units 8A & 11A; Aug 1-Sep 15
14 Elk City Bull Elk 219,563   5,641 1,790 B Tag Quota; also hunt units 15 & 16; Oct 10 – Nov 3
21A Salmon Bull Elk 119,109   1,662 A Tag; Aug 1 – Sep 30
2,507 B Tag Quota, Oct 15 – Nov 8
also hunt units 21, 28 & 36B
28 Salmon Bull Elk 754,460   3,989 A Tag; Aug 1 – Sep 30
2,507 B Tag Quota, Oct 15 – Nov 8
also hunt units 21, 21A & 36B
36B Salmon Bull Elk 313,322   2,010 A Tag; Aug 1 – Sep 30
2,507 B Tag Quota, Oct 15 – Nov 8
also hunt units 21, 21A & 28
27 Middle Fork B-t bull 978,390   5,641 1,551 A Tag Quota, Oct 1 – Oct 31
1,636 B Tag Quota; Nov 1 – Nov 18
33 Sawtooth Bull Elk 328,592   2,609 1,526 B Tag Quota, Oct 15 – Nov 8
also hunt units 34, 35 & 36
36 Sawtooth Bull Elk 645,324   6,090 1,526 B Tag Quota, Oct 15 – Nov 8
also hunt units 33, 34 & 35
50 Pioneer Cow Elk 811,346     NA A Tag, Within 1 mile private outside NF
Motorized Hunting Rule
also hunt unit 36A; Aug 1-Sep 30
63 Snake River Cow Elk 347,830   4,721 A Tag, Sep 1 – Dec 31
Short range weapons on WMA

You should also notice that units 8 and 50 have special restrictions. These hunts are open only outside the National Forest System Boundary within 1 mile of private fields on which cultivated crops are currently growing. So these are not public land hunts and not best suited for non-resident hunters.

So this is a good example of where raw numbers are maybe not the best indicators for choosing an elk unit.

Yes, lots of elk were harvested and yes, success was high in those units, but those tags are for locals who know the land owners and call each other when they see elk standing in a potato or wheat field.

I would love to have the elk meat (if I didn’t have meat in the freezer), but that is not hunting.

This is also why these units have “NA” in the column for “Acres/per hunter/per day”.

Calculate Average Acres per Hunter per Day

In addition to elk harvested and hunter success, I want to know how big the unit is and how much hunter pressure the unit has.

First, total acres doesn’t help much because we can only hunt public land. So it takes a fair amount of research to find how much public hunting land is on each unit.

Lucky for you, I have already done that.

Second, not every hunter hunts every day. Each state that reports Recreation Days or Hunter Days provides the data we need.

But first, is should be obvious that all hunt days are not equal. The guy that hiked 10 miles in and 10 miles out and the guy that played “pocket pool” at camp most of the day each count as one hunt day.

As an example of how I calculated the Acres/per hunter/per day value, let’s use unit 36.

Unit 36 has 645,324 acres of public land (USFS, BLM & State). From Table 2 (either side), we see there were 181 elk harvested by 459 hunters (quota was 1,526 tags).

I also got the total hunter days (2,649) from the harvest report. That means the average hunter hunted 5.8 days (2,649/459 =5.8) out of a 25 day hunting season.

If every hunter hunted every single day, that would be (459 X 25 = 11,475 ) hunt days. Obviously that will never happen, plus every time a hunter harvests an elk, they have to stop hunting unless they have another tag.

If the 645,324 public acres in Unit 36 are divided by the total number of hunters (459) we get 1405.9 acres of public land per hunter.

But since few hunters hunt every day, how many acres do we really have to ourselves (on average) to hunt each day?

The answer is the ratio of actual total hunt days to potential total hunt days; 2,649/11,475 = 0.2308 or 23.08%

So instead of only 1,400 acres per hunter per day we actually have 6,091 acres per hunter per day (1405.9/23.08% = 6,091.4)

For units with two seasons, I assume half the hunters hunted in each season (IFG does not provide this data).

Hunters in the field probably had less acres on opening day and on weekends, but they also probably had more land to themselves during the weekdays.

I hope this information helps you to decide where you want to hunt this year. Have questions? Leave a comment.

Also check out Colorado’s Top 20 Elk Rifle Units and Utah’s Top Elk Units

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