*April 2021: The dates listed above are from 2019, but many of the details remain accurate. For example, Montana’s draw deadline is now April 1st and Utah has extended their archery season by a week.
I have shot bulls in Colorado, Idaho and Montana with my bow. I may hunt Utah in the coming years, and have a couple points in Wyoming archery. The chart lists a few factors to consider when hunting as well as draw and season dates.
I considered columns for success rates and hunter density, but it was turning into a bit of a rabbit hole. As far as success rates, hunters can find solid success rates in any state. I have written past blogs about what to consider when selecting a unit, and I will describe my own system in a future post. Here are the key takeaways from each state.
Colorado has a ton of elk, the largest herd in the country. However, a lot of hunters live in Colorado and the state draws hordes of nonresidents. Last season was especially bad as fires closed off some units and hunter density spiked. The OTC tag allows hunting in every general unit, which provides flexibility when deciding where to hunt. Keep in mind Colorado has a muzzleloader season around the 13-20th of September. Muzzleloader hunters contribute to the crowded feel.
The Idaho OTC general tag (Elk A Tag) permits you to select a zone and hunt any of the units within that zone, typically 3 to 4 units per zone. Certain zones, often near Boise, sell out quickly while others will not, so talk to a local officer about what to expect. It’s easy to research a zone on the Idaho Hunt Planner to find units with low hunter density and consistently high success rates. Many units have high success rates (above 18%).
A lot has been said about wolves in Idaho, and they have had a negative effect on elk population. But, year to year weather patterns have much a bigger impact on numbers than predators. The winter of 2016 was especially harsh and the following fall was very hot. As a result, 2017 statistics were low. Success rates rebounded a bit in 2018, and a mild winter thus far should lead to good hunting this fall. Another perk of Idaho: it allows hunters to substitute a black bear or mountain lion to fill their tag, so I got that going for me.
Utah has a similar set up to Colorado in that you can hunt all of the OTC units on the same tag. The tags also don’t sell out for archery and can be bought over the counter. However, Utah has fewer OTC units than Colorado, and success rates trend lower than Idaho. Additionally, units near Salt Lake City draw high numbers of hunters. The season used to run from Aug. 17 to Sept. 13, which made it the worst in the west (archery wise). For 2021 they have extended the season another week. Watch out for Utah statistics, some units have about 20 hunters, so a couple lucky guys can make a big difference in percentages. I’ve talked to residents that bitch about not being able to draw tags, but other locals love to hunt Utah and have a lot of success. I should mention Utah has some huge bulls, if that’s what you’re into.
Randy Newberg calls Montana the best OTC tag in the country. Though you have to enter the draw in the spring (April 1), many units have very good draw odds (75-80%). The general tag resembles Colorado and Utah more than Idaho in that it includes general units across the state, with a few exceptions. The season lasts from Sept. 7-Oct. 20, which means you could potentially hunt this season after Colorado or Idaho have ended. Lastly, a lot of Montana’s public land lies at higher elevations, which elk prefer in September. As the fall progresses they move lower, onto privately held lands. This makes Montana a great option for a hunt when you have some time to plan and scout.
You can hunt essentially statewide on the general tag. Similar to Montana hunters must apply but there are high draw odds. Wyoming has confusing rules such as unit boundaries varying depending on species, and if you want to hunt a wilderness area, all non-residents must hire a guide. The Wyoming Game and Fish has always been super helpful when I have called. One cool thing about Wyoming is that it allows unsuccessful archery hunters to hunt the rifle season on the same tag. When spending over $500 on a tag, that can provide a bit of a safety net. I hope this information helps you make sense of the options.
Thank you for reading,