Elk. Mere mention of the name to a hunter conjures up images of a sturdy six-point bull, strolling confidently through a stand of golden-leafed aspens, steam pouring from his nostrils like locomotive breath as he stretches out his neck and screams a beckoning call. It's an annual rite for some, the trip of a lifetime for others. And although a trip to the Rockies is the prototypical example, there's a broad and diverse array of elk hunting opportunities available across North America.
The "traditional" Western elk states do, in fact, have some of the best hunting. Colorado offers unlimited over-the-counter either-sex archery licenses to resident and nonresident hunters, and decent success rates, even for the do-it-yourself, public land hunter. Montana is a draw state, but for the first time in many years there were general licenses left over after the draw. Those licenses were sold first come, first served. In New Mexico, almost all public land elk licenses are under a draw format. However, over-the-counter landowner authorizations are available directly from landowners that participate in the Elk Private Land Use System, or from some outfitters. Arizona offers very limited over-the-counter elk hunting opportunities in fringe areas that elk have expanded into.
Looking for variety? Northwestern states and provinces (Washington, Oregon, and B.C.) offer hunters a choice of Roosevelt or Rocky Mountain elk. How about a real change of pace? Alaskan elk are found only on Afognak and several southeastern islands. There, an elk hunt involves boats and boreal forest, a far cry from a desert drop camp.
Easterners fortunate enough to draw a tag need not travel too far from home. Arkansas, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania offer a variety of opportunities including some decent public land hunting. And with age structure evenly distributed, hunters may find mature elk in any area.
Continent-wide, elk populations are in pretty good shape, with a few glaring exceptions. New data show the northern Yellowstone elk herd has declined by 75 percent since wolf reintroduction in the mid 1990s -- from 18,000 to 4,400 -- and may have plummeted as much as 24 percent in just the past year. Other herds in wolf-inhabited areas of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming also are declining rapidly. Those areas outside the wolf range are doing much better.
Each year we try to give you a concise, comprehensive overview of elk hunting opportunities across their range. Compiling this information is no easy task. We do our best to bring you the most accurate and up-to-date information, and rely very heavily on state and provincial biologists and other agency personnel to help us in that regard. However, their deadlines and priorities don't necessarily coincide with ours. In many cases they're still analyzing data from last year in order to set seasons, permit quotas, and bag limits for this year. Consequently, data and regulations are fluid and subject to change, so do your research thoroughly when planning a future hunt.
Consider our 2011 Elk Hunting forecast a first step in your effort to find the elk hunting destination that best suits your needs, desires, and dreams.
ALASKA -- Elk are restricted largely to southeast Alaska with the best hunting opportunities on Raspberry Island and Etolin and its associated islands. Contact: Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game, (907) 486-1880, www.state.ak.us/adfg/adfghome.htm.
ARIZONA -- Most nonresident elk tags are issued through a limited draw -- no more than 10 percent of the bull tags may be issued to nonresidents. Limited over-the-counter elk hunting opportunities also exist in fringe areas that elk have expanded into. Contact: Arizona Game and Fish Department, (602) 942-3000, www.gf.state.az.us/welcome.html.
ARKANSAS -- The state issues a total of 27 public land permits. Private land hunters operate under a quota -- 23 elk. Nonresidents can only hunt during the Private Land Hunt unless they hold a lifetime sportsman license, and must have written permission from a landowner. Contact: Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, (501) 223-6360, www.agfc.com/.
CALIFORNIA -- Biologists expect another good year for elk in California, although the spring rains can make or break some units. Contact: California Dept. of Fish and Game, (916) 653-7203, www.dfg.ca.gov/.
COLORADO -- Because of an average harvest the last two years, elk numbers remain high. This year's above average snow pack may yield more available water, which can disperse animals more widely, but the upside is it will result in quality forage and excellent antler growth. Check out the 12 minute "Elk Camp Colorado" online video at the DOW website. Contact: Colorado Division of Wildlife, (303) 297-1192, www.dnr.state.co.us/.
IDAHO -- With elk populations declining over the last 15 years, mostly in the backcountry units in the central part of the state, biologists expect 2011 will be fair to good for archery hunters. IDFG encourages hunters to view their website and call biologists at regional offices to investigate regions and conditions more closely. Contact: Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game, (208) 334-3700, http://fishandgame.idaho.gov/.
KENTUCKY -- Although their numbers are beginning to stabilize inside the elk restoration zone, elk continue to disperse throughout the zone, filling in available habitat. Applicants can now apply for a specific tag (archery bull, archery cow, firearms bull, or firearms cow), although not for a specific week. There is no longer an antler restriction for bulls. Contact: Kentucky Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Resources, 1-800-858-1549, www.state.ky.us/agencies/fw/index.htm.
MICHIGAN -- The elk herd has been intentionally reduced to meet management objectives but should be stable now. There is no separate archery season so no specific archery harvest data are available. Contact: Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources, (517) 373-1263, www.dnr.state.mi.us/.
MONTANA -- Both quantity and quality of the elk hunting in Montana is highly dependant upon local conditions. Some areas are considered to be below objectives. Contact: Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, (406) 444-2612, www.fwp.state.mt.us/index.html.
NEBRASKA -- Elk numbers are increasing at a rate of about 15 percent per year. Most elk are killed on private land, although state land and U.S. Forest Service pastures in the Bordeaux and Hat Creek units provide some public land opportunities. Contact: Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, (402) 471-0641, www.ngpc.state.ne.us/homepage.html.
NEVADA -- The Department of Wildlife website has detailed information for each unit where elk hunting is permitted including hunting conditions, access, and recommended areas. Contact: Nevada Division of Wildlife, 1-800-576-1020, www.ndow.org.
NEW MEXICO -- Almost all public land elk licenses are under a draw format. Over-the-counter landowner authorizations are available directly from landowners that participate in the Elk Private Land Use System (E-PLUS) or from some outfitters. No draw is needed but landowners may charge additional fees. Contact: New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, 1-800-862-9310, www.wildlife.state.nm.us.
NORTH DAKOTA -- They no longer have bow licenses for elk in North Dakota; rather, it's an elk license that can be used in the bow or gun season. Contact: North Dakota Game and Fish Dept., (701) 328-6300, www.state.nd.us/gnf/.
OKLAHOMA -- The Wildlife Department has liberalized private lands elk hunting considerably, resulting in 55 days of open cow elk hunting each year as well as opportunities to harvest mature bulls. Contact: Oklahoma Dept. of Wildlife Conservation, Game Division, (405) 521-2739, www.wildlifedepartment.com/.
OREGON -- Oregon's elk population is virtually half Roosevelt and half Rocky Mountain elk. The harvest is close to that ratio but success rates for Roosevelt are about half that for Rocky Mountain elk. Contact: Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, (503) 872-5260, www.dfw.state.or.us/.
PENNSYLVANIA -- PA only has one elk management area. Hunting opportunities for those who are selected for a license are excellent. Pennsylvania's elk management program continues to produce large, mature bulls each year. Contact: Pennsylvania Game Commission, Bureau of Wildlife Management, (717) 787-5529, www.pgc.state.pa.us/.
SOUTH DAKOTA -- Management direction had been to reduce numbers in the past. Current management direction is to increase numbers. Contact: South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, (605) 773-3485, www.state.sd.us/gfp/index.htm.
UTAH -- Archery success jumped from 6% in '09 to 12.8% in '10. Bowhunters killed 617 bulls and 601 cows last year. Contact: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, (801) 538-4700, www.nr.utah.gov/dwr/dwr.htm.
WASHINGTON -- Archery season is in September, but there are many late-season opportunities. Contact: Washington Dept. Fish and Wildlife, (360) 902-2200, http://wdfw.wa.gov/.
WYOMING -- Although elk numbers increased from 2008 to 2009, overall elk numbers remain fairly stable. Wyoming does not directly calculate archery success rates. Contact: Wyoming Game and Fish Dept., (307) 777-4600, http://gf.state.wy.us/.
ALBERTA -- Alberta has expanded antlerless elk hunting in many areas into January. These special licenses are available to residents only. Contact: Alberta Natural Resources Service, (403) 427-2079, www.srd.gov.ab.ca/fishwildlife/.
BRITISH COLUMBIA -- The hunting on Vancouver Island/Sunshine Coast is for Roosevelt elk. No specific archery data were available. Contact: British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks, Wildlife Branch, (250) 387-9717, http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/fw/.
MANITOBA -- Elk populations are stable, with the exception of GHAs 23 and 23A, where they have slightly decreased as a result of specific management objectives to control the prevalence of bovine tuberculosis. Contact: Manitoba Dept. of Natural Resources, Wildlife Branch, 1-800-214-6497, www.gov.mb.ca/natres/wildlife/index.html.
SASKATCHEWAN -- There is no defined archery elk season so there is no specific archery elk hunting data available. Contact: Saskatchewan Environment & Resource Management, Fish and Wildlife Branch, (306) 787-2314, www.serm.gov.sk.ca/fishwild/.