Elk Population: Afognak and Kodiak islands
(GMU 8) 650, Etolin (GMU 3) N/A
Bull/Cow Ratios: N/A
Nonresidents: $85 hunting license plus $300 elk tag
Looking for the ultimate elk hunting challenge? Hunting Alaska’s islands could be it. Even catching a glimpse of elk in the thick forests should be considered a successful hunt. Back in the late 1920s Alaska traded to the state of Washington mountain goats for Roosevelt’s elk: the latter now inhabit two regions in Alaska. Game Management Unit (GMU) 8 encompasses the Kodiak Archipelago, GMU 3 is located farther south near Etolin Island, with the majority of elk found in the South Etolin Wilderness.
Over the past several years, hunter success in GMU 8 has hovered around 25 percent. Bulls are notoriously large of body, but generally carry antlers that are quite small in proportion. Choosing a rifle to hunt these animals is more akin to gearing up for a moose hunt than elk. Hunters should also be aware that Afognak averages two brown bears every three square miles. Packing an elk on your back might be every bit as exciting as the hunt itself. The state allots 275 lottery permits for GMU 8, Alaska’s best odds at an elk.
With current hunter harvest rates at five percent, GMU 3 does not give up its elk easily. The herds have been slow to recover from the winter of 2006-07, which shattered all previous snowfall records. The past two winters had higher than normal snowpack as well. Before these hard winters, biologist Rich Lowell says they enjoyed a “good” success rate between 12-14 percent. He believes that the elk harvest will remain lower than normal in 2009. Permits are available for three seasons, including 25 archery-only for September and two October seasons, each allotted 50 permits.
Contact: www.adfg.state.ak.us or (907) 465-4190
Elk Population: 20,000
Bull/Cow Ratios: N/A
Nonresidents: $298 and must be accompanied by an Alberta resident Hunter Host or licensed guide
Southwestern Alberta has a reputation for big bulls where elk are managed to ensure that plenty of bulls live long enough to reach their full potential. A little farther north, some impressive bulls are killed each year in the Peace River area. Warmer and drier than normal conditions over most of the province brought elk through the winter in great shape. Expect good hunting prospects this season for trophy bulls and cows.
Contact: www.srd.gov.ab.ca/fishwildlife or (780) 944-0313
Elk Population: 25,000
Bull/Cow Ratios: 35 to 40/100
Nonresidents: $151 hunting license (nonrefundable to enter drawing) plus $595 elk permit.
Arizona has one of the finest reputations in the nation as a trophy-producing destination. Brian Wakeling, the state’s top big game manager, emphatically states that any unit hunters draw has the potential for big bulls. More specifically, he notes that the units surrounding Flagstaff have been good. Units 1 and 27 on the east side, and 3A, 3B and 3C around Pine Top are units to consider as well.
Arizona has seen favorable conditions for elk over the past several years and elk populations are stable in most regions.
Elk are primarily distributed across a band that begins northwest of Flagstaff then continues southeast to the New Mexico state line. In the east-central portion of the state, elk numbers are increasing. The Arizona Game and Fish Department, though, is not issuing additional antlerless tags because biologists want more elk in these areas.
While many elk hunters are lured by the prospects of chasing Arizona bulls during the rut, the late-season hunts in November and December have their own appeal. Temperatures are cooler and bulls are more likely to be found in bachelor bands, without the early warning systems provided by dozens of wary cows.
Contact: www.azgfd.gov or (602) 942-3000
Elk Population: 500
Bull/Cow Ratio: 40/100
Nonresidents: private land tags and two auction tags only
Arkansas’s elk are found in the northwest along the Buffalo National River. Numbers have climbed gradually in the past five years, says Cory Gray, the state’s elk program coordinator. Winter has little effect on elk, but it does play a role in acorn production, a nutritional staple for both elk and white‑tailed deer. “We’ve seen some late-winter freezes which affect the mast crop,” notes Gray. The state has also experienced periods of intense heat the past several summers, which stresses both vegetation and elk.
Gray believes calf deaths as a result of oppressive heat are the primary culprit for calf/cow ratios that have hovered around 30/100 for the past several years. These numbers are sufficient to maintain the state’s elk numbers, but don’t allow for increases. However, there does seem to be some herd expansion westward. Conflicts with agriculture are negatively affecting landowners’ tolerance for elk. Thus, one management objective is to nudge elk expansion in the direction of the Ozark National Forest.
For 2009, the state will offer 26 tags for elk on public land: eight bull permits, 16 antlerless permits and two any-sex youth tags. Two bull tags are auctioned, offering the only opportunity for nonresidents to hunt elk on public land. Private land tags may be sold to nonresidents.
As the recently named head of the elk program, Gray is excited about the future of elk and elk hunting in Arkansas. He looks forward to conducting research on calf recruitment and developing stronger relationships with private landowners.
Contact: www.agfc.com or (800) 364-4263
Elk Population: 50,000
Bull/Cow Ratios: 20/100
Nonresidents: $189 hunting license, plus $277 elk tag. Must hire a licensed guide, or in certain cases may be accompanied by a resident hunter
Coastal British Columbia saw significant snowpack but nothing terribly out of the ordinary for wintering elk. Over the central and southern portions of the province, snowfall was normal to slightly below normal.
With a burgeoning elk herd and productive habitat, the long-term outlook for wapiti in B.C. is positive. Elk are especially abundant in the Kootenay region, an attractive area for trophy hunters where bull harvest is limited to animals carrying at least six tines on at least one antler. Many trophy areas in British Columbia offer rifle hunting during the rut, an option that has become increasingly rare in North America, with a few notable exceptions.
Contact: www.env.gov.bc.ca/fw or (250) 387-9771
Elk Population: 1,500 Rocky Mountain Elk,
6,000 Roosevelt’s, 3,900 Tule
Bull/Cow Ratios: 20 to 90/100
Nonresidents: $143 nonrefundable hunting license plus $1,163 elk tag
The opportunity to choose from three different sub-species of elk makes California unique. The coveted tags are in short supply, making general drawing odds slim. Nonresidents can apply for the general drawing, but odds are also slim. The state offers three auction tags: one for Grizzly Island, one for Owens Valley and one multiple-zone tag in which recipients can choose to hunt one of the three sub-species. Joe Hobbs, the state elk coordinator, reports that there is a proposal afoot to allow nonresidents to purchase landowner tags for 2010, a move that could increase access for those who can afford an outfitter, but would accomplish nothing for nonresidents wanting to hunt on public land. Residents looking for the best odds should put in for archery cow tags in the Owens Valley, says Hobbs.
Lucky residents who pull an elk tag can expect excellent conditions this fall. Elk populations are stable in all habitats with many increasing. Hobbs notes that extensive forest fires in the northern part of the state will definitely improve herd growth. Elk are also increasing in the Lake Pillsbury region, where a new hunting area may be opened next fall.
Drawing a bull tag gives anyone a shot at a trophy, but it’s no guarantee of success. As Hobbs explains, “There are trophy-quality animals in every zone, but it takes work to get them.”
Contact: www.dfg.ca.gov or (916) 445-0411
Elk Population: 280,000
Bull/Cow Ratios: 25/100
Nonresidents: $546 bull tag, $251 antlerless
Pardon the expression, but Colorado is the big box store of the elk hunting world. The state offers a bit of everything. Limited-entry, tough-to-draw tags provide a legitimate shot at a world-class bull in some units, such as those in the northwest corner of the state, but hunters need 15 to 20 preference points to draw. Over-the-counter tags are widely available, giving hunters a shot at a bull. Most will be spikes and raghorns, but mature bulls can be found in these hard-hunted units. The state also allots a plethora of antlerless licenses—though around 10,000 less than last year—giving meat hunters excellent odds.
From a weather standpoint, 2008 was tough on hunters. Conditions went from hot and dry in the early seasons to wild and windy later on. Then it warmed up again, leaving animals high and tough to find. For 2009, Division of Wildlife big game coordinator Bruce Watkins says hunters should have more opportunity at mature bulls this year as the harvest was generally down last year.
Contact: www.wildlife.state.co.us or (303) 297-1192
Elk Population: 107,000
Bull/Cow Ratios: 10 to 50/100
Nonresidents: $142 hunting license plus $373 elk tag
Have wolves eaten all the elk in Idaho? Not even close, says Brad Compton of Idaho Fish and Game. “We still have some good elk hunting. Wolves have had an impact on our herds in some parts of the state, but they’ve not been decimated like it’s been publicized.” Populations are fairly stable statewide, with areas of western Idaho trending upward, while wolves have had the biggest impact on the Lolo and Sawtooth zones on the Idaho/Montana border. For 2009, caps will occur on tags offered in the Sawtooth and Diamond Creek elk zones.
“We had a fairly mild winter with high survival,” says Compton. Idaho elk hunters enjoy around a 20 percent success rate on average. In an area such as the Lolo zone, elk are holing up more often in security cover. Compton suggests hunters who enjoy hunting whitetails in cover should try the same tactics for elk. He adds that the biggest change in the regs could be a wolf hunt this fall.
Contact: www.fishandgame.idaho.gov or (208) 334-3700
Elk Population: 225
Bull/Cow Ratios: N/A
One nonresident tag through auction
At present, the only elk herd consistently hunted in Kansas tracks the soils of Fort Riley. Wapiti are also found on the Cimarron National Grasslands in the state’s southwest corner and are appearing in the northwestern corner as well, migrating in from Nebraska. These populations could technically be hunted on some sections of public land, but the odds are slim that hunters would cross paths with them, says Matt Peek, elk program coordinator.
Kansas will issue eight either-sex and 15 anterless elk tags this season, up from last year. Hunters may hunt Fort Riley or contact individual landowners. The only nonresident opportunity is through one tag issued to a qualifying conservation organization. For landowners, the state issues unlimited over-the-counter antlerless permits for a season that runs from September through mid‑March. Landowners still must apply for bull tags with everyone else.
Contact: www.kdwp.state.ks.us/hunting or (620) 672-5911
Elk Population: 10,000
Bull/Cow Ratios: 35 to 40/100 (branch-antlered)
Nonresidents: $130 hunting license plus $365 elk tag
Kentucky’s herd in the 16-county elk restoration zone could soon hit 11,000, predicts Charlie Logsdon, wildlife biologist for Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. (See “0 to 11,000 in 12 Years Flat,” in July-August 2009 Bugle.) Giant typical and nontypical bulls are killed each season, making the state’s elk hunt wildly popular with outdoor folks.
With such robust numbers, Kentucky is upping its tag offerings by a large portion this season, boosting available licenses by more than 50 percent. The state will offer 250 bull permits and 750 antlerless permits, with 10 percent of the tags going to out‑of‑staters. Those who don’t draw can look to landowners, some of whom auction off their permits, or to auctioned Commissioner Tags.
Logsdon notes that the season structure will change this fall on lands open to the public to provide a better quality hunt and trim harvest in certain areas. Public lands are now divided into specific units. Public land hunters will be restricted to a particular area. Given that just 5 percent of the elk restoration zone is publicly owned, wildlife managers hope the new structure will reduce hunter crowding.
Kentucky elk hunters have high success rates on both cows and bulls. On average, 96 percent of bull hunters find their quarry, while antlerless success typically runs about 90 percent. With more elk and an improved season structure, expect similar results this fall.
Contact: www.fw.ky.gov or (800) 858-1549
Elk Population: 6,500
Bull/Cow Ratios: 35 to 45/100
Nearly anywhere hunters venture afield, conditions are ripe for a fine elk season. “Our populations are stable with good numbers of elk in the Interlake, Duck Mountain, Porcupine Mountain and Spruce Woods regions,” reports Ken Rezibant, provincial big game manager. In the Riding Mountain area, wildlife managers have successfully cut the herd in half, Rezibant says, from a high of 5,000 animals some eight years ago to 2,500, in a bid to lower the potential transmission of bovine tuberculosis.
Contact: www.gov.mb.ca/conservation/wildlife or (800) 214-6497
Elk Population: 1,045
Bull/Cow Ratio: 60/100
Back in 1918, seven elk from western states were relocated to the state near the town of Wolverine. Now, Michigan has a few more elk than it wants. Even so, a 13-year-old hunter brought down a 383‑inch bull last year that is the new state record. “Our elk are thriving,” says John Niewoonder, big game specialist. Despite some concerns with diseases such as bovine tuberculosis and CWD, wapiti are firmly entrenched in 12 counties in the northern tip of the state’s lower peninsula. The area consists of abundant state and national forest lands intermingled with private holdings.
Social factors—not habitat—limit increases in Michigan’s elk herd. Conflicts with agricultural production and other private land activities have the Department of Natural Resources working aggressively to keep elk numbers down to 800 animals, which it is slowly creeping toward. For the four 2009 hunt periods beginning Sept 1 and ending Jan 17, the state issues 380 licenses, 26 of them either‑sex tags, and the rest antlerless.
Contact: www.michigan.gov/dnr or (517) 373-1263
Elk Population: 200
Bull/Cow Ratio: 50/100
Two distinct elk herds inhabit the northwestern corner of Minnesota: the Thief Lake herd, whose history dates back to 1935 stocking efforts, and the border herd that overlaps into Manitoba. Elk are found on state wildlife management areas, but crop depredation on nearby private fields is a continual issue in elk management. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has assisted state wildlife managers with habitat purchases and improvements.
Elk tags are allotted depending on the condition of the two herds. Typically, around 10 antlerless tags are issued at lottery along with one or two bull tags. Last year, 11 tags were issued and 11 hunters filled their tags. The state is currently creating a draft elk management plan and seeking public input. It should be finished by September.
Contact: www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting or (888) 646-6367
Elk Population: 150,000
Bull/Cow Ratios: 5 to 25/100
Nonresidents: $593 for regular drawing, $1,500 for
outfitter sponsored tags.
Elk populations in Montana remain at or above management objectives in most areas, including the southwestern portion of the state, which accounts for a considerable slice of the annual elk harvest and hunting pressure. However, a number of factors hint that hunters will work harder to find elk this fall. Although herd counts were incomplete at this writing, Quentin Kujala, chief of the Wildlife Management Bureau, points to tough wintering conditions in portions of western Montana as a factor that may decrease the number of yearling animals.
Elsewhere, recent regulations that opened the entire season to either-sex hunting with an over‑the‑counter tag seem to be succeeding at lowering elk populations where elk were significantly over management objectives. Because of this, some areas will no longer offer over‑the‑counter, either-sex tags. Although the liberalized either‑sex regulations appear to be having the desired effect, Kujala cautions that the trend is too short to be certain, and these herds may well rebound above objective again.
Although Treasure State hunters can expect a fine season, wolf impacts in districts near Yellowstone National Park appear to be stressing elk populations. Anecdotal evidence from popular hunting grounds in the Snowcrest, Ruby, Centennial and Gravelly mountain ranges suggest that wolves are dispersing elk in ways that make for tougher hunting.
Finding a mature bull will remain tough in the region between Butte and Boulder, where extensive road access keeps bull/cow ratios extremely low. Expect extremely good hunting in eastern areas such as the rugged Missouri Breaks and the hill country southeast of Ashland. Bull tags in these areas are only issued by drawing, but hunters lucky enough to pull the tag and work hard may find the bull of a lifetime.
Contact: www.fwp.mt.gov/hunting or (406) 444-2535
Elk Population: 2,000
Bull/Cow Ratios: N/A
One nonresident opportunity through auction
There was a time when elk didn’t have the best reputation among northeast Nebraska’s farmers, but over the years, private landowners’ tolerance for elk has grown, says Kit Hamms, big game program coordinator. Nowadays, having elk on your property means bragging rights. And that’s a good thing, as public land makes up less than 4 percent of Nebraska and elk populations continue to grow 20 percent annually.
The bulk of Nebraska’s elk are found in three hunting units in the Pine Ridge area in the extreme northwest. Wapiti also traipse other locations: two herds are found on the Niobrara River, a band inhabits the Wildcat Hills region near the North Platte River, and elk also populate portions of Lincoln and Boyd counties. Success rates have hovered around 80 percent for bulls and 40 percent for cows, with the bulk of the harvest on private land.
For 2009, 230 non-transferable elk tags will be allotted over seven hunting units. In all, the state will issue 83 bull tags with 27 going to landowners. Due to the limited number of tags, some exceptional bulls are killed each season. Seasons run a month or longer, giving tag-holders ample opportunity to down an elk.
Contact: www.ngpc.state.ne.us/hunting or (402) 471-0641
Elk Population: 11,000
Bull/Cow Ratio: 40/100
Nonresidents: $142 hunting license plus $1,200 bull tag or $500 antlerless tag
With a 14 percent increase in adult elk numbers and a slight boost in bull/cow ratios from 2008, Nevada’s elk herd is thriving. Most areas have seen modest expansion of elk herds, with fairly rapid growth in Elko County. “Tag quotas should be up. We’re expecting a good year for elk hunters,” says Joe Dusett, conservation educator. Dusett points out that habitat changes in the last several years have hurt mule deer but boosted elk numbers. “We’ve had massive fires that converted brushlands to grasslands. These have primarily occurred in the eastern part of the state where about 75 percent of our elk are located.”
All of the state’s elk tags are issued by lottery. No matter what area folks hunt, the outlook is as good this season as it’s been for years. However, Dusett cautions hunters that weather makes a big difference in success rates. “If it’s hot and dry, the elk will be in high, rugged country.”
Contact: www.ndow.org/hunt or (800) 576-1020
Elk Population: 80,000
Bull/Cow Ratio: 45/100
Nonresidents: $547 standard bull tag, $772 quality bull tag
For elk hunters, the “Land of Enchantment” lives up to its nickname. “We have great opportunity to hunt elk in unique habitat with potential for big bulls,” says Stewart Liley, the state’s elk program coordinator. What more could a hunter want?
While some may assume that Liley’s perspective only applies to New Mexico’s trophy districts, there is excellent hunting in other units as well. From a management perspective, units fall into two categories: “quality” units that are managed for bigger bulls with low hunter densities, and “opportunity” units that have higher tag allotments to give more people a shot at an elk. Hunter success rates typically run from 35 to 50 percent in the quality units with many of the bulls killed being 6 years old or older. But hunters in the opportunity units do very well by most standards. Success rates run from about 12-30 percent. Though much fewer in number, Liley notes that bulls in the 300 to 350-inch Boone & Crockett class crop up in opportunity units as well as the quality areas.
Overall, the state’s elk population is stable to slightly increasing. Liley is enthusiastic about recent habitat work with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, especially in the southwest. These enhancements consist of burning and thinning pinyon-juniper stands, which benefits other wildlife species along with elk.
Contact: www.wildlife.state.nm.us or (505) 476-8000
Elk Population: 2,000
Bull/Cow Ratio: N/A
One nonresident tag available through raffle
Roughly 150 elk are found in the Pembina Hills of the northeast, a herd that migrated in from Canada. The majority of North Dakota’s elk are found in the Badlands in and around Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Public hunting occurs on the Little Missouri National Grasslands adjacent to the park. There are some elk that live year-round in the Grasslands, but the number of wapiti available to hunters and the success is highly dependent upon elk movement out of the park.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park now hosts 900 elk, a number that has climbed steadily since 47 elk were released in 1985. This is causing increasing concern about habitat degradation and competition with other wildlife. At present, the park administration has resisted attempts to thin the elk herd through hunting, a point of frustration for state wildlife managers.
Roger Johnson, the state’s big game coordinator, anticipates a fine season for hunters this fall with similar success to last year. In 2008, hunters took 203 elk for a 39 percent success ratio. Due to the difficulty of finding elk in the Little Missouri area and the fickle movements of animals coming out of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, tag-holders in this area have a very long season (Sept.-Dec.) to up their odds of making a kill. All told, 561 tags will be issued—the same as last year—with 245 any-sex tags and 315 antlerless, along with one any-sex tag auctioned off by the Elk Foundation.
Contact: www.gf.nd.gov/hunting or (701)-328-6300
Elk Population: 2,300
Bull/Cow Ratio: N/A
The state’s primary concentration of elk is on 54,000 acres of public land in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in the southwest. The state will offer 326 permits, but chances of pulling a tag are rough—less than one percent. Abutting the refuge, the 100,000‑acre Fort Sill Army base also supports elk, but allows only military and civilian personnel to hunt them. Elk also inhabit private lands in the area. According to Rod Smith, the southwest regional coordinator for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife, habitat in the Wichita Mountains is very stable and productive, ideal for nurturing elk.
In addition to the Wichita Mountains herd, two smaller populations are found in the northeast and southeast on private land, and a number of state Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) including Spavinaw and Cookson Hills. Thanks to Elk Foundation grant money, wildlife managers have enhanced enough habitat to fuel Smith’s optimism for the future. “We’re opening heavily forested areas to improve feeding and calving areas,” he says. The treatments combine thinning and controlled burns.
Although fall hunting prospects are excellent statewide, Smith cautions that hunting on private land requires written landowner permission and that most private holdings are already tied up with hunters.
Contact: www.wildlifedepartment.com or (405) 521-3851
Elk Population: 120,000
Bull/Cow Ratios: 12 to 30/100
“Stable” is how Pete Test, Oregon deer and elk program coordinator, describes the population trend of the past decade in Oregon. The state’s elk are split almost equally between the Roosevelt’s sub-species in the west and Rocky Mountain to the east, groups that see notably different management. For the most part, general season hunting with over-the-counter licenses reigns in the west, while limited-entry regulations dominate in the east. Bowhunting is the exception, with most areas open to archers carrying a general tag.
“Conditions should be fair to good, similar to last year,” says Test. Success rates are higher in limited‑entry units, but hover around 10 percent for general season hunting. Nonetheless, tackling western Oregon with a general tag is a memorable hunt no matter the outcome. “People need to realize that the elk in there are tough animals to hunt. The terrain is steep and heavily forested,” says Test. However, stalking the comely Roosevelt’s clan of cervus elaphus in rainforest habitat places the hunter nose-to-nose with rare beauty and fosters a deep appreciation for mental and bodily preparedness.
Contact: www.dfw.state.or.us or (503) 947-6000
Elk Population: 700
Bull/Cow Ratio: 28/100 (branch-antlered bulls/cows)
Nonresidents: $250 elk tag, $101 for general license
A long, cold, difficult winter with limited mast crops stressed Pennsylvania’s elk herds. Although some calf mortality was observed, biologist Jon DeBerti doesn’t believe it will significantly impact elk numbers.
Pennsylvania’s elk are found in the north‑central portion of the state with Elk and Cameron counties accounting for most of the harvest. The state offers around 50 elk tags, with roughly 30 percent of those for bulls. A significant portion of the elk taken by hunters comes from private land, but hunting is also good on the state forests. If planning to hunt public land, check to see how much land is available in a particular zone before applying for a tag.
Contact: www.pgc.state.pa.us/pgc or (717) 787-4250
Elk Population: 15,000
Bull/Cow Ratio: 20/100
No nonresident tags available
Saskatchewan’s elk fared well this winter. Snowpack across the province was variable but didn’t adversely affect elk populations.
During the winter of 2008, two elk in the Nipawin area were found dead. Both tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), the first confirmed cases of the disease in free-ranging elk in the province. However, wildlife officials have been monitoring CWD for nearly 10 years after a mule deer in the Manitou Hills tested positive. Although the disease has the potential to adversely affect elk numbers, massive die-offs aren’t likely. CWD has plagued elk in several states, including parts of Colorado, without the disastrous effects some biologists predicted when it was discovered. Elk populations remain healthy and growing across the province, with a fine hunting season predicted for this fall.
Contact: www.environment.gov.sk.ca or (306) 787-2897
Elk Population: 5,000
Bull/Cow Ratios: 50 to 100/100
No nonresident tags available
This season will see fewer tags as landowners want to see more elk—seriously. While the state’s Game, Fish & Parks Department has actively sought to decrease elk numbers in the Black Hills in recent years, the easing of drought conditions and public demand for more elk hunting is changing that policy. Although populations may not soon reach the 2003 high of over 5,000 animals on the Black Hills National Forest, wildlife managers are confident they can boost numbers by tweaking tags. As Ted Benson of the wildlife division explains, “we know South Dakota hunters love their elk. Tags will decrease for a couple of years to boost elk numbers, then we’ll start offering more elk tags.”
Herds of elk also wander the Pine Ridge Reservation and surrounding areas, while another small band occurs in the south-central portion of the state, a herd that utilizes habitat in both South Dakota and Nebraska. Elk tags are available for both of these minor populations, but the majority of hunting occurs in the Black Hills, where the Black Hills National Forest holds roughly 3,500 animals and Custer State Park another 500. Managers would like to see a good 1,000 more animals. Pulling a tag for South Dakota is tough. For the 13,000 annual permit applicants, only around 10 percent are drawn.
Those lucky enough to draw can expect excellent hunting in the Black Hills. Benson points out that in the central unit managed for trophy bulls, hunter success in 2008 ran 90 percent, with half of the bulls killed having at least six tines per antler.
Contact: www.sdgfp.info/Wildlife/hunting or (605) 773-3485
Elk Population: 300
Bull/Cow Ratio: N/A
Two nonresident tags available
Excitement is rampant for Tennessee’s first-ever elk hunt since before the Civil War. In 2000, elk were released in the Cumberland Mountains in the east, thanks in part to the efforts of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. The herd has grown impressively in the past three years, with wildlife managers hoping to soon release more animals to supplement the expanding population.
October 19-23 will see five lucky hunters afield with elk tags in separate hunting zones. Issued through a drawing, one of four publicly allotted tags may be claimed by a nonresident. A fifth tag will be auctioned on Ebay by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Foundation. No matter how the hunt unfolds, this is truly history in the making.
Contact: www.state.tn.us/twra or (615)781-6500
Elk Population: 67,000
Bull/Cow Ratios: 15 to 80/100
Nonresidents: $65 hunting license, plus $388 general tag, $795 limited‑entry tag, or $1,500 premium limited‑entry tag (allows hunting in all weapon seasons within a unit)
Utah is viewed by many hunters as one of the top destinations for trophy bulls. However, Anise Aoude, big game coordinator, doesn’t believe there’s any magic in the air or potion in the water that nurtures Utah’s behemoth bulls. “Our trophy areas are just good because we limit permits,” he insists. Perhaps, but the state did produce the “Spider Bull” last fall, the current world record nontypical.
Elk enjoy rich habitat in the state, with populations remaining stable or trending upward. Aoude points out that current elk numbers “are determined by social aspects and landowner tolerance, not habitat.”
Overshadowed by its trophy units, Aoude reminds nonresident hunters that the state still offers over-the-counter bull tags. Most of these general bull seasons are regulated with spike-only restrictions. New for 2009 is a regulation change that also allows the harvest of spike bulls in limited-entry units with an over-the-counter tag. Fewer unlimited areas allow hunting for any-bull. Most of these are found in designated Wilderness Areas on the north and south slopes of the Uinta Mountains. Success rates run around 15 percent, but these are desirable hunts for folks willing to test their mettle in wild, demanding terrain.
Contact: www.wildlife.utah.gov/hunting or (801) 538-4700
Elk Population: 58,000
Bull/Cow Ratios: 12 to 20/100 in most units
Bull/cow ratios are at management objectives nearly everywhere. Couple that with a snowy but manageable winter where no areas suffered above‑average mortality, and Jerry Nelson, deer and elk section manager, is expecting a favorable hunting season. Bull/cow ratios in some Blue Mountains areas are running the highest in the state. Hunters should find excellent prospects in that range.
Overall elk numbers remain stable in the Evergreen State, with slight increases in the northeast and some decreases in the southwest where managers have moved aggressively to trim the herd in the Mt. St. Helens area. Washington still offers over‑the‑counter bull tags for Roosevelt’s elk in the west and Rocky Mountain elk in the east. Bulls must have at least three points on one antler in the west, while spikes-only can be taken on a general tag in the east.
Nelson encourages all hunters to diligently participate in the state’s mandatory harvest reporting. “Having this information in an accurate and timely manner greatly helps us with management, ultimately benefiting hunters and elk.”
Contact: www.wdfw.wa.gov or (360) 902-2515
Elk Population: 105,000
Bull/Cow Ratios: 11 to 40/100
Nonresidents: $577 for regular drawing, $1057 for special drawing, $288 for cow/calf.
“This is a noteworthy era in elk history,” reports Jeff Obrecht, chief information officer with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Noteworthy, he explains, because the Cowboy State elk populations are at or above objective. Elk hunting opportunities have never been higher. Antlerless tags are abundant, ramping up the odds of filling a freezer with white‑paper packages of succulent elk entrees.
Burgeoning populations in the Laramie Peak area in the central portion of the state have prompted an increase in tag numbers. However, Obrecht cautions that public access to this elk factory is problematic. National Forest lands are highly fragmented and private land is heavily leased.
But, the Laramie Peak region isn’t the only area with abundant elk. Wapiti numbers are still over management objectives in the Snowy Range and the Sierra Madre Mountains in the south. According to Obrecht, they’re also faring well in the Wyoming Range between Big Piney and Afton.
Despite better moisture and snowpack last year, reduced forage on winter range in the southwest has left elk struggling. Calf recruitment problems, most reasonably attributed to predation by wolves and bears, are slowly denting elk numbers on the west side of Yellowstone National Park. Bull-to-cow ratios remain low east of Jackson where biologists are observing just 11 bulls to 100 cows.
Despite these localized troubled areas, hunters can anticipate another exceptional elk season in the Cowboy State. Beyond the year-to-year tweaks in tag numbers, the game and fish department is radically altering the way it sells leftover tags after the drawing in 2009. Instead of a second drawing, all leftover tags went on sale on a first-come, first-served basis in early July. The leftover licenses will be available online or from in-state license providers.
Contact: http://gf.state.wy.us or (307) 777-4600
Writer/photographer Jack Ballard has hunted elk in the Rockies for over 30 years. He authored Elk Hunting Montana: Finding Success on the Best Public Lands.