Elk are America’s number one big game animal. For many it’s a dream to hunt them. However, for most it stays just that, a dream. The process of organizing a trip and deciding where to go intimidates many hunters to the point that they either give up or spend thousands of dollars hiring a guide service. At Iowa Slam we choose not to hire guides and instead pursue hunts that allow us to save money year in and year out. The process of harvesting an elk starts long before September. The first step is often the toughest and for elk hunting the first step is choosing a state.
For starters Colorado ($661) and Idaho ($570) offer cheap over the counter tags that almost never run out. Montana ($885) and Wyoming ($692) each have units with 100% draw odds but no longer offer OTC tags to non-residents. Therefore, if you are trying to hunt the 2018 season, these two states are not good options. Roosevelt elk, which you would most likely hunt in western Washington ($495) and Oregon ($738), cover less ground than rocky mountain and can be very difficult to locate. There are rocky mountain elk in Washington and Oregon as well, but other states offer better numbers and trophy quality, As a result, I believe Colorado and Idaho offer the best opportunity for first time elk hunters.
You will likely run into more hunters in Colorado, but there are also more elk. Idaho has also experienced an influx in hunters over the past few years as it regains its reputation from the damage wolves have done. The closer you hunt to population centers the more weekend warriors will invade the unit, especially during four-wheeler riding muzzleloader hunters during the middle of the season. Hunting close to Denver or Boise will likely have this effect.
One advantage to Colorado is that you can use an over the counter tag to hunt almost any of the over the counter units in the state. By comparison, in Idaho you must select a zone to hunt which includes three units. These zones often have close to one million acres, so you shouldn’t run out of ground to cover. Both states offer great hunting and will be challenging to hunt if you are used to 1,000 feet elevation in Iowa.
Next, reach out to some regional game officers in the state. Be sure to contact several, as not all are as willing to help as you would like. Though some may offer specific locations to hunt, it’s best not to blatantly ask for locations. Additionally, they likely have already told ten other out-of-staters about the spot. Instead, describe your ideal hun, physical fitness and the week of the season you plan to hunt. This will give them an idea what terrain would be best and what food the elk will be focused on when you hunt. Lastly, check the harvest stats (Idaho, Colorado) for each unit and the overall number of hunters. I will have a blog in two weeks describing how to break down a unit and some tips on finding overlooked honeyholes. Good luck, Stu