Seven Western States have Over-the-Counter Elk Tags for Non-residents

seven western states have otc elk tags

Seven States offer OTC tags for non-residents to hunt elk.

Yes, that’s right. You can hunt elk in 2016 without winning the lottery.

So, if you 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 draw 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.

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 a private 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.

When Table 1 able was first published, there were eight states that offer various OTC elk tags to Non-residents. In 2014, Wyoming no longer offered OTC tags to non-residents.

Table 1.  OTC Elk Tags for Non-Residents in Seven Western States for 2016 Elk Hunting Season

State Any Bull Elk Brow- tined/ 3-point Spike Only  Any Sex Elk Antlerless/ Cow or Calf Total Non-Res. Cost
Arizona  A-ALW      –      –   A-ALW          – $825
Colorado      R      –      –     A          A $636 Bull/Any Elk, $476 cow/calf
Idaho   A-M-R    ALW   A-M-R   A-M-R       A-M-R $571.50
Montana*       –      –      –    A-R          – $851* Any Elk or $1,001 Any Elk & Deer, Cow $270
Oregon     A-R    A-R    A-R    A-R          – $709.50
Utah   A-M-R      –  A-M-R      –          – $458
Washington   A-M-R   A-M-R  A-M-R   A-M-R       A-M-R $497
Wyoming no longer OTC for non-residents

A = Archery, M = Muzzleloader, R = Rifle, ALW = Any Legal Weapon; data in table accurate to the best of my knowledge as of April 2016.

California, Nevada and New Mexico do not offer any 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. In some states (like Idaho) if tags don’t sell by a certain date, anyone can buy them as a second tag.

I suggest getting a couple of buddies together and start planning a hunting trip. Surely, you know someone that lives in one of these seven 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 Offers 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 are down because of 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.

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

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Comments

  1. Mark Stelly says:

    I have been archery hunting Colorado with OTC tags for either sex elk, for 4 years and I have been lucky enough to purchase a bear tag twice. The point is tags are available and at a reasonable cost for the most part. My elk hunting trips cost about $1300 and include all but the bear tag. Bear tags are about $350 but both elk and bear tags are going up.
    7-7-2015

  2. How much for a resident OTC elk tag,in Washington state?

  3. darrell sandin says:

    I have always wanted to hunt elk, but at present don’t have a partner to hunt with. I am 74 years old and would like to find a hunting buddy (and fishing buddy if possible). I have a 270 to hunt with and am able to drive. I have hunted deer in Minnesota for years. Sincerely Darrell

    • Hi Darrell:
      I post this with the hope that it helps you find a hunting partner. There must be another person from Minnesota interested in an elk hunt to to share expenses.

      I remember hunting and fishing with my grandfather and his buddies from the time I was a teenager until I was almost 40. It is so important to have good hunting and fishing buddies.

      I wrote the DIY Elk Hunting Guide to help you choose where to hunt and to be aware of survival and logistical issues you may not face hunting deer in Minnesota.

      I know there are a few other sites on the internet designed to help people find people to hunt, fish and for other outdoor activities.
      I know of the Outdoorbuddyfinder facebook page and the partner search at Hightechredneck.com. Also try searching for “find a hunting buddy”. I have seen threads like this from time to time on many different hunting forums.
      Good Luck

  4. Best place to hunt elk and mule deer on a budget. Websites please. I live in Texas, but willing to travel. Thanks

    • Glad you are willing to travel Bart. Last time I told an elk to walk to Texas, he just gave me a dumb look.

      Depending upon what part of Texas, you can be in parts of Idaho, Utah, Montana, Wyoming or Colorado in less than a 24 hour drive.

      Without knowing your physical capabilities or your hunting preferences, I can’t tell you what areas are best for you to hunt. Do you want to hike miles back into the backcountry at 10,000 feet or do you want to sneak around in the oak-brush and PJ at 7,000 feet? Do you want to hunt the Archery, muzzleloader or rifle season?

      I wrote the DIY Elk Hunting Guide specifically for guys like you. The guide will help you decide where to hunt based on elk harvests, amounts of public land and the number of other hunters. I have lots of information about the different habitats elk are found in the West and strategies to use during different times of the year.

      My elk hunting guide also includes lots of information like backcountry safety and the logistics of packing an elk out for people that have not hunted the West before.

      I even include a sample hunt budget and two people that live within about 1,600 miles from elk country can hunt for about $1,000 each.

  5. I need a Washington hunting buddy :). Great article, thanks for doing the research!

    • I hope you find one Austin.
      Also try the Outdoorbuddyfinder facebook page and the partner search at Hightechredneck.com. You could also look for a hunting buddy if you have an active local Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Chapter.

  6. Ronald fible says:

    Thank you

  7. Nathan Rutledge says:

    This article is awesome! Glad I found this to help prep for a full on DIY Alaska moose hunt and not have to buy into points. I am currently living in California and will be looking at going in Oregon. Anybody know where hunts are acceptable for the OTC tags without having a buddy with land?

    • That’s why most us love public land hunts. Anybody with a tag can hunt and public land is full of elk.
      It would be easier if you knew the land, but scouting is half the fun.
      In Oregon, you will have to first decide if you want to hunt the East (Coastal or Cascade) or the West. East is dry forest and open country (Rocky Mountain elk), the West is in the Coastal rain forest areas (Roosevelt Elk).
      Then, you will have to decide which season. Some units have only one season, but others have three different seasons.
      Read all the info carefully (start here), because some hunts are bull elk only, some are spike only and some are any elk.
      Good luck!

  8. Tracy Cook says:

    I know it only applies to a limited number of people but many don’t know this new perk because its just that new. Most states offer discounted rates for resident disabled veterans a few states are now offering them for Non-Resident disabled veterans. The % of service connected disability varies by state. However I have always wanted to go to Idaho with my friends who make way more than me and go every year. However I could never afford it. Well thanks to the generosity of Idaho, This year I will be able to do an out of state Deer, Elk, Bear, Wolf Combo hunt for about $150 in licenses and fees vs over $1000 if not a service connected vet. Washington also has a break for non-resident disabled Vets. Hopefully this will help a few more people achieve a life long dream.

  9. Tracy Cook says:

    In my previous statement I said Deer, Elk, Bear, Moose, that is not correct, It is a Deer, Elk, Bear, Wolf combo for the price I mentioned, In my wildest dreams would I be able to moose hunt cheap LOL

  10. Not sure where the info about Wyoming not offing OTC for non-residents anymore, I hunted there as NR on an OTC cow tag, and am planning another hunt now. The only problem is it’s only “left-over” tags and there is NEVER any bull tags left for OTC, so basically cow/calf only. But still great hunting and only $302 for antlerless.

    I’m from Washington and let me tell you, you’re better off going to Idaho or Oregon if you want to hunt the northwest. Our best tags are far and few between and our success rates are the worst than other states. Take a look for yourself: http://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/harvest/2015/elk_general.html

    Thanks for the info on the other states. Regarding Wyoming non-resident OTC, I hunted there in October and December of 2014, killed a nice cow in December. FYI, they announce elk drawing results for residents on June 21, when the “left-over license” list becomes available. Full price left over tags go on sale July 6 and reduce priced (cow/calf) go on sale July 13.

    • Erik: Officially, there are no more OTC tags for non-residents in Wyoming. But you are obviously correct that you can buy left-over cow tags without having to apply. I had more information about hunting elk in Wyoming on this page before they changed the rules in 2014.
      My DIY Elk Hunting Guide does include more information about hunting elk in Wyoming.
      And Yes, elk hunting success is very low in Washington (10.5% compared with the next lowest; 17.5% in Oregon). Why do you think that is the case?
      I have not hunted Washington, but have seen the rain forest habitats in western Washington (and Oregon). I assume it is related to the thick cover and the steep terrain. Hard to see elk at any distance in cover and the steep terrain (especially when wet) makes it hard to climb the hills.

  11. In Washington, you have to choose between Eastern and Western, I haven’t hunted Western Washington but know some who have, definitely thick cover over there, but I think the main problem in Washington is just the sheer number of hunters compared to the total elk population.
    I think total hunters for Washington was a little more than Wyoming last season, with a fraction of the population. You have dense herds on the Colockum, and decent density in the Yakima and Blue Mountains area, but many of the herds in other parts of the state are really just scattered bands that roam huge areas and are hard to pin down. Most of the success on these goes to local landowners of course.
    Areas like the Colockum literally get camps of 20+ hunters every hundred yards along all the roads. If you hunt hard you can certainly get into some fun hunting, but it can be so frustrating when you have multiple stories of bad encounters with other hunters.

    So I take back my statement about there never being left over antlered tags for Wyoming, there are a few, but you’d better do your research about access before you try to buy one because the units have either lots of private or wilderness requiring a guide for non-residents.

    Thanks again for the info.

    • With that much hunting pressure, I am a little surprised that Washington still has OTC tags (especially for non-residents).
      By the way, thanks for reminding me to update the harvest data for 2015 for the Seven Western States (see 2014 elk harvest data). Utah and Washington are always the last two states to report their data.
      Yes, everyone that hunts public land has a story to tell about encounters with other hunters. Luckily, most are just two people that bump into each other. That is not always bad, because they could cooperate.
      My worst case happened when I hiked over a mile up a closed road to watch a pond only to have two hunters on 4-wheelers illegally ride up the road to the pond. They ruined it for me and themselves that morning. If we had a law that awarded the 4-wheeler to a person that reported illegal activity, we might could stop most of it.
      I don’t like Wyoming’s policy about requiring out of state hunters to have guides to hunt in Wilderness. But friends or family that live in Wyoming can be that guide after they jump through a few hoops.
      Good luck on your Wyoming hunt… just watch out for those Grizzly Bears.

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