Hunt Planner: Where to Get Over-the-Counter Elk Tags

elkNo. 1 on the bucket list for many readers of the BIG DEER blog, especially those who live east of the Mississippi, is to hunt elk. People ask me all the time, “Hanback, where should I go for elk?”

Most people who email me don’t want to spend a lot of time and money applying for an elk tag. While they would certainly love to shoot a big bull, most people I correspond with are not trophy hunters. They want to spend a reasonable amount of money for a license, go west for a week, experience all that the mountains and elk hunting have to offer, and stand a decent chance to get one.

If this sounds like you, the guys at BookYourHunt.com have put together information on where you can get an elk tag over the counter (OTC). While opportunities are limited, an OTC elk tag can be had.

Look to 3 states first: Colorado, Montana and Idaho.

In Colorado, OTC antlerless and either-sex tags are available for the archery season, and bull tags can be had for 2 of  the 4 rifle seasons in many areas. Also available are either-sex permits for some WMAs located in the plains.

In Idaho, home to some 107,000 elk, OTC tags are available in many general hunting units. Idaho is the last western state that most hunters think about, but it should be one of the first you consider for OTC elk.

While Montana has a March draw for elk tags, the state’s “leftover tag” program provides a good opportunity for non-residents. After the initial spring lottery drawing, if there are still tags left (usually there are) these tags are offered for OTC sale on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Many years I have purchased leftover elk and deer tags this way in Montana (I have one for the 2017 season in fact).  A leftover tag is good for either rifle or archery in many units across the state, but not in coveted trophy areas where only a few tags are issued each year.

You probably figured that  OTC elk hunting was not on option in the big-bull, draw states of Arizona, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah, and mostly that’s right. But BookYourHunt.com points out that Arizona and Wyoming sometimes offer limited OTC tags “in areas outside natural elk habitat” and where “success rates are very low.” This would be a tough, long-shot hunt, but at least you might be able to get a tag and go.

As for Utah and New Mexico, these states have landowner preference programs where ranchers and landowner/outfitters can obtain tags and sell them directly to their clients. This would essentially be an OTC tag purchase for you, though there is some paperwork involved.

You’re not getting any younger, and the older you get, the longer your bucket list grows.  While you might be able to squeak in a hunt in Colorado or Idaho this fall, now is the time to start planning your dream elk hunt for 2018.