Top Utah General Rifle Elk Hunt Units for 2019

yearling and calf elkI’ve had more questions recently from non-resident elk hunters asking about the Utah General Elk Season.

Utah has plenty of elk and many units are above the population objectives, so why not hunt in Utah?

But not all general units are good bets for hunters not familiar with the territory.

2019 Utah General (OTC) Elk Licenses

The General Elk licenses are sold over the counter  (OTC) an online starting at 8 a.m. July 16 (2019). Utah does not use the term OTC like Colorado, but I sometimes use it because OTC is shorter than General Elk Season or General Elk License. But rest assured, you can buy the licenses over-the-counter or online while they last.

The number of OTC licenses for the Utah Rifle (or Any Legal Weapon; ALW) and Muzzleloader hunts are limited to 15,000 each in Any Bull and Spike only units. Since they are limited, they are “first come, first serve”. The number of General Archery licenses are unlimited.

And remember, General Season elk hunters in Utah can hunt all three general elk seasons; Archery, Rifle (Any legal Weapon) and Muzzleloader.

See the bottom of this post for more details about the 2019 General Elk seasons and fees.

Utah General Any Bull Elk Rifle Units

The latest available elk harvest and hunter data for Utah was 2016. In 2016 there was a total of 26,396 General Rifle hunters; 12,808 rifle hunters with Any Bull licenses and 13,588 hunted Spike Only units.

By comparison, only 1,360 hunted with muzzleloader in Any Bull Units and 1,092 hunted in Spike Only Units. There were 10,886 General Elk Archery Hunters in all units in 2016.

OK, back to the General Rifle or ALW hunt unit rankings.

Hunter Success also appears low due to the fact that more than half of the hunters (55% total; range 0% – 82.3%) in Spike Only Units also have cow elk (Antlerless) tags. These “Antlerless” tags can be used during any other season as long as the cow elk is taken in the proper unit.

So even if you harvested a cow elk during the general rifle or muzzleloader Bull Elk season, you were still unsuccessful at harvesting a Bull Elk. This is not an issue for Archery hunters since they are allowed to take a bull elk or an antlerless elk with the general license and the success is recorded accordingly.

For example, a few years ago I hunted four of the first five days of the General Elk Season and harvested a cow elk. I did not hunt the remaining eight days of the season because I didn’t need another elk. So, according to the statistics, I was totally unsuccessful after four days of hunting Bull Elk during the General season, yet my freezer was full.

There are 22 units in Utah where you can hunt with an Any Bull tag during the rifle season. All 22 of these units are ranked by the 3 year average for total bull elk harvest (Any Bulls) for the latest harvest data available (2014 – 2016) in Table 1.

Table 1. All 22 Utah OTC Rifle Any Bull Units Ranked by Average Harvest (2014 – 2016)

ranked table of utah any bull elk harvest

 

The Any Bull units are those that are not managed for Limited Entry hunts. The 3-year average bell elk harvest ranged from 377 Bull Elk taken on the South Slope – Yellowstone sub-unit to 3 elk harvested in three units. Just remember these units are basically desert habitats that don’t hold many elk and the Division Manages the Henry Mountain unit for bison and mule deer, and don’t want elk there.

The top four units are two South Slope Units and two North Slope sub-units that accounted for over half (54.0%) of all Bull Elk harvested in all Any Bull units in Table 1. So without knowing anything else about Elk Hunting in Utah, you should consider hunting the North and/or South Slope of the Uinta Mountains.

Notice that six units (hi-lighted) are in the top 10 for both total elk harvested and by hunter success shown in Table 2 below.

I’ve changed the tables to show an average of the last 3 years instead of the last year to be more consistent and be less susceptible to temporary increases and decreases. I also added new data to the columns this year; Average “Days Per Harvest” and “Harvest Change”.

Average Days per Harvest is simply the total effort of all Hunters divided by average bulls harvested in each unit. So in Table 1, that ranges from a low of 13.2 days in East Canyon to a high of 112.5 days in Montezuma Creek. The State-wide Average in all Any Bull Units (2014 – 2016) was 28.1 days. Now obviously, every hunters effort is not equal. The state only asks how many days did you hunt, so 15 minutes of driving around is the same effort as hiking in 7 miles.

Looking at this a different way, if hunter success was 20%, that means the average hunter gets an elk once every 5 years. On a 13 day hunt, that is a total of 65 possible days to hunt. But again, that is average and the average hunter hunts less than 5 days of that 13 days season. As I’ve said many times before, don’t you think you can do better than average?

I’ve heard it said many times before that 10% of the hunters harvest 90% of the elk. I have never seen actual data to prove this, but the 80-20 rule (Pareto Principle) applies to many different things may be more accurate.

The other new column in the table; Harvest Change is simply the percent change from the 2013 – 2015 average harvest to the 2014 – 2016 average harvest.

Until the 2016 season, elk populations were growing quickly in Utah. Even to the point that many units were above objectives. So lots of cow elk tags were given out and even special antlerless elk control tags and some of the units have lower populations now so harvests are expected to be reduced some and hunter success will be less until fewer hunters come to these units.

My comment above about hunters taking cow elk on separate tags also applies in the Any Bull units, because lots of hunters stop hunting when they fill the cow tag.

When the 22 units are ranked by Hunter Success (Table 2), average success ranges from 28.8% in the East Canyon unit to 6% in Montezuma Creek.

Table 2. All 22 Utah OTC Rifle Any Bull Units Ranked by Average Hunter Success (2014 – 2016)

ranked table utah any bull elk harvest

The Statewide Average hunter success for all General Rifle Any Bull units combined (2014 – 2016) is ranked between the 11th and 12th place units.

The Top 10 units ranked by Hunter Success account for just under half (54.7) of all Bull Elk harvested in Table 2.

Again, notice the six hi-lighted units that were in the top 10 for both total elk harvested and by hunter success.

Utah General Spike Bull Elk Rifle Units

There are 25 units in Utah where you can hunt with Spike Elk (only) tags during the General rifle season. All 25 of these units are ranked by average total harvest (Spike Bulls) in Table 3.

Table 4. All 25 Utah OTC Rifle Spike Bull Units Ranked by Average Harvest (2014 – 2016)

ranked table utah spike elk harvest

The Spike Bull units are managed for Mature Bulls by the Utah Division of Wildlife (UDWR) for Limited Entry hunts.

By total harvest, the units ranged from 339 Spike Bulls taken on the Central Mountains – Manti sub-unit to 0 (zero) elk harvested in the San Rafael – South unit.

The top five units accounted for over half (52.4%) of all Spike Elk harvested in all Spike Elk units in Table 3 and in addition to the Central Mountains – Manti, includes two Wasatch Mountain sub-units and the Book Cliffs unit.

For the first time in many years, there was a decrease in spike elk harvest in Utah. As I mentioned above, the Wasatch Units are some that has issue lots of cow elk tags to reduce the population. As you can see in Table 3, though the Wasatch – Current Creek unit is tied with the Book Cliffs Unit with a 3 year average of 160 spike elk, that is almost a 30% decrease for Wasatch – Current Creek from the 2013 – 2015 average. The Book Cliffs on the other  had is still on the increase.

Notice that four units (hi-lighted) are in the top 10 for both total elk harvested and by hunter success shown in Table 4 below.

When the 25 units are ranked by Hunter Success (Table 5), the 3-year average for success ranges from 23.8% in the Book Cliffs to 0% in the the San Rafael- South unit.

Table 4 shows the 25 General Rifle Spike Elk units ranked by average Hunter Success.

Table 4. All 25 Utah OTC Rifle Spike Bull Units Ranked by Average Hunter Success (2014 – 2016)

ranked table utah spike elk harvest

The Average success for all General Rifle Spike Bull units combined is ranked between the 14th and 15th place units at 12.8% hunter success.

The Top 12 units ranked by Hunter Success account for just under half (48.4%) of all Spike Elk harvested in all Spike Elk units in Table 4.

Again, notice the four hi-lighted units that were in the top 10 for both total elk harvested and by hunter success.

Why Hunt a Spike only Elk Unit?

Most first time DIY Elk hunters want a chance at a nice bull, but will be happy to harvest a cow. So consider applying for a cow tag (called antlerless license in Utah) so you have that chance. But why should you consider hunting in a Spike Only Unit?

What better way to learn about a unit than to hunt it? If you hunt a spike unit with general tags for many years (or if you hunt several spike units over several years), you will learn which unit you want to apply to get the Limited Entry Tags. I can’t tell you how many mature bulls I have seen while hunting during the general rifle or muzzleloader elk (or mule deer) seasons.

New Elk Hunting Opportunities in Utah for 2019

The new multi season general hunt was a hit last year, so it will continue for 2019. Utah allows elk hunters to hunt all three general elk seasons; Archery, Rifle (Any legal Weapon) and Muzzleloader.

The fee for Resident hunters will be three times the single season fee; $50 for single season and $150 for the new multi-season license. The the fee only increases from $393 to $700 for Non-residents (see more about non-resident fees at the bottom of this post; Tables 6 & 7).

Table 5. Utah 2019 General Elk Seasons

Weapon Opens Last Day
Archery Any Bull Units
Aug 18 Sep 14
Archery Spike Only Units
Aug 18 Sep 7
Rifle (ALW)
Oct 6 Oct 18
Muzzleloader
Oct 31 Nov 8

The Utah Division of Wildlife has made this change due to the high elk populations that are above objective in many units and to reduce hunter crowding.

Only one elk can be harvested with the new multi-season tag and Elk hunters will still have to choose to hunt either the Any Bull Units or the Spike Only Units, but all units of the same type are open for hunting.

utah general season elk unit map

Map 1. Utah General Season Elk Unit Map (click to see larger map)

In Utah there are 18 Any Bull units and 21 Spike Only units (see Map 1).

Archery tags allow either sex harvest, and archery hunters can hunt in any General Season unit, but you still can only talk mature bulls in an Any Bull unit and you can only take Spikes in Spike Only Units.

Also new for this year, The General Archery Tags will also be valid during the Extended Archery Season in specific locations.

Utah General (OTC) Rifle Elk Hunts

If hunting during the rifle or muzzleloader seasons in Utah, you have to choose to hunt either the Any Bull Units or the Spike Only units. You can not hunt both (except Archery).

Utah General Elk Hunts Not Limited to One Unit

Hunters are not limited to one unit, so it is possible to hunt one unit in the morning and another unit in the afternoon. Utah hunters can (and do) hunt more than one unit, which explains why the numbers of hunters in each unit doesn’t match the total hunters in the state.

This ability to hunt more than one unit also affects Hunter Success in each unit. If you hunt more than one unit and did not harvest an elk, you add 0% success to all the different units you hunted. If you did harvest an elk, you would contribute 100% success to one unit, but 0% success to the other units.

What does it Cost for Non-residents to Hunt Elk in Utah?

You will need a hunting license ($65 for age 18+ and $25 for age 17 and under) and the General Elk License costs $393 (and they throw in a fishing license) for a total of $458. It is less expensive to hunt elk with general tags in Utah than other “elk states”, but they don’t cut much of a price break for youth hunters.

Table 6. Utah Non-Resident Cost for General Season Bull Elk

License/Fee Single Season Cost Multi-Season Cost
General Hunting License $ 65 $ 65
General Bull Elk Permit $393 $700
Total Cost General Bull Elk $458 $765

You will need the Hunting License and it costs $10 to apply for the cow tag and $218 if get one. You will draw a cow tag in Utah about every other year. If you wanted to only hunt Antlerless elk, the total cost (if you drew the tag) would be $293.

Table 7. Utah Non-Resident Cost for Limited Antlerless Elk

License/Fee Cost
General Hunting License $ 65
Antlerless Application fee $ 10
Limited Entry Antlerless Elk $218
Total Cost Antlerless Elk Only $293

But why not apply for a cow tag as well so you will have a better chance to harvest an elk. The total costs for a General Bull Elk permit and a cow tag will be $686. Archery hunters only need the Bull elk tag to hunt either sex.


Comments

  1. Alan Tipke says:

    Hello. Was wondering if you can spike camp, and use quads. Any info on this would be help full. Thank you for your time. Alan

    • Alan: You can set up camp almost anywhere on Federal lands for 14 days at a time, you can move and set up for another 14 days. You can also camp on many state lands, but not all. In Utah, you can camp on state lands except for areas that are posted (usually places where projects are going on and you wouldn’t want to camp there anyway.
      No motorized vehicles can enter into designated Wilderness Areas, but quads can be used on many Forest Service Roads. If the quad is street legal, it can ride on any Forest Service Road, so check the Travel restrictions for each National Forest Area you want to hunt.
      They usually have motorized trail maps you can download. Here is an example for the Dixie National Forest.
      Good luck on your hunt.

  2. This helicopter did not survive its run in with a wily elk HEBER CITY, UTAH — If I’m going down, you’re coming with me. A defiant elk took down a research helicopter trying to capture it in a remote corner of Utah, when the animal jumped into the chopper’s tail rotor, destroying the aircraft. The helicopter and its crew were working for the state Division of Wildlife Resources trying to sedate, capture and tag the elk in a mountainous region in the eastern part of the state when the crash occurred Monday, police said. As the chopper hovered about 10 feet off the ground, the crew attempted to throw a net over the elk, which reared back, striking the helicopter’s tail rotor and nearly snapping it off.

    • Wow, thanks for the comment Kate.
      Your comment did not contain any links, so I found the report and photos of the incident here.

      I hope they process captured elk farther away from the helicopter in the future. A good example if something can go wrong, it eventually will.

  3. Colby Johnston says:

    What units are limited draw hunts? What’re the units where an OTC carrier can’t hunt?

  4. mark zwyghuizen says:

    Would you happen to know of a reputable spike camp operator for the ALW Utah Elk season? We have our tags and would like to do the DIY thing but with a little help, was thinking a spike camp in a good area would go a long ways.

    • The General Elk rifle season (or any legal weapon; ALW) covers almost the entire state. Your choice will be to choose between Spike Only or Any Bull units. The tag will allow you to hunt all applicable units and both types of units are found all over the state.

      I have considered setting us spike camps myself, but that now requires a license in Utah and I have not jumped through the hoops to get a license (make sure the outfitter has a license).

      I have also considered offering a spike camp as a promotional prize, where I would put up camp at the end of the road and offer it to a prize winner to use during the elk hunt, but do not know if that would also require a license.

      I know several guides and outfitters, but I am a DIY guy and promote DIY hunting. I suggest you search online for elk outfitters in Utah (I see 10 on the first page with a google search) and look at their references to find an outfitter that fits your budget and your needs.

      You can get guys to pack you in deep with horses (and pack you and your elk out) or just to set you up at the end of the road and you hike in and out every day.
      Good luck on your hunt.

  5. Shannon Turner says:

    I am interested in taking vacation from my firehouse and trying to elk hunt Utah. Any information you could give me would be appreciated
    Shannon

  6. Brett Barney says:

    How does anyone know where people with general season elk tags actually hunt? I have hunted general season elk quite a bit but have never told anyone where I’ve hunted. How can the stats be accurate?

    • If you hunt in Utah, you can either go online and fill out a post hunt survey, or they randomly call people. One of the questions they ask is about which units were hunted.

      Are you saying you’ve never been surveyed? or that you do not tell them where you hunted?

      I keep good records, so I know which units and how many days I hunted, but I am sure everyone is not 100% accurate. But statistical methods are used that provide 95% confidence intervals. Everyone is not surveyed and it is well known that everyone does not tell the truth. That compared with actual survey data (also 95% confidence) is good enough for management decisions to be made about elk populations and it’s good enough for you to make decisions about where to hunt, especially for general seasons.

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