Western State Elk Harvest Comparisons for 2021 Elk Hunt

wary elk herd during 2018 hunt seasonEvery year when I rank Western States by the total number of elk harvested at the state level, Colorado always wins.

When I rank harvest data by hunter success or by fewest hunters, Wyoming always wins.

I used to rank data from the last year harvest data were available, but have changed to a three year average and will update this page each year when the new harvest data is available

The data in Table 1. is an average of the last three years (2017 – 2019) that have been published by the various state wildlife agencies.

I ranked the average state harvest data in Table 1 below by the total number of elk harvested (Total Harvest).

Table 1. Average Total Elk Harvest in Six Western States (2017 – 2019)

elk harvest comparison for 7 western states

(Utah harvest data 2016-2018; Utah is always a year behind and Recreation Days for Oregon is two years (2018 & 2019)

I think it is useful to be able to sort the tables on different columns to understand these tables in different ways.

The Data in Table 2 is the same data for the first six columns, but can be ranked according to your criteria.

Table 2 Average Total Elk Harvest in Six Western States (2017 – 2019)

StateBull
Elk
Cow
Elk
Total
Harvest
HuntersHunter
Success
Color21,80917,83839,647222,31617.8%
Idaho17,20312,75429,957159,48118.8%
Mont12,85714,97027,827111,57724.9%
Wyom11,67112,41924,090 55,44243.5%
Utah 7,727 8,61116,338 64,63525.3%
Oreg 9,869 5,81515,684100,50415.6%
Wash 3,656 1,828 5,484 56,943 9.6%


For Table 3, I removed two columns to make room for columns that show the number of Hunter Days (on Average) for each elk harvested and the average days each hunter hunted in each state.

Table 3 Average Total Elk Harvest in Six Western States (2017 – 2019)

StateTotal HarvestHuntersRec. DaysDays per Elk HarvestHunters per Elk Harvest
Color39,647222,3161,144,36628.95.6
Idaho29,957159,481990,45033.15.3
Mont27,827111,577??????4.0
Wyom24,09055,442433,92618.02.3
Utah16,33864,635391,46324.04.0
Oreg15,684100,504624,20139.86.4
Wash5,48456,943??????10.4

Table 4 includes the Amount of Total Elk Habitat (acres) by State and compares it to the number of elk hunters and the elk harvest (both average 2017-2019)

Table 4 Comparison of Elk Habitat with Elk Hunters & Elk Harvest for Six Western States

StateElk Habitat (acres)Public Elk HabitatAvg Elk Hunters (2017-2019)Public Acres per Elk HunterAcres Per Elk Harvested
Colo35,702,00021,748,000222,31697.8900.5
Idaho30,169,00023,378,000159,481146.61,007.1
Mont36,858,00024,456,000111,577219.21,324.6
Wyom25,086,00018,741,00055,442338.01,041.3
Utah18,819,00015,944,00064,635246.71,151.9
Oreg39,169,00023,968,000100,504238.52,497.4
Wash23,287,00010,030,00056,943176.14,246.1

(I spent several weeks researching and compiling the Elk Habitat data for my DIY Elk Hunting Guide – I know since last updated, there have been changes; some elk habitat has been lost due to development. elk have expanded their range in others. Some public land has been sold and other public lands has been swapped with private lands, but I think the overall changes represents a small percentage)

Results and Discussion

Total Elk Harvest ranged from an average of over 39,000 in Colorado to less than 6,000 in Washington (all season, all weapons).

Total Hunters ranged from an average of over 220,000 in Colorado to about 55,000 in Wyoming and Washington (all season, all weapons).

Hunter Success ranged from an average of 43.5% in Wyoming to less than 10% in Washington. Remember, this is all hunting seasons and all weapons. We expect rifle success to be more than Archery and Muzzleloader success. We also know that success during Limited Entry hunts are better than General Season success.

The average number of days required to harvest an elk ranged from 18 days in Wyoming to just under 40 days in Oregon. If it takes the average hunter 40 days to get an elk in Oregon if you could hunt 20 days per year, you could expect an elk every other year on average. Compared to the fact that the average elk hunter hunts 6.2 days each year, it would take them 6.4 years to harvest an elk.

From Table 4 which includes Habitat data, total Elk Habitat ranges from about 39 million acres in Oregon to almost 19 million acres in Utah.

Elk habitat on public land ranges from 24 million acres in Montana to 10 million acres in Washington

The average amount of public land per elk hunter ranges from 338 acres per hunter in Wyoming to just under 100 acres per hunter in Colorado. Now keep in mind, that this is all hunt data reported together, so all hunters are not in the field at the same time. For example, on my local ML elk hunt, each hunter has about 15,000 acres per day (less on weekends, more on weekdays).

Since I started keeping track, Idaho has passed Montana for total Elk Harvested and Utah has moved up past Oregon.

Colorado, Idaho and Utah offer the best opportunities for non-residents to hunt with General or OTC (over the counter) tags.

Wyoming and Montana no longer offer OTC tags to non-residents, but there are still many opportunities to hunt there.

Oregon and Washington offer General Tags and in addition to Rocky Mountain Elk, also have Roosevelt Elk in the coastal rain forests.

We Need Better Hunter Effort Data

Since and Montana and Washington do not (or no longer) report the numbers of Recreation Days (hunting effort), the data for Recreation Days and therefore Days per Harvest is missing.

The number of Recreation Days is probably the least accurate metric anyway.

I always talk to the survey takers when they call me. I keep detailed records, so I know how many days I hunt in each unit.

As I suspected, the surveyors confirm that many people have no accurate idea of how many days they hunted, so they have to guess. Are they tempted to say they put in more effort than they actually did? Would you be embarrassed to say you only hunted one or two days?

Also, hunter satisfaction is something the state agencies think is important. Many folks always seem to be mad at their Fish and Game departments, so they can back up their claims of poor hunting by exaggerating the number of days they hunted to eat tag soup.

To really get down to analyzing harvest data, we really have to examine individual hunt units (aka districts,GMUs or zones) and include the total amount of public land. It would also help if all states keep track of hunter effort.

I am most interested in harvest data from just the General Season and OTC hunts and have been reporting those data separately for both rifle and archery seasons.

I will either add that data as I update for the 2021 hunting season.

I get many questions and comments from people that relate to the “best hunts” or the “best units”. Every year I rank hunting units for Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and Utah.

Remember, even in units where only 2 or 3 elk were harvested… somebody was 100% successful. Plus, you should have an amazing experience even if you don’t harvest an elk.

Other Hunters May Not be a Bad Thing

What most of us really want is a good hunting experience with a realistic chance of finding elk. That doesn’t mean we will never see other hunters, but we don’t want to be in an area that is too crowded. In many cases, other hunters may be a good thing.

2020 cow elk harvested in colorado

Cow elk harvested in Colorado, 2020

Last year hunting with a friend in Colorado, we began our hunt by walking up a ridge. We knew other people were walking up the valleys on each side.

We know we bumped a few elk that ran down into one of the valleys. We also saw elk that we assume were bumped from the ridge to the west they worked their way down the valley and eventually up towards us.

We heard lots of shooting in both valleys and from the ridge (lots of people need to work on their shooting skills).

We packed out our elk that day when a group of about 25 elk started streaming up from the valley.

I have no doubt we would have eventually been able to get an elk on that ridge without other hunters, but other hunters moving around kept elk moving too.

Most of us will hunt Limited Entry (AKA Controlled Hunts) when we get the chance, but few of us will ever buy private land hunts. Luckily, most of us can still DIY elk hunt every year on public land with General Elk Tags.

If you don’t, you will eventually get your Limited Entry Elk Tag, but you will not have an additional 10 or 15 years of elk hunting experience, you will still be an elk hunting rookie.


Comments

  1. Not so easy to deer or elk hunt in western Montana..

Comments, Opinions, Questions?

*