5 Western States with Over-the-Counter Elk Tags for Non-residents for 2023

8 western states with otc elk tagsBy now, it shouldn’t be a secret that you can do a DIY elk hunt 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 for a trophy bull in the best units and to hunt during times when there is less competition and when elk are bugling and distracted by the rut, you will have to draw a tag and you usually need a lot of points to do it. But that is a different article.

There are many units with general season tags or Over-the Counter (OTC) tags that offer a good chance at getting an elk, especially if you get an any sex elk tag.

Every year, it takes 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 have no choice but to deal with the state bureaucracies.

For years, I have been gathering information about the different hunting seasons and elk tag combinations.  It would be nice to have all this information in one place to help decide which hunts work best for us.

But each state has different regulations, terminology and hunting seasons, as well as different wildlife management histories and hunting cultures. On top of that, some states have changed the data they report. I will be lucky to condense all the data into 11 spreadsheets. More on that later.

When Table 1 was first published, I included eight states that offer various OTC elk tags to both residents and to Non-residents. But Wyoming and Montana no longer offered OTC tags to non-residents, but chances are still good to hunt elk in those states. I’ll explain below.

Table 1. General Elk Tags for Non-Residents in Five Western States for 202x Elk Hunting Season

working on update

State Any Bull Elk Brow-tined /3-point Spike Only  Any Sex Elk Antlerless/ Cow or Calf Total Non-Res. Costs
Colorado      R      –      –     A          A $672 Bull/Any Elk, $507 cow/calf
Idaho   A-M-R    ALW   A-M-R   A-M-R       A-M-R $582
Oregon     A-R    A-R    A-R    A-R          – $167 + $571 = $738
Utah   A-M-R      –  A-M-R     –  included w/Archery only $65 + $339 = $458 ($700 multi season)
Washington   A-M-R   A-M-R  A-M-R   A-M-R       A-M-R $593.80
Arizona is a special case. Their only OTC tags are in areas where elk are not wanted; Non-Res cost is $825 (probably best left for locals)
Montana# no longer offers OTC tags for non-residents – but many units have 100% draw; Non-Res Bull Elk $888 or $1,045 for Any Elk & Deer Combo; Cow Elk $275
Wyoming no longer offers OTC tags for non-residents – but many units have 100% draw and leftover tags may be available; Non-Res Elk $692 (cow/calf $288)

A = Archery, M = Muzzleloader, R = Rifle, ALW = Any Legal Weapon; info in the table is accurate to the best of my knowledge as of Jan 2020, but some changes may occur later.

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. I’ve even done the budget for you (read here).

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 came to scout and 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.

*Arizona has special Over-the-Counter Nonpermit-tags for Elk

These tags are very limited and are only offered for specific locations where the Arizona Game and Fish Department do not want elk. Why wouldn’t the state want elk? Because they are mostly on private land and they cause problems for local ranchers. The areas and times of the hunts are subject to change (read more here). These tags are best for locals that have knowledge of the area and elk movements, so unless you have a friend that has that local knowledge, it is best to leave these tags for the locals.

#Montana Offers Combination Big Game or Elk Tags

Over-the-counter (OTC) tags are no longer available for non-residents. You will have to apply for 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 and according to harvest reports and elk populations objectives. Listen to what people say (or write), but look at the harvest reports for yourself.

Anyway, for the last several years, every non-resident that applied for a tag got one (read more). That has not been true for several years, but odds are still good for most units.

It has been over 25 years ago since I left small game hunting in the southern Piedmont and moved to live in elk country. 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 calves and compared to most white-tailed deer, even the calves look big. In fact, the average elk calf weighs more than a 4½ year old mule deer buck (read How Much Meat to Pack Out on an Elk or How Much Meat to Pack Out on a Mule Deer).

Like everyone else, I am building points trying to draw one of those coveted limited entry bull elk tag here in my backyard.

But we still hunt every year with General Elk tags. We put meat in the freezer and we get to spend time in beautiful country and have a great time. We usually see lots of game and few other hunters. So why do OTC tags still seem like a big secret?

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Even Locals don’t Know about OTC Elk Tags

A few years ago, I met one of my neighbors for the first time after his dogs followed us home from 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 when I mentioned elk hunting, but said he hadn’t been able to hunt in the state since he moved here five years earlier because he hasn’t been able to draw a tag.

He was very surprised to learn our state has OTC bull elk tags plus a 50% 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 if you don’t.

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  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.

    • Thanks for the comment Mark. It helps that the price of gas is down from the last few years. I am curious about how far you travel to hunt in Colorado.

      • I travel with a group of at least 3 other hunters but have traveled with as many as 12 other hunters from the Houston area, we only hunt the archery season. The trip takes about 20 hours with 4 different drivers per vehicle, about 1200 miles one way. We stop in Cortez Colorado to purchase food and ice as well as the necessary OTC tags. We hunt the San Juan National Forest. Our success rate varies but we have opportunities and close encounters each year. 9-26-16

  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

    • Hey Darrell,
      I live in Iowa but in Arizona for many years. I have an outfitters tent 14×17 with woodstove. I also want to hunt in Colorado but need to learn about it as well. I am planning on a 2019 trip to start learning an area to take my grandson to in a few years. Greg

  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.

    • Good point Tracy. Other states offer discounts for disabled vets to hunt. I know New Mexico does and Colorado has discounted camping. I will make a list.
      And thank you for your service.

    • Tracy where did you find that info? I’m service connected myself and have hunted Elk once. Now I can not afford to do non resident as job change. I love Idaho and Montana so any info would be greatly appreciated.

      • Jacob, Tracy way provide more info, but I search the Idaho and Montana websites for info on Disabled Hunters.

        Idaho has a program where a companion can help a disabled hunter and does not also have a license (see info here).
        And Montana has reduced price deer and elk tags and can get a permit to hunt from a vehicle (see info here)
        Check with local Federal Wildlife Refuges, they often have special hunts or special rules for Disabled Hunters.
        Also check with local Veterans groups to see what they are doing. I have friends in Michigan that work with Veterans and organize hunts and other activities (check out Zero Day)

  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.

    • Eric, I am glad you are dissing on my home state, it will help keep all the hunters away from the excellent elk hunting we have for those that do their homework. My two partners have tagged out 17 of the last 19 years using black powder on the wet side for Rosies. I am running about 50%, and where we hunt there are others but not like you described. You are probably using modern rifle, I used to but carrying a muzzle stuffer put the odds more in my favor. Welcome to the jungle, keep yer powder dry!

      • Not much elk there in Washington numbers don’t lie bud. Definitely not a destination to hunt for non residents. I’m pretty sure I would rather hunt squirrels than chase around a few mangy rag horns and call in hunters all day

        • I agree that Washington would not be my first choice, but for someone that had friends or family there, might be a good way to start elk hunting instead of going to Colorado without knowing anything.
          I can also understand as a local, that you don’t want any more hunting pressure than you already have.
          Mangy rag horns? The Rodney Dangerfield of elk? They get no respect.
          Good luck on your squirrel hunt. I can’t hunt squirrels here and miss my grandmother’s squirrel stew.

  12. Chris Jernigan says

    Great article! I’m a NC hunter who has been hunting elk OTC for two years now in CO and have had some of the most memorable hunts of my life. Haven’t been able to notch a tag yet but can’t wait for that day. Just saw that Washington offers a good discounted rate for disabled veterans. Heading there in a few weeks for work and was thinking of packing my stuff ?

    • Yes, tis the season… My General Spike Season starts tomorrow plus I have a Cow Elk Tag. Bring your own grits.

    • Chris – I just moved to N.C. from Colorado and hunted the last 5 yrs OTC tags and had success (bull elk) the last 3 years. Contact me if and we can link up to B.S. or hunt together.

      • I don’t show your emails to the public, but I can send Darrell’s email to Chris if interested. Good Luck fellows.

      • Hey Darrel! I live in SC and am looking to do my first OTC elk hunt in colorado! Not looking like any buddies can make it this year so if you need a partner we might be able to set something up!!

      • John Duchscherer says


        My 13 year old and I are planning an elk hunt this year. We are looking for advice for a Colorado hunt. I would appreciate your insights. Thanks

  13. Sorry, everything I see indicates that Arizona is a Draw state for non-resident Elk tags. Even the outfitter sites I’ve read state that “regardless of what you hear you have to draw for a tag in AZ”. I’m confused by your article.

    • Yes, it seems all state hunting regulations are confusing.

      Did you go to the Arizona page link in the table to my post (Arizona Over-the-Counter Elk Hunts)? On that page is a link (updated for 2016) (over-the-counter nonpermit-tag handout) published by the state of Arizona explaining the “2016 CALENDAR YEAR HUNTING SEASON ELK OVER-THE-COUNTER NONPERMIT-TAG INFORMATIONAL HANDOUT”.
      This link is found on this page at the Arizona Game and Fish website, where they call them OTC tags.

      The state of Arizona only issues these OTC tags in areas they do not want elk, so the OTC “nonpermit-tags” are subject to change every year as to location and/or seasons and they recommend you have permission to hunt private land.

      I can find no specific language in the “2016 CALENDAR YEAR HUNTING SEASON ELK OVER-THE-COUNTER NONPERMIT-TAG INFORMATIONAL HANDOUT” or on the Arizona Game and Fish website or in the 2016 regulations that specifically mentions resident or non-resident hunters as it pertains to these OTC non-permit tags.

      The Table on my “Arizona Over-the-Counter Elk Hunts” page was last updated in 2013, so those areas and dates may no longer be valid, since they are subject to change.

      I hope this clears up the confusion.

  14. Are any of those tags for Purple Heart recipients or wounded warriors?

  15. Gday ,, thanks for the information on the page,
    just wondering though , I’m looking to do a DIY of sorts, Elk and or Mule Hunt, not during the Rut but in general hunting seasons.
    Can you direct me to any ‘user friendly- places to get some more idea of what I need to apply for to set something up in future!
    Thanks mate

    • Yes Rhys, I will point you to my own DIY Elk Hunting Guide.
      I focus on what you need to know to DIY Elk hunt and help you choose which state and unit to hunt.
      I also focus on the general season elk hunts.
      I try to make it easier to find all the information you need at the (hard to navigate) state websites.
      I also suggest hunting in Montana for a combined elk and mule deer hunt.
      Good Luck

  16. Justin K says

    I am looking to go on an archery elk hunt on one of these OTC tags and was wondering if it’s possible to do it under $2.000. And also would like to get your opinion on where to hunt. I would like to hunt Utah or Colorado. I am 21 with above average physical capabilities so that won’t stop me. I already have almost all the equipment needed.

    • Yes Justin it is possible to do a DIY elk hunt for about $1,000 if you don’t have to drive too far or if you can share a vehicle and gas if you do have to drive a long way.

      I show how to budget in this post and I discuss lots of things you need to consider in my DIY Elk Hunting Guide.

      To help decide what elk unit to hunt in Colorado and Utah, look at these posts where I ranked the General Season Elk Units in Colorado (rifle and archery) and Utah (archery).

      Good Luck. The season will be here soon. I bought my General Season Elk Tags yesterday (7/12/2017).

  17. I’ve enjoyed reading this information very much and am looking for a hunting partner out of Las Vegas for Big Game, Archery, Muzzy, Rifle, Upland, Duck.

  18. I am looking for a once in a lifetime elk hunt, going deep into the mountains on horseback, sleeping in tents, the old fashioned hunt so to speak. Are there outfitters out west that include the tags so I don’t have to apply for years to get them? I have always wanted to do DIY, but am willing to pay for an outfitter! Any help would be appreciated, thanks

    • Jeff: There are several ways to do this. But first recognize there are differences between drawing or buying tags over-the-counter (OTC) and buying a private land tag.
      There are outfitters and guides that will take you on public land and those that set you up on private land (some can do either). The outfitter can’t get the tag for you on public land, but you can buy tags from land owners on private land (these tags can go from about $3,000 to $30,000).

      Also, there are outfits that will set you up at camp (drop camp) and get you an your elk back out, but you have to scout and hunt yourself.

      So if you are talking about hunting public land, getting the tag is one thing and and hiring the outfitter is another.

      But there are lots general tags to be had that do not take 20 years to draw (the point of the post). Anyone can get a tag to hunt elk (including bulls) every year in Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Washington. Non-residents have to apply for the general tags in Montana and Wyoming, but most folks will draw tags except for the very best units.
      Contact some outfitters, they can tell you about units where they can put you on elk and you can draw the tag.

      But if you have an elk tag, you don’t have to have an outfitter or a guide. Do it yourself. Check out my book: DIY Elk Hunting Guide. The book is as much about how and where to get general elk tags as it is about hunting tactics and backcountry logistics.

      Let me know what kind of hunt you do and how it turns out.

  19. Ryan Miller says

    Oh man!! So much good info. So I have a few questions. First a little about me. I live in Western Washington and started rifle hungry in 08′ shot my first blacktail that yr. Then nothing for a few yrs. 2012 I think I switched to bow and fell in love, hunting Western deer and elk in the thick timbers over here (Mt Adams) and ready to find new, better spots.

    So I’m trying to find a good place in eastern Washington and also an OTC spot in Idaho. Any help would be greatly appreciated. I’m ready to start packing deep in away from others and camps. Way too many road hunters.

    I’m early 30s in good shape and can hike or Mtn. bike in a ways. Mainly elk spots but then also some good Deer Spots. Looking to get out in the next few months and doing some scouting on foot. In the meantime I can scout online. Thanks again!!!

  20. First and foremost thank you for this info, the prices on the graph; Do they include the hunting license as well or is that an extra charge? Looking forward to your updates on where to hunt in some of these states. (Thank you again)

  21. Kyle Lane says

    Is there a state that would allow the purchase 1 OTC non-resident license, and either 1 of 2 people fill them? For example, my brother and I go on a hunting trip, we buy one out of state any elk hunting license and whichever of us get the elk first, fills the tag. We would split the cost of everything and divide the meat between the 2 of us. Is this scenario allowed anywhere? I called CO fish and wildlife and it seems like they told me 1 license per person and that person has to use it or not at all.

    • Kyle: I understand your reasoning, but there are no such licenses
      This will probably never happen just based on a law enforcement perspective.

      Imagine your scenario…
      We have two guys with rifles in the field and one tag between them…
      The game warden checks you, but your buddy has the tag…

      Or what happens if you were separated and both shot an elk?

      If you’ve seen my elk hunting budget (read post here), you know the elk tag is the single biggest expense for most states and most driving distances.

      I understand that $654 for a Colorado tag is not trivial to everyone ($1308 for both), but consider you can get two tags in Utah for $916, but if you are coming from the East, you will have to drive farther.

      You will either have to bite the bullet or only one guy gets to hunt. That would be better than not hunting at all.

      Now I have personally seen people at check stations with tag and deer and everyone knew that person did not shoot that deer (wife dressed as if she was at the mall, not out hunting)… But it was her tag and she claimed it was her deer and the tag was on the deer.

  22. If you had to pick just one state to OTC elk hunt for a beginner which would it be.

    • OK… If I pick a state for you will you go hunt there?

      I pick my home state for me, but I am assuming you don’t live in one of the 6 western states with general elk tags for both residents and non-residents.

      How can I pick a state for you without knowing anything about you or what kind of elk hunt you are capable of or want to do?

      This is part of the reason I wrote the DIY Elk Hunting Guide. To help you understand the things you need to consider and questions you need to ask to help you find the information you need, so you can decide which state and unit you want to hunt.

      Good luck on your journey.

  23. Douglas Elder says

    I did my first DIY Colorado Elk hunt last year and I’m hooked for life!
    I hunted the Grand Mesa National Forest and have been doing all the research that I can, well I’m hiking back in a few miles and as you know the only way to get one out is with a pack, my question to you is, in your opinion what knife has the best gut hook to help speed the quartering process, I’ve used buck knives my whole life but any info from a seasoned ELK hunter would be appreciated, thank you in advance.

    I’m driving from the Hillbilly aka West by God aka West Virginia
    Approx $1200 per person covers everything
    Bull tag, gas, food, drinks, ice and propane
    Based on 2 people sharing gas in Chevy 1500 or equivalent.

    Also is it worth the trouble to pack out the ribs?

    • Hi Douglas from West by God Virinia…
      I use one of the knives from fairly inexpensive butchering kit I bought years ago. I use that knife for de-boning and it has a gut hook. I am sure Buck makes a good knife with a gut hook.

      Elk ribs are great, but it depends on how far you have to pack them back to the truck and how warm it is. It takes effort to pack out ribs (with bone) and they take up a lot of space. It takes time to remove the meat from the rib bones, but the extra weight of the meat isn’t that much. Save as much as you can if the weather is cool, but if the weather is warm, don’t let it spoil trying to salvage rib meat.
      Good Luck on your hunt and let me know how you do.

  24. I don’t use a gut hook as I do not field dress. I use the gutless method and debone my quarters. Saves the weight. Yes, I cut and pack the brisket and typically debone the rib meat for stew. It is a lot of work to put an Elk down and I feed my family all year so I take all the meat I can.

    • I like gutless quartering method as well (and link to some good videos in my book; DIY Elk Hunting Guide). An elk is too big to handle in one pieces, so it makes sense. For a deer, it might be easier to gut hook, field dress and take home for the rest of the butchering, especially when most folks aren’t that far from the road.

  25. Douglas Elder says

    I am also using the gutless method, my question for the gut hook was to speed up the process by using the hook to slice the hide down the spine and along the leg seams, I watched it on a gutless method video and looked like it might speed up the process and make it all-around easier.
    Since this will be my second trip and unfortunately did not get the hands on experience that I was hoping for last season, I was just looking for tips and pointers from seasoned veterans, as far as the ribs my hunting party’s plan is to slow cook them over the camp fire, trust me even the coyotes won’t have much to chew on when we get done! Anyone is welcome to share our fire and we would gladly help anyone get one off the mountain, good luck and keep your powder dry!

  26. Andrew Penzi says

    Enjoyed reading the info and comments in your DIY Elk Hunting Guide. Buddy and I are looking for OTC, non-res, archery, bull elk tags. I’m willing to hike, crawl, or roll up mountains or through swamps if I have to. No Horses, ATVs or bicycles for me. – I’ll be huffing it on my feet. Coming from NY, but what’s an extra hour or two here or there once I’m already driving 20 + hrs?

    • Hi Andrew: I hope I solved the link problem for you. Also, you have the right attitude for DIY Elk hunting. Get off the roads, push into areas vehicles and others can’t or won’t go and enjoy every moment of the experience and you always have a chance.

      If you are asking me where to hunt elk (OTC archery) for this year, the hunt is already underway. I know Utah still has tags (OTC, unlimited) and the season runs through Sept 7th or 14th depending upon the area you hunt.

      Good Luck and let me know what you do and how it worked out.
      I removed your link to your website, because it appears to be broken.

  27. Russell Roberts says

    Would like to go and just get my first elk, a cow will do. Where are the best places to go with the highest odds to fill a tag, DIY style. Can do any weapon any date.

    Would like to find a buddy, am in great shape at 55 and dont mind rolling up my sleeves and doing the hard work required.

    • Hi Russell. You really think I can pick the absolute best state and unit for you to fill a tag? I know where my highest odds are – Right here in the 1.1 million acres I call my back yard, but even then I had to hunt an area I have never been before to get my elk this past season.

      First thing, elk hunt and easy don’t go together on public land, especially for a cow elk. Bull elk hunts are usually easier, especially during the rut and I always seem to see more bulls even after the rut. Part of the hard work of elk hunting is to find your hunt unit and learning the area.

      Expect to be in amazing country. Expect to see other hunters. Expect to see or hear elk a long way off. Expect to have an amazing trip, but with average success rates for most general season (OTC) hunts at 20% or below, don’t expect to harvest an elk your first season. But it can happen and and it could happen to you.

      I usually point folks to posts where I rank the top units in several states (See Colorado; See Utah; See Idaho) by raw harvest numbers and by hunter success, but since you are willing to go anywhere and any time, you have not selected a state to hunt yet. You have lots of research to do.

      I wrote the DIY Elk Hunting Guide just to help first time DIY elk hunters like you to get started.

      Do you have a state in mind? Do you have a preference to hunt the terrain and elk habitats in the Southern Rockies, Wasatch Mountains, Colorado Plateau, Middle Rockies, Northern Rockies or the Idaho Batholith? (there are other eco-regions with elk).

      Get a general tag from one of the five states that still have General tags (some states call them Over-the-counter tags (OTC) – where you can hunt every year. Or apply for General Licenses in Wyoming or Montana, where there is a good chance to hunt most years.

      Most general tags during rifle seasons are for bull elk, but some units (aka districts) allow either sex hunts. Archery hunts usually allow either sex. If you choose a state that does not allow antlerless elk on general tag, apply for antlerless tags to increase your options.

      General tags usually allow you to hunt most of the other units in the state (usually all units that have general seasons), but the antlerless tag you may need to draw usually limits you to a smaller area (1 unit or several joining units) where managers want the herd numbers controlled.

      I say pick an area with lots of National Forest lands and learn it. Why drive past elk just to find elk.

      Being in great shape helps. What is the elevation where you live? If it is less than 2,000 feet, you will need some time to acclimate before you can power over ridges at 10,000 feet. Where I live, the lowest part of the valley is over 5,500 feet.

      Be prepared to hunt high and low based on weather, time of year and where you find the most fresh sign. High is over 9,000 feet and low is usually between 6,000 – 7,500 feet(but depends on which state you hunt).

      As example, aspen will grow at 1,000 feet in the Northern Rockies, but start at 8,000 feet in Arizona.

      Last year I hunted high until the snow got too crunchy (noisy), then moved low until warm weather melted and softened the snow and I could go back up again. Finally found and killed elk in the middle at about 8,500 ft.

      Good luck on your hunt and good luck on finding a hunting buddy.
      Let me know how it goes.

  28. Great info and very detailed! Look forward to ordering your book this week. Is there anyway the date can appear on these posts? I would like to tag team with someone that would like to go harvest some Protein and someone who knows how to call on a archery hunt Elk in 2020. 4/21/20 Dj

  29. Dj Jordan says

    Thanks for the reply! I’m willing to go where ever. I hear Colorado could be a good choose for OTC. I’m willing to take any recommendation.

  30. I live in NM and have been trying to get an elk tag for the last 8 years for archery and I am tired of waiting so I am wanting to do over the counter tag. My three options are Colorado, Utah or Idaho. In your opinion what state has the best odds of harvesting a bull on an over the counter tag. I was looking at Utah at first because of price

  31. Jerry sneddon says

    That’s crazy I’ve read so many posts of first time hunters for elk and wonder why my brother in law just did a elk hunt in Colorado last year I didn’t think anything about it I’ve been a resident of Colorado for 40 years native and hunted as long as I was able to I guess I took it for granted now I live in another state and can’t even afford to hunt in Colorado anymore (sad) I feel in a way that the fees for out of state hunters are discriminating why should someone pay more for living in another state we are all Americans and they say the animals belong to all so if your on state land are they state animals and if they move to national forest do they belong to all of us? Lol just proves everything is all about the money not ethics. I would love to see someone push the discrimination card lol until then I guess I’m shunned by my home state🤔

  32. Thanks for a wonderful article. For the die-hard DIY solo hunter, OTC tags are a godsend. Nowadays, we can add the rising cost of gas, the pandemic travel limitations, unavailability of ammo, and the rising cost of OTC tags to the obstacles facing us out the door. Ammo hoarders don’t realize they are hurting the rest of us. Overall, hunters are facing aging and being priced out of hunting.

  33. Michael Quintero says

    It’s nice to see this thread still going strong. Great info on here as usual and give the elk hell this year!!!

  34. It’s 2021…any update on this information for a 2022 elk hunt!? Contact..seven six zero, nine five four, nine eight eight six

    • working on it… should be ready by next week

      • Where can I find this update? I am very interested. From Texas and looking for an OTC archery bull elk hunt. Not scared of backpacking miles at 10,000 ft or driving halfway across the country. Looking for the best opportunity to see some good bulls and listen to bugling, prefer the rut. Skilled archery hunter and I have a couple buddies I can bring along. You have a ton of information here and greatly appreciate any response you can give. Sure wish the information was easier to obtain! Colorado seemed like a good opportunity with the elk numbers but seems like it has alot of pressure from hunters as well. I also heard some good units burnt down recently. Any information you can provide would be greatly appreciated!

  35. Good info, great thread. Looking forward to 2022 update.

  36. Nice article! Some useful information for sure. I’m from The Netherlands and I would love to hunt elk with the bow in the western USA. As a super non-resident, where should I start?
    Thank you

  37. It’s become quite involved to be able to hunt certain animals. How about game wardens playing “gotcha” on a technicality. I always buy my hunting license in support of hunters and the sport.
    The Pitman Robertson act guarantees that. Going into the field requires studying hunting summaries. Soon you may have to become a surveyor to figure out boundaries.

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