Top 25 Idaho General Elk Archery Hunt Units

bull elk in sage and pj habitatIn an earlier post, I ranked the rifle units and continue here and rank the top 26 elk archery hunting units in Idaho based on the most recent harvest results.

Anyone planning a DIY public land elk hunt needs to start the process for picking a hunt unit while Over-the-Counter (OTC) tags may still be available.

As with the rifle units, there have been a few changes in Idaho, but Elk can be hunted with Archery equipment during the General Season in 74 different Game Management Units (GMUs) with 115 different hunt unit/season combinations and 42 different elk zone/season combinations.

Idaho offers up to four sex/age options to hunt elk during the General Elk Archery Weapon) Season, which are broken down by All General Archery Tags combined, Unlimited Tags and tags with a limited quota in Table 1.

Table 1. 2019 Idaho General (OTC) Archery Elk Hunts

Quota/ Unlimited Hunt Zones GMUs Seasons
All General Archery Antlered Elk  2 11 29
Antlerless  1  1  1
Spike or Antlerless  6 13 13
Any Elk 23 70 72
Unlimited Antlered Elk  1  9  27
Antlerless  1  1  1
Spike  or Antlerless  3  8  8
Any Elk 20 61 63
Limited Quota Antlered Elk  1  2  2
Spike or Antlerless  3  5  5
Any Elk
 3  9  9

The number of licenses issued for 63 hunt units are not limited (99 total hunts/seasons), but 16 units have quotas in 16 total hunts.

Limited quota tags go on sale for residents in July before the hunt season. For non-residents, tags go on sale the previous December.

In Idaho Tags go on sale starting December 1 each year for the following hunting season.

2019 Quotas for General Archery Season Elk Hunts

  1. Antlered Elk – Quota 404 (units 10 & 12)
  2. Spike or Antlerless Elk – Quota 550 – 2,380
  3. Any Elk – Quota 566 – 1,900

In Idaho, elk are managed in 28 Elk Zones. The General Season Elk tags are good in all units of the same Elk Zone unless there is are specific exceptions.

The latest available harvest data is from 2017 (Idaho has been known to change the data show in the harvest reports without notice or explanation, so things may change).

The top 20 General Archery GMUs were ranked by Total Harvest (left side of Table 2) and by Hunter Success (right side) in Table 2.

Table 2 Top 20 Idaho General Elk (OTC) Archery Units (2015 – 2017)

top idaho archery otc elk units

Idaho Elk Archery – Total Elk Harvested

My goal for this ranking was to find the top 20 or 25 units. I first cut off units that averaged less than 30 elk harvested (37 units) and these same units were also ranked by hunter success. Since there were no ties for average elk harvest or hunter success at the 21st or 22nd places, I simply cut the units off at the top 20 for each.

That left 20 units with at least 75 elk harvested (unit 60) up to 232 elk (unit 76) when ranked by total harvest.

For comparison to all units, an average of at least 100 elk were harvested in 12 units and at least 50 elk were harvested in 26 units.

The Any Elk hunts were not separated from Bull Only or Antlerless hunts, so “Elk” in the table is the combination of all General Season Archery hunts in that unit.

In Table 2, the data also include both unlimited and limited quota General Season tags.

The total number of elk harvest (“Elk”) ranged from a high of 270 elk in unit 76 down to 0 (zero) elk in 14 units (which had a combined total of 295 hunters and 2,240 hunting days).

Half of all elk (50.2%) harvested during the 2015 – 2017 seasons were from the top 14 units and 63.8% of all elk harvested was from the top 20 units (left side Table 2).

These 20 units also accounted for 60.3% of all hunters and 61.8% of all hunter recreation days.

Another metric I think is useful is the total hunter recreation days divided by total elk or basically the number of hunter days required to harvest each elk (Days per Harvest), which ranged from 36.6 to 61.2 days. Think about this another way; 20% success means 1 in 5 hunters harvested an elk, so it takes 5 years on average for a hunter to harvest an elk. If the average hunter hunts 7.5 days per season, that adds up to 37.5 days on average.

Obviously effort can vary widely between hunters. Hunting for on hour and hunting from sunrise to sunset and driving around and hiking 10 miles all still counts as one hunter day.

Idaho Elk Archery – Hunter Success

Before ranking units by Hunter Success (right side Table 2), all units with less than 30 average elk harvested were eliminated. In many cases, some of the low harvest units have high hunter success.

Hunter success in the top 20 units ranged from 26.4% in Unit 33 to 16.1% in unit 37.

When ranked by Hunter Success, 47.7% of all elk harvested were from the top 20 units in Table 2.

For the Hunter Success side of the table, the total number of hunter days per harvest in the top 20 units ranged from 27.3 hunt days per harvest in unit 33 to 43.8 in unit 61.

Note that 11 units (hi-lighted) are in the top 20 for both total elk harvested and by hunter success in Table 2.

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Idaho Elk Units Ranking for both Total Harvest & Hunter Success

Here is a closer look at those 12 units.

Table 3 includes the 12 units that ranked highest for both total elk harvested and by hunter success. I include some additional information about those units from the 2016 General Elk hunt.

Most units are Any Elk hunts, but there is one Antlered only (Bull Elk) hunt in Unit 6 and two “Spike or antlerless” hunts in units 18A, 10A or 15.

Table 3. Selected Idaho Elk Archery Units Matched to 2016 Harvest Data

(currently updating tables to include latest 3 year avg)

Unit – Zone Sex/ Age Public Acres Acres/ hunter/day Note/Quota/Tag/Additional Units
6 Panhandle Bull Elk 349,749  2,944 A & B Tags, Sep 6 – Sep 30
Dec 10 – Dec 16 & Sep 6 – Sep 12
also hunt units 1, 2, 3, 4, 4A, 5, 7 & 9
Any Elk NA NA New Any Elk Private Land Hunt, A Tag; Sep 15 – Sep 21
8A Palouse Any Elk  162,822 1,999 A Tag; Aug 30 – Sep 30
also hunt units 8 & 11
Spike or Antlerless B Tag; Aug 30 – Sep 14
also hunt units 8 & 11
10A Dworshak Any Elk  443,208  3,396 A Tag; Aug 30 – Sep 30 & Dec 5 – Dec 20
Spike or Antlerless B Tag; Aug 30 – Sep 14
15 Elk City Any Elk  480,259  8,702 A Tag; Aug 30 – Sep 30 & Dec 5 – Dec 20
Spike or Antlerless B Tag; Aug 30 – Sep 14
29 Lemhi Any Elk  324,595  2,837 A Tag; Aug 30 – Sep 30
Also hunt units 37, 37A & 51
31 Brownlee Any Elk  174,268  1,423 A Tag; Aug 30 – Sep 30
32A Weiser River Any Elk  237,086  1,814 A Tag; Aug 30 – Sep 30
also hunt units 22 & 32
33 Sawtooth Any Elk  328,592 10,643 566 Tag A Quota; Aug 30 – Sep 30
also hunt units 34, 35 & 36
36 Sawtooth Any Elk  645,324 11,511 566 Tag A Quota; Aug 30 – Sep 30
also hunt units 33, 34 & 35
36A Pioneer Any Elk  442,458  5,167 A Tag; Aug 30 – Sep 30
also hunt units 49 & 50
48 Smoky-Bennett Any Elk  324,733  2,883 A Tag; Aug 30 – Sep 30
also hunt unit 43
66A Diamond Creek Any Elk  105,696    615 A Tag; Aug 30 – Sep 30 Motorized Rules apply
also hunt unit 76

You should also notice that units 8 and 50 have special restrictions. These hunts are open only outside the National Forest System Boundary within 1 mile of private fields on which cultivated crops are currently growing. So these are not public land hunts and not best suited for non-resident hunters.

So this is a good example of where raw numbers are maybe not the best indicators for choosing an elk unit.

Yes, lots of elk were harvested and yes, success was high in those units, but those tags are for locals who know the land owners and call each other when they see elk standing in a potato or wheat field.

I would love to have the elk meat (if I didn’t have meat in the freezer), but that is not hunting.

But since this is not on public land, these units have “NA” in the column for “Acres/per hunter/per day”.

Calculate Average Acres per Hunter per Day

When comparing hunting units, I also want to know how big the unit is and how much hunter pressure the unit has.

Total acres is sometimes easy to find, but doesn’t help much because we only have access to hunt on public land. In most cases, it takes a fair amount of research to find how much public hunting land is on each unit. Lucky for you, I have already done that.

Also consider that not every hunter hunts every day. In fact, most elk hunters only hunt a small fraction of the hunting season.

Each state that reports Recreation Days or Hunter Days. We can use this data in conjunction with the amount of public land to get a more realistic estimate of past hunting pressure.

But first, is should be obvious that all hunt days are not equal. A guy that covers 20 miles during a hunt and the guy that sits in camp most of the day each count as one hunt day if they report they hunted.

As an example of how I calculated the Acres/per hunter/per day value, see the explanation at the bottom of this post, but I will also provide an example here using one of the archery units in Tables 2 & 3.

I will use the Sawtooth unit #33.

Unit 33 has 328,592 acres of public land (USFS, BLM & State). From Table 2 (either side), we see there were 50 elk harvested by 156 hunters (quota was 566 tags) in 2016.

I also got the total hunter days (988) from the harvest report. That means the average hunter hunted 6.3 days (988/156 =6.3) out of a 32 day hunting season (Aug 30 – Sep 30).

If every hunter hunted every single day, that would be (156 X 32 = 4,992) hunt days.

If the 328,592 public acres in Unit 33 are divided by the total number of hunters (156) we get 2,106.4 acres of public land per hunter.

But since few hunters hunt every day, how many acres do we really have to ourselves (on average) to hunt each day?

The answer is to use the ratio of actual total hunt days to potential total hunt days; 988/4,992 = 0.1979 or 19.79%

So instead of only 2,106 acres per hunter per day we actually average 10,643 acres per hunter per day (2,106.4/19.79% = 10,642.7).

I hope this information helps you to decide which General Season unit you want to hunt this year in Idaho.

Also check out Colorado’s Top 20 Elk Rifle Units and Utah’s Top Elk Units.

Have more questions? Leave a comment.

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  1. John Stigall says

    I am interested in finding different areas to bow hunt only for bull elk in Idaho I live in Ohio and would like to know maybe the top 4 locations for getting and when best time to be there for success. Maybe that’s asking a lot but I don’t have a lot of time left in this world and I have only elk hunted twice I fell in love especially with Idaho!! But would like a different area just for fun. we have hunted near Debouis me once my sons twice next year could very possibly be my last year being able to go due to health reasons. There’s so many articles with so many different Opinions it’s hard to know who to believe. We hunted Colorado one year didn’t even see one elk while hunting. Never again we aren’t in greatest of shape but don’t do to bad. I would appreciate any input or advice! Thanks

    • The posts lists the top 25 units based on total elk harvested and by hunter success… other than that, what does Top 4 locactions mean? There are units where only a handful of elk are harvested each year, but those hunters were 100% successful… Lots of hunters are unsuccessful, but had a tremendous experience. No guarantees in elk hunting… if you are out there you have a chance. Being able to cover lots of ground improves your chances, but you can still find elk close to roads in certain places… Explore, scout, find fresh sign. Then try to put one in the back of the truck. Not easy but do-able for most. Obviously effort and knowledge helps. Best way to get knowledge is with effort. Good luck on your hunt.

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