Yes, that’s right. You can hunt elk without winning the lottery.
So, if you ever want to hunt elk in the west, why does everyone tell you have to start building points in the various lottery or draw systems? Sure, in order to get tags in the best units and to hunt during times when there is less competition, you will have to draw a tag and you will need a lot of points to do it. But that is a different article. There are many units with general season or Over-the Counter (OTC) tags that offer a good chance at getting an elk, especially if you get an any sex elk tag.
I grew up hunting small game in the southern Piedmont, but have lived in elk country now for over 20 years. For this transplanted southern boy, there is nothing like seeing big elk in the backcountry unless it’s seeing elk with a tag in your pocket. I still get a kick from just watching a herd of cows and compared to most white-tailed deer, even the calves look big.
I have built up a few points trying to draw the coveted limited entry bull elk tag here in my backyard. But we still hunt every year with OTC tags. We don’t always put meat in the freezer, but we always get to spend time in beautiful country and have a great time . We usually see lots of game and few other hunters. So why are OTC tags such a big secret?
Even Locals don’t Know about OTC Elk Tags
I met one of my neighbors a few weeks ago after his dogs followed us home after a walk. I called the phone number on the dog collar and he came to pick them up. We talked for a while and when he mentioned he had horses, I asked him about using his horses to help pack out my next elk. He got pretty excited talking about elk hunting, but said he hadn’t been able to hunt in the state since he moved here five years ago because he hasn’t been able to drawn a tag.
He was very surprised to learn our state has OTC bull elk tags plus nearly 100% chance to draw on several nearby units for cow elk hunts. I did him two favors that day. I know it’s a pain to carefully read your state’s (or any state’s) Big Game pamphlet, but you may be missing out on something if you don’t.
Not everything on the Internet is True
I also recently read an online article about elk hunting in Wyoming. They explained about the fees, the bonus points and application deadlines and about how it is nearly impossible to get a bull elk tag because “Few, if any bull tags go to leftovers, so the only “over the counter” options are cow tags.” They also implied that residents can buy unlimited bull tags, but non-residents couldn’t. But that is straight up not true! But what should I expect from someone that doesn’t know the North Slope along the Utah/Wyoming border refers to the Uinta Mountains and not the Wasatch.
I just spent a large part of the last week visiting the various state wildlife websites to research the best options for an OTC elk hunt in one of my neighboring states as a non-resident. Wyoming has OTC tags available for non-residents. It’s true that few controlled or limited entry bull elk tags can be purchases as leftovers, but who am I going to believe? An article in a big outdoor website or information at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department website, even if the information is hard to find?
Just to make double sure, I called Wyoming Fish and Game and asked them directly and yes, non-residents can buy tags to hunt elk in any general license unit in Wyoming. Afterwards, a little more research showed me there are 51 units with 84 different seasons that offer chances to hunt bull elk, any elk and antlerless elk that can be purchased OTC in Wyoming. More about that later.
Navigating through the State Bureaucracies
Yes, it took me about a week to navigate through 11 state websites and regulation pamphlets trying to find all the information that should be easy to find. What a pain, but hunting is an activity where we must deal with the state bureaucracies, we can’t just reject one company and choose another. I was hoping to gather information about the different season and tag combinations into one giant spread sheet so we could easily decide what hunts would work best for us. But each state has different regulations, terminology and hunting seasons, as well as different wildlife management histories and hunting cultures. I will be lucky to condense all the data into 11 spreadsheets. More on that later. At least I learned there are eight states that offer various OTC elk tags to Non-residents and is shown in Table 1.
Table 1. OTC Elk Tags for Non Residents in Eight Western States for 2013 Elk Hunting Season
|State||Any Bull Elk||Brow- tined/ 3-point||Spike Only||Any Sex Elk||Antlerless/ Cow or Calf||Total Non-Res. Cost|
|Colorado||R||-||-||A||A||$596 Bull/Any Elk, $361 cow/calf|
|Wyoming||A-R||-||-||A-R||A-R||$577 Bull Elk, $288 cow/calf|
A = Archery, M = Muzzleloader, R = Rifle, ALW = Any Legal Weapon; data in table accurate to the best of my knowledge as of July 2013.
California, Nevada and New Mexico do not offer OTC Elk tags, so all elk tags in these states are limited entry only.
Some of the OTC tags are not limited except in certain units, while other tags may be limited state-wide. In that case, it is first come, first serve, so you might guess the best units will sell out fast, but many of these tags do not sell out until the hunt starts.
I suggest getting a couple of buddies together and start planning a hunting trip. Surely, you know someone that lives in one of these eight states. If so, you will have a base to operate from. Even if you didn’t hunt, you would have a blast, but why not get an OTC tag? It makes the hiking and scouting a little more interesting.
*Montana Combination Big Game or Elk Tags
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MTFWP) says no OTC tags are available for non-residents, but do offer what they call Combination Elk, Big game Combos (Deer and Elk) and Combination Deer licenses. In past years, there were more people applying for these tags than the 17,000 quota, so they had a drawing to decide who got tags. The sale of these tags have been down for several years, partially because of rumors that the Montana elk populations have been decimated by wolves. Not true according to Montana biologists, who say many units in Montana have elk populations above the population objectives. Anyway, the MTFWP now says “Montana has nonresident deer and elk combination licenses available now. No drawings.” So the combination tags are offered as first come first serve. The last time I looked at the website, there were still over 1,500 Big Game Combos (elk and deer) and over 2,200 elk combos.
My DIY Elk Hunting Guide is now available as PDF or ebook