Hunt Elk in Utah with Over-the-Counter Permits in 2018

utah general season elk unit map

Map 1. Utah General Season Elk Units. Note that white areas include NPS, DOD, Native Lands or other closed areas. (not all sub-units shown)

Utah’s General Elk Season permits are not called “Over-the-counter (OTC) permits but they are available OTC for both residents and non-residents on a first come first serve basis.

The Utah Division of Wildlife (UDWR) manages elk in 30 management units in the state, but these units are sub-divided in such a way, there are really 48 elk sub units.

Utah Any Bull Elk or Spike Only OTC Permits

There are two types of General Season Elk permits that can be purchased over the counter (or online) for Archery, Rifle (or any legal weapon) and Muzzleloader seasons.

  • Any Bull Elk Permits
  • Spike Bull Elk Permits
utah general any bull elk unit map

Map 2. Utah General Season Any Bull Elk Units (light grey). White areas include NPS, DOD, Native Lands or other closed areas.

The Spike Bull Only Units are in areas where elk are managed for older aged bulls and where Limited Entry Hunts occurs. That is why they want to leave mature elk for the Limited Entry hunters.

The Any Bull units are not specifically managed for trophy bulls, but there are plenty of elk including mature bulls in those units.

If hunting during the rifle or muzzleloader seasons, you must choose to hunt in either Spike only units or Any Bull Units, but are not limited to any individual unit.

utah general season spike elk unit map

Map 3. Utah General Season Spike Elk Units (yellowish). White areas include NPS, DOD, Native Lands or other closed areas. Note that the Monroe Unit is open for Archery or Muzzleloader, but not open to Rifle.

With the General Season Archery tag, you can hunt in any unit (Any Bull or Spike Only) and the archery permits allow the taking of cow elk, so in an any Bull Unit, the permit is essentially an “Any Elk permit”.

In Spike Elk only units, the permit allows Spike Bull elk or any antlerless elk (cow or calf) to be taken.

See more details about the General Season Elk tags in Table 1.

Table 1. General Season Elk Permits Available to Residents and Non-residents in Utah for 2018

General Season Allowed Harvest Bull Elk Units Sub-Units N Permits 2018 Season
Archery Any Bull or antlerless Any Bull 22 Unlimited Aug 19 – Sept 15
Rifle (ALW*) Any Bull 15,000 combined Oct. 7 – 19
Muzzleloader Any Bull Nov. 1 – 9
Archery Spike or antlerless Spike Only 28 Unlimited Aug 19 – Sept 8
Rifle (ALW*) Spike Only 27 15,000 combined Oct. 7 – 19
Muzzleloader Spike Only 28 Nov. 1 – 9

*ALW = Any Legal Weapon can be used during the “Rifle” season.



Also new for this year, anyone that obtains a multi-season permit (learn more below) for general-season bull elk, can also hunt during the extended-archery elk season.

The Rifle (ALW) and muzzleloader permits only allow taking bull elk. I also apply for cow elk tags, so about every other season, I have both a cow elk permit and a General Season Elk Permit. Now that we can hunt multiple seasons, I will get a multi-season permit so I can hunt during all three seasons.

The General Season rifle and muzzleloader permits are first come first come first serve and are limited to a combined 15,000 permits and go on sale July 17 in 2018.

Some years, permits for rifle or muzzleloader are still available almost up until the rifle hunt starts. Archery tags are unlimited.

Check here for available permits at the UDWR website.

If you get an Any Bull Permit, you can hunt on any of the 22 Any Bull Elk Units, as shown in light gray in Map 2. These are units that are not managed for trophy elk, but these areas do have mature bull elk on them. There is some amazing country in these units, especially on the North and South Slopes of the Uinta Mountains (in my humble opinion).

The Spike Elk permits may be used on any of 27 or 28 Spike Elk Units (depending upon weapon), as shown in the yellowish color in Map 3. Note that the reason for the different number of units is the Monroe Unit Spike Only hunt is for archery and muzzleloader only.

When hunting General Season units, it is important to realize that Limited Entry Archery hunts are going on at the same time in the Spike Only Units and if hunting the rifle or muzzleloader seasons, that the Limited Entry hunts have already taken place before the General Season hunt begins. The Any Bull units have no prior elk hunt except the archery hunt.

New for 2018 – Multi-Season General Elk Permits in Utah

New for 2018, Utah will allow elk hunters to hunt all three general elk seasons; Archery, Rifle (Any legal Weapon) and Muzzleloader (hunt dates shown in Table 1 above).

The total cost for Non-residents for a single season permit is still $393 for the Elk permit plus $65 for a Hunting License for a total of $458.

The fee for Resident hunters will be three times the single season fee; $50 for single season and $150 for multi-season permits (plus Hunting License), but the fee only increases from $393 to $700 for Non-residents (plus $65 for Hunting License).

Latest Utah Elk Harvest Report

Utah is one of the slowest states for reporting the previous last year’s harvest data, so at the beginning of 2018 we are still waiting on the 2016 General Season Elk harvest data.

The elk harvest in Utah has been increasing and the total 2015 elk harvest was 19,294 elk (see Table 2), an increase from 17,133 in 2014, 16,879 in 2013 and 16,332 in 2012.

Table 2. 2015 Utah Elk Harvest and Hunting Success

Weapon 2015 Utah Elk Hunts Hunters Total Elk Success Days per Harvest
Total Total Elk 71,175 19,294 27.1% 20.3
Total General Elk (OTC) 35,028 5,051 15.3% 36.7
Total Limited Bull Elk 2,901 1,855 63.9% 10.6
Total Limited Cow Elk 13,807 6,259 45.3% 11.0
Total Antlerless-Control 7,715 1,416 18.4% 33.2
Rifle Spike Bull Elk (OTC) 12,872 1,706 13.3% 39.2
Any Bull Elk (OTC) 11,463 2,116 18.5% 28.2
Limited Entry Bull Elk 1,655 1,264 76.4% 6.0
Youth Any Bull 451 194 43.0% 9.8
Muzzleloader Spike Bull Elk (OTC) 1,092 223 20.4% 23.0
Any Bull Elk (OTC) 1,360 245 18.0% 26.6
Limited Entry Bull Elk 486 347 71.4% 7.8
Archery General Elk* (OTC) 10,886 1,490 13.7% 49.7
Limited Entry Bull Elk 760 244 32.1% 38.3

*Any elk may be taken with archery equipment as “Hunter’s Choice” (cow or bull) on Any Bull or Spike elk Units. In 2015 General Archery hunters harvested 761 Bull elk and 729 antlerless elk (1,490 total elk).

There were 5,051 elk harvested by 37,673 hunters with General elk Tags (OTC) in 2015 (about 500 less elk and 2,100 less hunters than 2014).

Most Bull Elk Harvested in Utah with General Season Elk Permits

Combined General Elk permits accounted for 26.2% of all elk harvested, 73.1% of harvested Bull Elk and 52.9% of all Elk Hunters.

As for Bull Elk, 1,699 Spike Elk were harvested in the Spike Only units, 2,598 Bull elk were harvested in the Any Bull Elk units making 73.1% of all Bull Elk harvested in 2015. In addition to the bull elk, 145 cow elk were harvested with General Archery Tags in Spike Only units and 479 cow elk were harvested in Any Bull units.

We all know General Elk seasons can be crowded and have low hunter success, but how else can we hunt elk every year?

As a way to compare General Hunts by Weapon and General Hunt unit type, I calculated the proportion of all General Season elk hunter effort and harvest for 2015 (Table 3).

Table 3. Proportion of Utah General Elk Hunter Effort and Harvest 2015

Weapon Hunters Hunt Effort Total Elk Unit
Rifle 53.2% 52.9% 44.7% Spike Units
46.8% 47.1% 55.3% Any Bull Units
100% 100% 100% Total
ML 44.7% 42.1% 47.6% Spike Units
55.3% 57.9% 52.4% Any Bull Units
100% 100% 100% Total
Archery 62.7% 59.3% 66.4% Spike Units
37.3% 40.7% 33.6% Any Bull Units
100% 100% 100% Total

As for General Season Harvest, Rifle hunters in Spike Bull units accounted for 44.7% of the Bull elk with x% of the hunters and x % of the hunting effort (Total Hunting Days), while rifle hunters in Any Bull units accounted for 55.3% of Bull elk with only 46.8% of the hunters and 47.1% of the hunting effort.


Muzzleloader hunters in Any Bull units accounted for 52.4% of the Bull elk with 55.3% of the hunters and 57.9 % of the hunting effort. Muzzleloader hunters in Spike units accounted for 47.6% of the Bull elk with only 44.7% of the hunters and 42.1% of the hunting effort.

Archery hunters accounted for 66.4% of elk (Spikes or cows) in Spike Only Units with 62.7% of the hunters and 59.3% of the hunting effort and accounted for 33.6% of elk with 37.3% of hunters and 40.7% of the hunt effort.

Tables 4 and 5 show how Utah’s elk populations and harvest is still increasing and also compares harvest success and hunters of General Season hunts to Limited Entry hunts since 2008.

 

Table 4. Total Elk Harvested and Hunter Success in Utah 2008 – 2015

Year Bull Elk Cow Elk Total Elk Hunters Success
2008 6,217 6,229 12,464 49,742 25.0%
2009 7,565 8,003 15,568 53,872 28.9%
2010 7,702 7,878 15,580 53,288 29.2%
2011 6,923 6,024 12,947 57,241 22.6%
2012 7,683 8,649 16,332 59,157 27.6%
2013 8,131 8,748 16,879 66,374 25.4%
2014 7,659 9,474 17,133 69,503 24.7%
2015 8,090 11,204 19,294 71,175 27.1%
AVG. 7,496 8,276 15,755 60,044 26.3%

I included Table 5 to contrast hunter success between the General Season Hunts from the Limited Entry Hunts. Note that Antlerless Elk (Cows and calves) were harvested only with Archery equipment during General Season, but “cow tags” are limited entry and must be drawn to hunt with rifle (any legal weapon) or muzzleloader.

Table 5. Elk Harvested and Hunter Success in Utah 2008 – 2015

General Season Limited Entry
Year Bull Elk Cow Elk Hunters Success Bull Elk Cow Elk Hunters Success
2008 3,818 654 33,388 13.4% 2,399 5,575 16,354 48.8%
2009 4,956 901 36,312 16.1% 2,609 7,102 17,560 55.3%
2010 4,941 722 36,562 15.5% 2,761 7,156 16,726 59.3%
2011 4,207 568 37,944 12.6% 2,716 5,456 19,297 42.3%
2012 5,020 689 36,437 15.7% 2,663 7,960 22,720 46.8%
2013 5,401 576 39,583 25.4% 2,730 8,172 26,791 40.7%
2014 4,910 686 39,790 14.1% 2,749 8,788 29,713 38.8%
2015 5,245 729 38,124 15.7% 2,786 7,675 25,528 41.0%
Avg. 4,812 691 37,268 14.8% 2,677 7,236 21,836 45.4%

Utah Limited Entry Cow Elk and Antlerless-Control tags

Limited Entry Cow tags can be drawn about every other year in Utah, so with a cow tag and a General Elk tag, you can hunt any elk in the Any Bull Elk units or you can hunt spike elk and cow elk in the Spike Elk Units and have a much higher chance of success.

A few Antlerless-Control tags will be available in some units in Utah, so that is another way to increase your chance of success even if you don’t draw a cow elk tag.

Just remember that cow tags and Antlerless-Control tags are issued for specific units and can not be used in any unit like the Spike Bull Elk or the Any Bull Elk tags can. These tags can be used in any season you have any other valid tag.

Spike Elk a Small Portion of the Elk Population

Hunting Success is expected to be lower in the Spike Elk only units because spike elk only make up a small portion of the elk populations.

If the average bull to cow ration is 20/100 (5 year avg of 2 units) and 50.6 (Utah’s last 5 year avg.) out of 100 cows have a calf, and survival of calves to their 2nd year (age 1½) averages about 40%, and half of those 1½ year old elk will be spikes, then only about 8.4% (1 per 11.6) of the elk population will be spikes.

In an any Bull unit, if the bull/cow ratio is 20/100, then 16.7% (20/120) of the population will be mature bulls plus the 8.4% that we expect to be spikes, for a total of about 25.1% bull elk (1 per 4).

So it makes sense that hunter success is higher in the Any Bull units than the Spike Only units for the “rifle” (Any legal weapon) season (Table 2).

Hunter success was about the same for muzzleloaders in 2015, but was actually higher in the Spike Only units. This might be an accident due to small sample sizes. The muzzleloader season occurs after both the archery and rifle seasons, but not sure how that might explain higher success in Spike units over Any Bull units. Success in the Any Bull units is the same as the rifle season.

Elk Habitat in Utah

utah level III ecoregion and elk habitat

Map 4. Map of Utah Ecoregions showing that Elk Habitat (in red), closely matches the Wasatch & Uintah Mountains and the higher elevations of the Colorado Plateau.

In Utah, most elk habitat is in the Wasatch and Uinta Mountains and in the higher elevations of the Colorado Plateau. Elk habitat is shown in red in Map 2, along with the major Ecoregions found in Utah.

The Wasatch Mountain Range runs North-South the length of the state along the east side of Interstate 15.

The Uinta Mountains runs from the Wasatch Range to the Colorado Border along the Northern Utah border with Wyoming. The North Slope of the Uinta range drains toward Wyoming and the South Slope into the Uinta Basin.

Public Land in Utah

There is plenty of public land to hunt in Utah, with over 8.1 million acres of U.S. Forest Service land, 22.8 million acres of BLM land and over 3.8 million acres of state lands open to hunting for a total of over 34.7 million acres, which is 66% of the entire state.

Much of the elk habitat in Utah is on the 8.1 million acres of US Forest Service land. A conservative estimate assumes an equal amount of BLM and Utah State lands are also elk habitat, then if each of the 57,241 elk hunters in 2011 hunted public land, there were 282 acres for each hunter.

Remember that many hunters don’t hunt public land and most hunters never get more than ¼ mile from a road. Plus, the hunting pressure is spread out between the various hunt seasons (archery, rifle/any weapon and muzzleloader), so there is much more room per hunter, especially if you hunt away from the roads.

In Utah, there are five National Parks and six National Monuments, where hunting is not allowed, but most of the southern Utah parks are not in prime elk habitat.

Utah also has 1.7 million acres of DOD lands (Dugway Proving Grounds and the Utah Test and Training Range), where hunting is not allowed, but there are no elk on the mud flats and low elevation deserts that make up most of these military lands.

As with any place that has private lands mixed with public lands, make sure you have good maps and GPS when hunting near private or Tribal lands.

National Parks, Military Lands and Tribal Lands are included with the no hunting units shown in white in Figure 1.



Comments

  1. Audie fuson says:

    Looking to find out when over-the-counter tags are available for non-resident bow hunting elk tags. Is this something I can purchase online?
    I like to get an Any Bull tag but more than willing to get a Spike Only or cow elk tag.
    I would greatly be appreciated the information. Thank you for your time and help with this matter.

    • Audie: This year, Utah General Elk tags go on sale July 12, 2016. And yes, you can buy them online here
      Application for cow elk tags start May 26 and end on June 16 (results available July 7th), but you can also get an antlerless elk control permit with your general elk (Any Bull or Spike only) tag (read more about Utah’s antlerless elk control permit program).
      Remember, if you buy an Any Bull elk tag, you can harvest any bull elk, but you can hunt only in any of the 16 Any bull elk units. If you get a Spike only tag, you can hunt only in the 20 Spike only units. Not all units will have antlerless elk control permits, so you will have to check at the UDWR website.

      • I believe you are wrong about the General Elk Tags. I called the state and they said the Date is July 11 at 8 AM.

        • Yes Rick, General Elk tags go on sale this year (2017) on July 11. I believe you are responding to a comment about last year (July 12th). But not to worry, they never sell out the first week and usually don’t sell out until Sept. or October.

  2. Justin Cowley says:

    I’m trying to figure out how/if I can buy an OTC bull or either sex tag. Archery is preferred but will take rifle if available. All I can find online are antlerless tags… Is this because there is none left of the other or am I just going to the wrong spot? Thanks -Justin Cowley

  3. Jerry Schwendinger says:

    Is there an elk season in which nonresidents may hunt cows, and when is it? Also, the deadline to apply and cost. Thank you.

    • Yes, but the cow elk tags (called antlerless elk tags) must be drawn. The antlerless application this year will be May 25–June 15, 2017. In Utah, you have to choose a unit and a season (three choices), but remember the cow elk can be taken during any other big game season if it is taken in the correct unit.

      You can basically draw an antlerless elk tag every other year. Everyone that fails to draw gets a bonus point, then everyone with a bonus point gets drawn first the next year.

      For locals, I think the best strategy is to apply for a cow elk hunt that occurs after the general elk season (rifle hunt is Oct 7 – 19 in 2017) so they can hunt the unit with the cow elk tag during the general elk season. That way they can harvest a cow and/or a bull elk. If you failed to harvest then, you still have another hunt season for the cow elk later. Travel could be a problem for non-residents, but the opportunity is there.

      The cost of a non-resident antlerless elk tag is $188 plus the cost of a hunting license $65 ($253 total).

      There are also some areas that will have antlerless control tags in Utah again in 2017 ($93). They can be used during any other big game hunt (such as general elk or general deer hunt), but they have to be within specific units.

  4. I’m interested in an OTC non resident archery elk tag for Utah. Ideally, either sex is best choice. Is this possible for 2017? And if so, do I need to apply right away?

    • Curt: Part of the reason I wrote the DIY Elk Hunting Guide is because learning everything required to hunt in Western states is very confusing for non-residents.

      First, OTC stands for over-the-counter. They don’t technically call the hunts that in Utah like they do in other states, but that is what they are.

      You want to purchase a General Elk Archery Tag when they go on sale July 11 (2017). You will first need a hunting or a combination hunting/fishing license. Archery tags are not limited, so they will not sell out. The rifle and muzzleloader tags are limited (first come first serve), but they usually don’t sell out until just before the seasons start.

      Before you buy a tag, you need to decide if you want to hunt in the Any Bull units or the Spike Bull only units. General Archery Elk Hunts are Hunter’s choice meaning archery hunters can take a bull elk or an antlerless elk. You can take any bull in an “Any Bull” unit, but you can only take spike bulls in the “Spike Bull” units.

      In Utah, you are not limited to hunt in a single unit during the General Elk Hunt. You can hunt in any the Any Bull units or any of the Spike only units, but not both.
      (Download pdf to see Utah general elk hunt units on page 36-37)

      You can also see the costs for tags in the pdf, but hunting license for non-resident in Utah is $65 ($85 for combo hunt/fish) and the general elk license is $393 for a total of $458 ($478 if you want to fish).
      Good luck.

  5. Bruce Carter says:

    Excellent information! Thank you!!! Great site!

    • Thanks for the information. My son and I are considering Utah general elk otc archery. I want to know if it makes sense to try for limited area to gain preference points. Wondering how many points it would take to get into a good limited area?

      • Rich: If you ever want to hunt with a Limited Entry tag, the odds dictate that you will have to start building bonus points in Utah.
        I have a friend that has 22 points and still may not draw the tag he wants this year (San Juan Unit). But I also have a friend that drew a Book Cliffs tag with zero points, so everyone has a chance. I have 8 points and figure I have a 50:50 chance for some of the “less coveted” units.

  6. With the recent changes in preference / bonus point system does purchasing a non-resident OTC general elk permit (starting 11 July 2017) affect accumulated preference/bonus points?

    Thanks for your time and consideration regarding this request. (Sure appreciate the site!!!)

    Mike

  7. Thanks for the article, looking at either Utah or Idaho this year for archery elk OTC! In MN and ND my father never had to have his Hunters Safety Certificate (born before 1961) will he need to have this prior to hunting archery elk in those states?

    • Mike:
      In Utah, I am “Grandfathered” (December 31, 1965) so I never had to have a hunter safety.
      Idaho requires all hunters born after December 31, 1974, so he has that covered.
      So your Dad is good to hunt in Utah or Idaho (and others), but may need to pass a Hunter Ed/Safety course to Hunt Colorado.

      In Colorado, Hunters born on or after Jan. 1, 1949, need hunter education, so he may need it there.

      He will be OK to hunt in the other “General Elk Tag” states:

      Montana requires Hunter safety if born after January 1, 1985.
      Wyoming – anyone born after Jan. 1, 1966.
      Oregon and Washington only require hunters younger than 18 years to have hunter safety.

      Good Luck on you hunt and let me know how it turns out.

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