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Best States for Elk Hunting

What makes any state stand out for hunting are its opportunities for residents and non-residents alike, along with the quality and health of the animals you’re pursuing. When it comes to elk hunting, the best states have a lot in common–they have nice bulls. But by looking more deeply at the harvest data the Boone and Crockett Club has been collecting for more than a century, we’re able to empirically support this list of which might be a great state to hunt elk. 

And just for good measure, we reached out to a handful of our western-based onX Ambassadors to get their input on their favorite elk hunting states.

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Boone and Crockett Club + onX Hunt

onX Hunt has a long-standing partnership with the Boone and Crockett Club (B&C) that provides a “navigation tool that shows historical data kept by the Club on native North American big game trophies.” To support our partnership, we made available a series of Boone and Crockett Layers, including B&C Trophy Big Game Records (by species) and B&C Records for the Last 10 Years (by species). These Layers, available only to onX Premium, Premium Two-State, or Elite members, shows a heat map of the highest concentrations of Boone and Crockett record book trophies taken from 1830 to present (or the last 10 years depending on which Layer), shown by county and covering 16 big game species.

With these B&C Layers, you can conduct your own research and dig deeper (county by county) into where your next great elk hunt might happen.

Map of Best Elk Hunting States

Montana: Best State for Residents and a Public Land Bull

Montana still has it. By the numbers, it holds the number one spot for record typical bulls since 2010, but some tags are getting harder to pull, especially for non-residents (plus the cost of over $1,000 for an out-of-state elk license). However, with millions of acres of public land, some diligent scouting along with boots-on-the-ground scouting can put you in prime elk country. 

Sound like a recipe for success? Well, the key ingredient here is Montana’s high hunter success rate. In archery season alone most units report between a 20-40% success rate. 

“With a six-week archery season, followed by a five-week rifle season, then a nine-day muzzleloader season, all of which you can hunt with a general tag, Montana has the longest elk season of any state. And let’s not forget a cow-only shoulder season that goes into February. Montana is a land of opportunity!”- Steven Drake, Anyone’s Hunt

“Montana is extremely generous with its season dates. You don’t have to choose a weapon and with the expansive seasons, overcrowding shouldn’t be an issue. There is a ton of public ground and numerous districts where having onX Hunt will be critical for knowing with certainty that you are hunting where you’re allowed. Montana locals are friendly and extremely good hunters. I’d rather share the woods with great elk hunters, and Montana is full of them.” – Dan Staton, Elkshape

Montana Toprut Hot Tip

Montana’s premier limited entry bull permits are difficult to draw. As of last year, MT restricts hunters who drew an either-sex or brow-tined bull elk permit from hunting antlered elk in any other hunting district (for the duration specified on the permit). Don’t waste your hard-earned points on a unit with inaccessible elk and/or limited public land. Use Toprut to understand your odds and which units are ideal for your application strategy.

Draw Deadline: April 1

Take a closer look at Montana:

Colorado: Best Opportunities for Elk Hunting

Colorado: Best Opportunities for Elk Hunting

A lot of elk hunters set their sights on Colorado for elk hunting, and for good reason. With over a quarter-million elk in the state (the largest in the U.S.), Colorado is often thought of as the hands-down best state for a September or October hunt. 

The access to public land is very good, and there are over-the-counter either-sex archery tags, along with bull tags for rifle season that can be used in lots of places around the Centennial State. This state stands out because the ample elk population means there are literally thousands of opportunities for residents and non-resident hunters to tag an elk each year; whereas most other states only allow hundreds of harvests per season. 

“Colorado traditionally has had the best opportunity for anyone, residents and non-residents, wanting to hunt elk. Boasting the largest elk herd in the country at +/- 280,000 animals, a bunch of OTC tags for both archery and rifle, and a lot of public land, it is the best opportunity to hunt elk. You may not find that bull of a lifetime, as Colorado manages the state for quantity and opportunity, not quality, but you just might.” – Willi Schmidt, Pure Hunting

Colorado Toprut Hot Tip

Colorado has a ton of Over-the-Counter opportunities to hunt bull elk for both residents and non-residents. However, if you want to hunt a limited area or a cow you must enter the Colorado draw. Determine which units are best using Toprut to plan your application efficiently.

Draw Deadline: First Tuesday in April

Take a closer look at Colorado:

Utah: Best State for Drawing a Tag

Utah: Best State for Drawing a Tag

Utah has big bull elk. According to B&C, the Beehive State sits just behind Montana for the number of record typical bulls taken since 2010, and it’s in the top three for states when you combine both typical and non-typical bulls. 

But the better news is that Utah squares its drawing process so even first-time applicants have a chance of drawing an excellent elk tag. The way the state manages its draws is by drawing 50% of the available tags from a pool of applicants with the most bonus points, and then the remaining 50% of tags are drawn from all remaining applicants. So while it does improve your odds to build up bonus points, you could get lucky year one and be heading to Utah for an epic elk encounter.

Utah Toprut Hot Tip

Utah manages some units for mature bulls with targeted age classes >5 years old. These limited-entry hunts are some of the best in the country if you are looking for a trophy class animal, but the draw odds can be difficult to overcome. There are some hunt options that offer better odds than others, especially if you are a nonresident just starting out. To explore limited-entry elk hunts and their odds, browse the Toprut draw statistics.

Draw Deadline: Late April

Take a closer look at Utah:

Arizona: Best State for Typical and Non-Typical Elk

Arizona: Best State for Typical and Non-Typical Elk

When people say it’s hot in Arizona they’re usually talking about the temperature, but when it comes to elk hunting, the Grand Canyon State is burning with record typical and non-typical bull elk. They hold the combined record for most B&C entries since 2010.

The downside, however, is getting a tag can be quite difficult. Non-residents cannot draw more than 10% of all eligible hunting tags for any species, which puts more demand on guided hunts. 

But for those who keep at it, or want to get creative and go for late-season archery or rifle tags, there’s always hope. Start looking over the draw odds at Toprut to see what you’re up against, and you might just come up with the winning strategy. “Arizona has world-class elk hunting, but it is obviously a limited resource and highly coveted. In my opinion, AZ is a must-apply state given that 50% of their nonresident tags are completely random. I always swing for the fences when it comes to applying for an elk tag in this state. The elk numbers are good and the quality is great. I’ve hunted Arizona three times and I hope to make it a fourth.” – Dan Staton, Elkshape

Arizona Toprut Hot Tip

Arizona has some of the best elk hunts in the nation and is a must-apply-for state if a giant bull is your goal. Additionally, Arizona offers a number of late-season rifle elk hunts (in good units) that are outside of the rut but traditionally have much better draw odds.

Draw Deadline: First Tuesday in February

Take a closer look at Arizona:

Wyoming: Best State for Affordable and Available Elk Hunts

Wyoming: Best State for Affordable and Available Elk Hunts

There’s a lot to like about elk hunting in Wyoming. First, there are elk, about 110,000 of them. Second, a non-resident bull elk tag is under $600 (with a cow/calf tag at half that price). Third, many hunting units here have a 100% drawing success rate. That puts Wyoming high up on the elk hunting bucket list. 

Another bonus for non-resident hunters is that Wyoming has a preference point system just for non-residents, where 75% of available licenses in each hunt area and license type are devoted to the preference point drawing. This is helpful if you’re from out-of-state and want to target one of the harder tags to pull. 

As for B&C records go, Wyoming is actually ahead of Colorado for the number of typical bull elk harvested since 2010, and just behind Utah for combined typical and non-typical harvests. There are big elk in those hills if you want to go after them.

“Wyoming is such a great place to hunt, not only is it rich with elk numbers and access, but it’s also one of the cheapest states to apply for. This makes it a lot easier to plan out your hunt without breaking the bank every year.” – Trent Fisher, Born and Raised Outdoors

“Wyoming does an amazing job of managing its elk herd. The Cowboy State is always on my radar, with plenty of options, especially with a general tag. If you can hunt with a resident guide you’ll be able to access wilderness areas, which will open up a lot more opportunities. Their elk numbers are growing and their seasons are similar to Montana in that you can usually hunt archery and rifle dates with the same tag.” – Dan Staton, Elkshape

Wyoming Toprut Hot Tip

Historically, Wyoming’s General elk tag has provided a great balance of both reasonable draw odds and quality hunt experience for the non-resident applicant. In recent years, this tag has continued to get harder to draw but some changes are in the works for 2024 and beyond that may open some draw opportunities in select regions.

Draw Deadline: Non-residents: January 31. Residents: End of May

Take a closer look at Wyoming:

Ryan Newhouse

Though raised hunting squirrels and whitetails in the South, Ryan Newhouse has spent nearly the last two decades chasing Western big game in Montana and writing professionally about his travels and the craft beers he’s consumed along the way. He loves camping, fishing, boating, and teaching his two kids the art of building campfires and playing the ukulele. And yes, he’s related to Sewell Newhouse, inventor of the steel animal traps.