Hunt Elk in Utah with Over-the-Counter Permits in 2017

The Utah Division of Wildlife (UDWR) manages elk in 29 management units in the state, but these units are sub-divided in such a way, there are really 50 elk management areas. Over-the-counter (OTC) elk permits are available for both resident and non-residents in Utah.

Over-the-Counter Elk Permits 2017 Elk Hunting Season

  • Archery – Any Bull Units – (Hunter’s choice – bull or cow) – Aug. 19 – Sept. 15
  • Archery – Spike Bull Units (Hunter’s choice – spike or cow – spike only in Book Cliffs) – Aug. 19 – Sept. 8
  • Any Legal Weapon – Any Bull Elk Units – Oct. 7 – 19
  • Any Legal Weapon – Spike Bull Elk Units – Oct. 7 – 19
  • Muzzleloader – Any Bull Elk Units – Nov. 1 – 9
  • Muzzleloader – Spike Bull Elk Units – Nov.  1- 9

Over-the-Counter Elk Permits Available to Non-residents in Utah

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

There are two types of General Elk permits that can be purchased over the counter.

  • Any Bull Elk Permits
  • Spike Bull Elk Permits

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

Both Spike only and Any Bull permits are available in three distinct weapon/season combinations; Archery, Rifle (or any legal weapon) and Muzzleloader seasons.

With the General Season Archery tag, you can hunt in any unit.  The General Archery Permits allows the taking of cow elk, so in an any Bull Unit, the permit is essentially an “any elk permit”, but with a Spike Elk Permit, only Spike elk or cow elk may be taken. Note that the Book Cliffs unit only allows the taking of a spike bull.

The Rifle/any weapon and muzzleloader permits only allow taking bull elk.

General Season (OTC) rifle and muzzleloader permits are first come first come first serve, but are sometimes still available almost up until the hunt starts. Some years, permits are still available after the Archery season begins. Archery tags are unlimited. Check here for available permits at the UDWR website.

Tags go on sale July 11 in 2017.

Utah Spike Elk OTC Permits

utah otc elk units

Map 1. The General Any Bull Elk Units are shown in dark gray, Spike Bull Units are shown in light gray. Note: Spike Hunt in Monroe Unit only for archery or muzzleloader.

The Spike Elk permits may be used on any of 20 Spike Elk Units, as shown in light gray in Map 1.

These units are primarily managed by UDWR for older, more mature Bull elk for the Limited Entry Bull Elk hunts.

The Limited Entry hunts have already taken place before the general hunt begins in the Spike Elk Units.

Note that the Monroe Unit Spike Only hunt is for archery and muzzleloader only.

Utah Any Bull Elk OTC Permits

If you get an Any Bull Permit, you can hunt on any of the 16 Any Bull Elk Units, as shown in dark gray in Figure 1. These are units that are not managed for trophy elk, but these areas can have trophy class elk on them. There is some amazing country in the Uinta Mountains in the North and South Slope units.

Utah Elk Harvest Report

Utah is one of the slowest states for reporting the previous last year’s harvest data, so we are still waiting on the 2015 general season harvest data. The total 2014 elk harvest is reported by UDWR as 17,133 elk (see Table 1), an increase from 16,879 in 2013 and 16,332 in 2012 (Table 2).

Table 1. 2014 Utah Elk Harvest and Hunting Success

Weapon 2014 Utah Elk Hunts Hunters Total Elk Success
Total Total All Elk 69,503  17,133 24.7%
Total General Elk (OTC) 39,790   5,596 14.1%
Total Limited Entry Elk 29,713  11,537 38.8%
Total Limited Cow Elk 15,121   5,553 36.7%
Total Antlerless-Control  6,097   1,051 13.1%
Rifle Spike Bull Elk (OTC) 12,969   1,699 13.1%
Any Bull Elk (OTC) 11,849   2,022 17.1%
Limited Entry Bull Elk  1,539   1,244 80.8%
Youth Any Bull    285     107 37.5%
Muzzleloader Spike Bull Elk (OTC)  1,000     175 17.5%
Any Bull Elk (OTC)  1,345     230 17.1%
Limited Entry Bull Elk    458     314 68.6%
Archery General Elk* (OTC) 10,211   1,271 12.4%
Limited Entry Bull Elk    740     275 37.2%

*Any elk may be taken with archery equipment as “Hunter’s Choice” (cow or bull) on Any Bull or Spike elk Units. In 2014 General Archery hunters harvested 625 Bull elk and 646 antlerless elk.

There were 5,596 elk harvested by 39,790 hunters with General elk Tags (OTC) in 2014. 1,699 Spikes were harvested in the Spike Only Units, 2,022 Bull elk were harvested in the Any Bull Elk units and 625 cow elk were harvested with with General Archery Tags.

Table 2. Total Elk Harvested and Hunter Success in Utah 2008 – 2014

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 3 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 3. 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 can.

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 in 2014 was higher in the Any Bull Units (17.1%) than the Spike Only Units (13.1%) for the “rifle” (Any legal weapon) season (Table 1). Hunter success was about the same for muzzleloaders with 17.5% in Spike Only units and 17.1% in Any Bull units. This might be explained because of small sample sizes or has something to do with the fact that the muzzleloader season is after the archery and rifle seasons, but not sure how that causes success in Spike units to be higher than the rifle season while success in Any Bull units is the same.

Elk Habitat in Utah

utah level III ecoregion and elk habitat

Map 2. 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 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.


  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!!!)


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