2016 Western Elk Harvest – 7 Western States with OTC Tags

rocky mountain elk; bull and cowThe 2016 elk harvest data for elk are finally available for the six of the seven Western States with over-the-counter (OTC) elk tags and are included in the table below.

It would be helpful to have the most up to date data available to help decide where we want to hunt, but 2016 Harvest data is the best we can do at the beginning of the 2018 New Year.

The table is ranked by highest total elk harvested to the lowest. The data include all elk harvested by all permit types and all weapon types.

Table 1. 2016 Total Elk Harvest from 7 Western States

State OTC Tags Bull Elk Cow Elk Total Elk Total Hunters Total Hunter Days Hunter Success Days per Harvest
Colorado R&NR  19,997  19,309  39,306  223,745  1,178,905  17.6%  30.0
Wyoming R  12,339  13,513  25,852   58,159   473,068  44.5%  18.3
Montana R  11,089  13,443  24,532  113,577  1,066,716  21.6%  43.5
Idaho R&NR  12,376   8,957  21,333   94,940   592,378  22.5%  27.8
Utah R&NR  8,084  10,908  18,992   68,896   378,928  27.4%  20.0
Oregon R&NR  11,054   6,392  17,446  104,216      ???  16.7%    ???
Washington R&NR   4,074   2,722   6,796    58,159      ???  10.7%    ???
  • R&NR = Over-the -Counter (OTC) Elk Tags available for both Residents & Non-residents in Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Washington – R = OTC tags only for Residents In Montana and Wyoming (Click links for related posts).

In the table above, data is from all hunt seasons, all units by all hunting methods. Bull Elk includes all Antlered Elk including spikes. Cow Elk includes all Antlerless Elk (cows and calves). I prefer to use Total Hunting Days  (or Recreation Days) instead of Average Days hunted, so I convert those numbers back for states that report average days per hunter.

I no longer keep track of elk harvest data of four states (Arizona, California, New Mexico or Nevada) that have only Limited Entry elk tags.

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Most Elk were Harvested in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho

Colorado still has the largest elk harvest because they still have the largest elk population and nothing is likely to change that in the near future but the total harvest was less than 40,000 elk for the first time since I can remember. So when was the last time Colorado harvested less than 40,000 elk?

Colorado Parks and Wildlife doesn’t make harvest data before 2005 available, so the last harvest less than 40,000 elk was before then.

I found some old data stating that Colorado’s largest elk harvest was in 1995 when 36,171 elk were harvested (Download pdf for Proceedings from WAFWA Deer/Elk Workshop Rio Rico, Arizona 1997).

Clearly there have been larger elk harvests since then, but unless I want to go through the trouble of requesting archived harvest data from CPW, we will have to be satisfied that the largest elk harvest in Colorado was in 2006 at 56,933 elk. The previous year (2005) was a close 2nd place at 56,462, then the elk harvest dropped to 49,012 in 2007. That does make me wonder how many elk were harvested in 2004.

Colorado still has more hunters than the other states, but the hunting pressure is spread out over many different seasons. How does the current numbers of hunters compare to 2005 and 2006 at the peak of the elk harvest? There were 246,521 elk hunters in Colorado in 2005 and only 236,518 in 2006, so the number of elk hunters in 2016 is down 9.2% from 2005.

Wyoming is back in 2nd place (up 4.5% from 2015) for total elk harvest after falling behind Idaho last year and Montana is again ranked in 3rd place even after a 20.7% decrease in elk harvest from 2015 (largest decrease of any state from last year).

In 2016 Montana had over twice as many hunters as Wyoming and Wyoming still claims an amazing overall success rate over 40% (including resident OTC tags).

I get many questions about the success rate in Wyoming. One thing I can say is that many hunters in Wyoming get more than one elk tag, so that pushes success up when we consider two hunts as one person. When I analyzed this on a per hunt basis, success does go down, but it is still higher than every other state.

Total elk harvest in Idaho is down from last year to 21,333 elk; down from 23,847 in 2015; (10.5%) after a rebound from 2014. To put the harvest number in perspective, over 26,000 elk were harvested in 2012 and 2013, so the 2016 harvest is down 18.8% from 2012.

There has been much talk about the elk harvest being low in Idaho because of increasing wolf numbers, but overall harvest was up last year. This is a complicated subject and I prefer we not start any predator management without very careful consideration, but it is something wildlife managers will look at since wolves have been removed from Endangered Species protection (depending on the outcome of all the pending law suits).

Finally got 2016 Elk Harvest data for Utah

The data shown for Utah is now 2016 data. Utah reports elk harvest later than every other state every single year. I expected harvest data for Utah to increase again in 2016 because the UDWR has encouraged hunters to harvest as many cow elk from certain units as possible to slow the population growth but Antlerless and the total harvest (and number of hunters) dropped a little. Elk populations are still at an all time high in Utah and are above objective in most units. I was surprised the number of elk hunters decreased.

Utah has approved a new multi-season permit for the 2018 General Elk Season, so tags to hunt the Archery, the Rifle (Any Legal Weapon) and the Muzzleloader season will be available for both residents and non-residents.

Total elk harvest in Washington decreased from 2015 to 2016 by about 1,000 elk (-13.2%), but there were also about 4,400 less elk hunters. Washington usually has the lowest overall success rate and still does with 10.7% success in 2016 and with a five year average of 11.7% success.

For comparisons to earlier years to see how the numbers harvested, the number of hunters and harvest success has changed click here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015 harvest data.

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