Kansas Kansas now has unlimited over-the-counter either-sex elk tags. In certain counties across the state, namely those not adjacent to Fort Riley or Cimarron National Grasslands, any resident can purchase one, hook up with a landowner and hunt elk. Landowners in Hamilton County in western Kansas voiced concern over crop depredation, and biologists responded with the liberal permits. If you care to play the odds, enter the drawing for a once-in-a-lifetime tag. More than half the state's elk reside on and around 100,000-acre Fort Riley, which allows hunting: 12 either-sex (up four from last year) and 15 antlerless permits. Photo: Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks.
Elk and elk hunting opportunities are abundant in much of North America, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is offering a sneak peek at upcoming seasons in its annual roundup of hunt forecasts for 28 states and provinces, now posted at www.rmef.org. “Generally speaking, elk populations are in great shape and hunters have much to look forward to across the West, as well as in several Midwestern and Eastern states,” said David Allen, president and CEO of the Elk Foundation. “A mild winter, much needed spring and summer moisture and our habitat conservation successes all factor into our optimism for the upcoming hunting season.” Photo by: Andrew Osterberg
This summer, RMEF passed the 5.8 million acre mark for habitat conserved or enhanced for elk and other wildlife. Allen added, however, that wolves continue to be a growing concern in regions where the predators share habitat with elk and other big game herds. In some areas, elk calf survival rates are now insufficient to sustain herds for the future. The urgent need to control wolf populations is a localized wildlife management crisis now compounded by a recent court decision to return wolves to full federal protections under the Endangered Species Act. RMEF has asked Congress to intervene and grant management authority to the states. Photo: Ingrid Taylar
Here’s a condensed look at elk data from state and provincial wildlife conservation agencies. To see these forecasts in their entirety, with links to respective elk regulations or other Web pages, visit www.rmef.org. For even more coverage, see the Sept./Oct. 2010 edition of the RMEF member magazine, Bugle. To join, call 800-CALL ELK.
Alaska While bulls in the lower 48 average 700 pounds, bulls in GMU 3’s South Etolin Wilderness in southeast Alaska can get up to 1,300. However, recent success rates hover at just 5 percent with an annual average of six bulls killed for the entire unit. Zarembo Island northwest of Etolin has remained closed to hunting since 2006 because of low elk numbers. For GMU 8 in southern Alaska, odds are considerably better at 17 percent. Area biologist Larry van Deale says some recent trophies would have made the record books had the hunters cared to enter them. Photo: Advantage Backcountry Outfitters
Alberta This province offers opportunities for fine elk hunting as herds expand east and south onto the prairies and parklands. As herds grow, managers establish more hunting opportunities–last year alone saw three new areas open to elk hunting. Some of the biggest bulls are in these new units. The northern-most units have hunts well into January, and landowners typically welcome responsible cow hunters with open arms. The best (and only) shot for a nonresident is to go through an outfitter, as they are allotted roughly 10 percent of draw tags. Photo: Upper Canyon Outfitters
Arizona $595 elk permit Even though the state claims 25,000 elk, its mesas and arroyos could be hiding upwards of 40,000, says Brian Wakeling, Arizona’s game branch chief. They conduct elk counts in August and September, and the thick tree cover makes it tough to get accurate counts with aerial surveys. Overlooked elk means better odds for hunters. Plus, with abundant moisture this winter and little winterkill, elk herds are flourishing. Last year saw little daylight rut activity with bulls bugling only by moonlight, which held bowhunter success to around 25 percent. Logic says those big bulls that survived merely got bigger for this season. Also note the agency’s goal to get bull/cow ratios down to 25/100 to create more hunter opportunity. Translation: more bull tags.
Arkansas When Arkansas held its first elk-hunting season in 1998, hunter success was close to 100 percent. Now the elk are far wilier. Out-of-state hunters have a couple options: either buy an auction tag or contact a landowner for access. For the latter, hunters must receive written permission from the landowner to hunt their private property, and can only hunt there. Available tags remain the same as last year: 29 public-land tags (8 bull, 16 antlerless, 2 either-sex youth tags, plus 3 either-sex auction tags). Photo: Kashyap
British Columbia This province boasts a thriving population of Rocky Mountain elk and some of the biggest Roosevelt’s bulls in the world, says Stephen MacIver, wildlife regulations officer. However, a hunter must first hurdle the odds of drawing a limited-entry tag. The odds are roughly 35:1. However, guides are allotted a percentage of the tags. Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast in the far west have strong populations of Roosevelt’s. For Rocky Mountain elk, your best bet would be the Kootenay region in the southeast, which boasts the province’s highest success rates. Another good option is the agricultural zones in the Peace River region. Photo: The Lodge and Ranch at Chama
California $1,173 elk permit Conditions are ripe for a world’s record tule, says Joe Hobbs, California Fish and Game elk coordinator. On the East Park Reservoir Unit, good spring rains this year and a low harvest of old bulls last year have left the environment in top shape for antler growth. The bad news? Your odds of drawing a bull tag there are 1 in 350. On the Grizzly Island unit, odds are 1 in 1,000. Auction tags are a possibility, too, but if odds and auctions aren’t your thing, private landowners receive a limited number of tags, and some are available for sale. The Marble Mountains unit in the northwest has 35 bull tags, 10 antlerless and 5 late-season muzzleloader/archery either-sex tags. Photo: National Park Service
Colorado Colorado is the land of plenty for elk and elk hunters but it isn’t currently known for producing behemoth bulls. That could be a different story this hunting season. The past two falls have been cursed with warm weather. In the northwest where many of the bigger bulls roam, elk migration didn’t even begin until after regular rifle seasons were over. Couple that with abundant spring and summer moisture producing high quality forage and the setup is perfect for more trophy bulls. The state’s more-than 200,000 elk hunters also will find that cow tags have gone up $100, the Division of Wildlife has recommended cutting 1,500 cow/either-sex rifle tags across the state, and over-the-counter archery licenses for units 54, 55 and 551 have been nixed. On the other hand, places where herds remain above objective, such as the Gunnison Basin, will see more rifle tags available. Photo: National Park Service
Idaho Since 2007, Idaho’s elk population has fallen by 24,000. And for the second year in a row, out-of-state tag revenues in the state have mirrored that trend. Hunters list wolves, the economy and nonresident tag prices as factors. This isn’t ideal for state wildlife coffers, but it could be ideal if you’re looking for elk hunting all to yourself. Wolves have hit elk populations hard in the classic elk country of the Lolo, Sawtooth and Selway areas, and the state has capped tags. Bull/cow and cow/calf ratios are in tough shape, and the statewide population could fall below 100,000 for the first time in decades. But the declines are by no means across the board. Elk populations are at or above objectives in 22 of 29 elk hunt zones. And a mild winter boosted cow and calf elk survival rates across most of the state. The Beaverhead, Lemhi, Island Park, Teton, Snake River, Palisades and Tex Creek zones all have healthy herds and offer the kind of elk hunting Idaho is famous for. Photo: The Lodge and Ranch at Chama
Kansas Kansas now has unlimited over-the-counter either-sex elk tags. In certain counties across the state, namely those not adjacent to Fort Riley or Cimarron National Grasslands, any resident can purchase one, hook up with a landowner and hunt elk. Landowners in Hamilton County in western Kansas voiced concern over crop depredation, and biologists responded with the liberal permits. If you care to play the odds, enter the drawing for a once-in-a-lifetime tag. More than half the state’s elk reside on and around 100,000-acre Fort Riley, which allows hunting: 12 either-sex (up four from last year) and 15 antlerless permits. Photo: Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks
Kentucky This year, the Bluegrass State’s wapiti hunt was so in-demand that applicants from all 50 states applied, plus the District of Columbia. That’s a great vote of confidence for the East’s biggest herd, but it means the odds of drawing got even longer for nonresidents: 1:200. For Kentuckians, you’re competing against 29,000 other hunters for 720 tags–far better odds at 1:42. Permit numbers in the state have been on a rollercoaster. Last year, permits rocketed up 50 percent to 1,000 tags. Hunters had 60 percent success on cows and 91 percent on bulls. So, managers reined in the number of permits this year back to 800 in hopes of beefing up the population.
Manitoba Elk are the “most desired species to hunt” among province residents, says Ken Rebizant, provincial big game manager. Traditional strongholds such as the Porcupine, Interlake and Duck Mountain regions are going to have elk, and big ones, but they’re tough draws, as the province has no over-the-counter tags. But, since bovine tuberculosis has impacted the Riding Mountain herd, provoking managers to reduce herd numbers, interest in that area has waned. That may be all a resident needs to finally draw an elk tag. Photo: Advantage Backcountry Outfitters
Michigan For years, the state has tried to get its elk numbers down to around 800 and now it seems managers have succeeded. The tendency for elk to wreak havoc on some agriculture operations in the northern lower peninsula had managers working hard to reduce the herd. Now that they’ve hit their mark, Michigan will offer 230 tags, 150 less than last year. This year, the state will offer 75 any-elk tags with 155 antlerless. Photo: The Lodge and Ranch at Chama
Minnesota This year, Minnesota will issue 11 once-in-a-lifetime tags for two separate seasons. Last year, 2,072 applicants put their name in for 30 permits. The state gives landowners 20 percent of the available tags. Last year, managers were able to work out a five-year management plan that calls for 30-38 elk in the Grygla herd, 20-30 animals in the Kittson Central herd and a currently undetermined number in the Caribou-Vita herd. Discussions are being held between the state DNR and Manitoba Conservation regarding population goals for the Caribou-Vita herd, which freely travels across the border. Photo: National Park Service
Montana There are plenty of elk in many pockets of Big Sky country. In fact, Montana continues to boast the second highest elk population of any state by a margin of 30,000 animals. But some populations have plummeted in the past five years. The northern Yellowstone herd is down to 6,000 animals from 19,000 in 1996. Areas north of Yellowstone National Park have seen permits cut and over-the-counter tags change to a draw. Populations in the West Fork of the Bitterroot River and the lower Clark Fork River are 60 percent below objective with just 7 calves per 100 cows. All antlerless tags have been cut and bulls will be hard to come by. Elk populations are well below objectives throughout much of Region 1 in the northwest. Hunters will find elk widely dispersed and wary throughout their traditional ranges in the western third of the state where wolves howl. But the farther one goes east of the Continental Divide, the more elk appear. Most of the eastern portion of the state is 20 percent above population objectives. Photo: Upper Canyon Outfitters
Nebraska The state’s elk herd is still growing consistently around 15-20 percent every year. As numbers grow, opportunities to hunt grow with them, but only if you’re a resident. This year, the state will issue 272 tags, up 40 from last year, with 98 bull and 174 cow permits. To promote strong landowner relations, one-third of those permits are available to private landowners in a drawing and are non-transferable. Photo: Mongo
Nevada In the past two years, the state’s elk population has grown nearly 30 percent. Opportunities for hunters to chase them have followed suit. A few hundred tags more than last year will be issued this season for a total of 3,350. Ten percent of those tags go to nonresidents who are looking at pretty decent 1:44 odds to draw a bull tag. The quality of bulls in the harvest remains high with more than 67 percent of bulls reported being six points or better. The state’s Elk Management on Private Lands Program distributed 66 tags to property owners to do with as they wish. Estimated revenue generated from those tags topped nearly $500,000 for the landowners. Photo: Advantage Backcountry Outfitters
New Mexico Out-of-staters looking to hunt here will find no over-the-counter tags. Those who didn’t draw may be able to contact a landowner for one of their tags (be ready to write a hefty check). The state has no bonus or preference point system. Residents get the bulk of the tags, 78 percent. The state’s units are broken into “quality” and “opportunity” hunts. The former will get you a better chance at bigger bulls, but odds are steep. The Gila area holds around 20,000 elk. Photo: National Park Service
North Dakota Big news this year is the hunt inside Theodore Roosevelt National Park. With 950 elk, the park is looking to control elk populations, possibly killing 275 elk for the next five years to get the population at 100-400. For the rest of the state’s elk, things are pretty much status quo. Managers issued 561 tags–with 245 any-sex and 315 antlerless tags, the same as last year. Almost all hunting is now in the western Badlands. Photo: The Lodge and Ranch at Chama
Oklahoma The Sooner State’s elk population is holding steady and the number of permits to hunt public land still hovers around 330. Odds of pulling one of those tags are dismal, less than 1 percent. But, if you do draw, there are some truly fine Okie bulls. Nonresidents looking to hunt here might do best to purchase a tag and then find a landowner who wants elk out of his winter wheat. For cow hunts, seasons are extended well into December and January. Photo: The Lodge and Ranch at Chama
Oregon Due to budget constraints, biologists aren’t exactly sure how many elk they have as aerial surveys have been limited. But they think populations are stable. And, this year, managers plan to issue nearly 1,000 more permits than last season. Rocky Mountain elk dominate the east side of the Cascades while Roosevelt’s reign to the west. Most hunting in the steep and dark west is open to all comers with over-the-counter tags, while eastern Oregon is draw-only for rifle hunters. Bowhunters can hunt most of the east side with a general tag. Those eastern elk have some new neighbors, as a couple wolf packs have dispersed into the state from Idaho.
Pennsylvania To be blunt, this state has been growing some absolute toads. In 2006, a hunter killed a 425-2/8 non-typical, while just last year a hunter killed a 423-6/8 non-typical. Both bulls were around 6 years old. Records remain to be shattered if a bull can tack on a few extra years. Managers are currently revising the state’s elk management plan to determine how many elk that habitat and society will support. In the meantime, 51 tags will again be issued this season, with 18 bull and 33 cow. Photo: The Lodge and Ranch at Chama
Saskatchewan Landowner tolerance for elk dictates seasons in this province. In the south where there is a lot of private farmland and the only predator carries a rifle, you’ll find ample antlerless quotas meant to get elk off the crops and into freezers. If you want a bull, this just might be your year. With so much open agricultural land, bulls are easy to spot. To help them gain a little antler weight, managers only allow them to be hunted every third year, which has produced some 400-inch monsters. Moose Mountain Provincial Park in the southeast corner is home to 1,400 elk and has seen numbers gaining strength in the past decade. This is a draw-only unit, open to either-sex hunting, and also has outstanding bulls. For challenging over-the-counter hunts, the north-central and western regions offer forests and meadow fringes that hide elk along with plenty of their four-legged predators. Photo: National Park Service
South Dakota The state’s largest herd in the Black Hills National Forest numbered as many as 5,000 animals back in 2003. Aggressive management knocked that number down to the current 3,000. But public attitudes have shifted and there is once again a cry for more elk and more hunting opportunity. To reach a goal of 4,000 in the Hills, managers have had to cut rifle tags again this year to 1,065–a drop of 300 from last year. Still, residents’ odds of hunting a bull in the Black Hills are a solid 1:10. If you pull a tag, make the most of it, as you have to wait nine years to apply again.
Tennessee “We want to grow this elk herd and add more hunters,” says Steve Bennett, elk restoration project coordinator. The herd seems to be cooperating. Last year, five lucky hunters participated in the state’s first sanctioned elk hunt, taking five elk, four on the first day. State wildlife managers hope to see the herd reach 2,000 animals within the next two decades.
Utah limited-entry tag or $1,500 premium limited-entry tag Statewide, hunters kill bulls that average around 6∏ years, and Utah has seen good moisture this past winter and spring, keeping the hills green and lush. Translation: healthy brutes with big headgear. The most popular units include San Juan and Fillmore Pahvant but odds of drawing a limited-entry tag are tough. For residents, it’s 1:16. Nonresidents, 1:44. There are over-the-counter options, especially for archery hunters who are willing to hike into wilderness. Photo: Warren Brown
Washington Washington has more hunters per elk than any other state. Managers help control densities by making hunters choose either westside Roosevelt’s or eastside Rocky Mountain elk. Both hunters and elk are split about 50/50. Generally, herd numbers are stable this season but the Yakima herd has seen a drop in calf recruitment, thus special permits for both branch-antlered bulls and cows have been cut 30-40 percent. While it may take some time for the Yakima herd to rebound, the state has plenty of other hot spots like the classic elk country of the Blue Mountains. This area in the southeast corner has seen an increase in bull permits the last few years. The southwest also offers over-the-counter permits, especially on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest around Mt. St. Helens where managers are trying to knock down herd numbers. Wolves have established at least two confirmed packs on the eastside.
Wyoming Certain places in Wyoming have seen significant impacts from wolves and other carnivores. Much of the Cody herd, near Yellowstone, is seeing poor calf-recruitment made worse by predation. Once a general hunting area, it is now a limited-entry draw. Areas around Jackson Hole and the Gros Ventre and Teton Wilderness Areas will see tightened seasons and antler-point restrictions to try and boost bull/cow and cow/calf ratios. Outside the northwest corner, the state’s elk populations are up 15,000 from last year and many units are far above objectives. The statewide objective is 80,000 elk. That’s 40,000 less than where the herd stands now. The state expects to have lots of leftover antlerless licenses. Aggressive seasons have been set in many places including the Snowy Range, Laramie Peak and Sierra Madre. Last year, the state shifted to a first-come/first-served online licensing system. Out-of-staters can now search for leftover licenses without having to wait in line (in Wyoming) for reduced and full-price tags. For those more interested in hunting bulls, the state allots 16 percent of its limited quota and general licenses to nonresidents. Photo: Troy Batzler Upper Canyon Outfitters
Yukon Territory This province, which boasts 70,000 moose and only 35,000 people, last year held its first official elk hunt in 25 years. Twenty-six hunters took an elk home for the freezer. While much of the Yukon’s northern boreal forest can’t support elk, the Takhini Valley to the south along the Alaska highway, and Braeburn to the north along the Klondike Highway, are elk strongholds. A total of 63 permits will be distributed by lottery for Takhini. Up in Braeburn, six permits are available. Photo: National Park Service
About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Snowy peaks, dark timber basins and grassy meadows. RMEF is leading an elk country initiative that has conserved or enhanced habitat on over 5.8 million acres–a land area equivalent to a swath three miles wide and stretching along the entire Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico. RMEF also works to open, secure and improve public access for hunting, fishing and other recreation. Get involved at www.rmef.org or 1-800-CALL ELK. Photo: National Park Service