The United States is loaded with quality elk hunting. Everyone knows states like Colorado and Idaho host robust elk populations with plenty of opportunities for non-resident hunters to come in and realizing their dream of filling that bull tag. The hard part is figuring out a great area for your rifle or archery elk hunt that has plenty of animals, low hunting pressure, and hunting units with high success rates. If you're a new elk hunter, you have probably found the process of figuring out the best place to buy or apply for a tag a bit overwhelming. That's why today we aren't messing around. We are getting much more specific with some of our picks for the top hunting areas in the country. Most of these areas have tons of big bulls and a bevy of outfitters ready to help guide you on the hunt of a lifetime. There's literally something for everyone here based on location and terrain. You might be surprised to learn our top picks doesn't just include western states either. Getting an elk tag may not always be easy in some of these areas, but if you are fortunate enough to draw for one of these spots, you are in for the hunt of a lifetime.
1. Grand Junction, Colorado
Grand Junction, Colorado, could be called a hunter's mecca. Just wait until you hear bugling for the first time on a frosty morning here. No matter what direction you go, you're surrounded by prime hunting land for nearly 100 miles. And with the largest migratory rocky mountain elk herd in the county, you won't ever want to leave. Not only is there plenty of elk and beautiful scenery with the beautiful mountain ranges, but 70 to 80 percent of western Colorado is available to public hunters, giving you some over-the-counter (OTC) hunting opportunities few other states offer. For anyone looking to do a DIY-style rifle or archery hunt, Grand Junction is a great place to setup basecamp this hunting season.
2. Cody, Wyoming
"Buffalo Bill" Cody helped found this small city in 1896, and nearly everything in town bears the legendary hunter's name. This place may belong to Yellowstone tourists in the summer, but it's the place to be for bowhunters in the fall. The area hosts some truly giant bull elk. Oh, there are a ton of mule deer here too if you want to pursue both. With its beautiful scenery and picturesque landscape, you can hunt for a day around camp or consider going deeper into the wild. Wyoming offers you some of the most remote land in the lower 48, and with options of packing in on horses or mule, you can experience the hunting trip of a lifetime in this wilderness area.
3. Los Alamos, New Mexico
This one has an extremely tough lottery. There are a lot of hunters hoping for a tag. And truthfully, it can take years to be eligible to elk hunt in New Mexico. But if you're one of the lucky few who get drawn, Los Alamos offers public hunting that will give you an experience you won't ever forget. The main reason there is so much interest in Los Alamos is because the area has a near 80 percent success rate. It's hard to find better odds than that, making this one of the best elk hunting opportunities around. As a bonus, this area also consistently produces some of the magnificent trophy racks in the country. The only downside is that New Mexico mandates non-residents have a hunting guide, so you best be ready to fork over cash for this trip.
4. Coconino National Forest, Arizona
Many elk hunters know that Arizona has its fair share of trophy bulls. The Coconino National Forest is an especially special place for glassing and harvesting a big elk on public land. This is a great option for anyone looking for a greater challenge. No motor vehicles are allowed in the area, which automatically ratchets up the difficulty of any backcountry big game hunt. However, we can promise you won't mind too much once you set your eyes on some of the massive racks that come out of these woods. Yes, the lottery is a pain in the butt to wait for, but you are in for the archery or rifle hunt of a lifetime when you draw for this part of the state.
5. Ashley National Forest, Utah
Between the Flaming Gorge and the Uinta Mountains, the variety of wildlife you encounter in Utah's Ashley National Forest will astound you. And with a herd of over 68,000 elk, Utah is the place to be kill an elk. It's home to some of the best older bulls in the county. Case in point is Denny Austad's awesome 2008 bull that came from the area. The massive animal scored a whopping 478 5/8 inches and still stands as the Boone and Crockett world record for a non-typical elk. This animal is also proof you don't need access to private land for a prime chance at a world class animal. Austad's awesome bull was harvested on public land.
6. Craig, Colorado
One of the best things about hunting near the tiny town of Craig, Colorado is that only seven miles from town, there's a staggering million acres of public hunting grounds. And these areas are loaded with big elk. Not only is there ample hunting ground, but the area holds two of the largest known elk herds in North America. This area is located up in the northwestern part of the state, so it's only heavily trafficked by locals and the most serious hunters. Just make sure you get your exercise before hunting here. Most of the areas are above 5,000 feet in elevation and will take your breath away quite literally if you aren't prepared.
7. Gallatin National Forest, Montana
With over several million acres of prime elk hunting, Montana provides excellent hunting for both the novice and experienced. And with nearly 50 percent of the state's elk harvest coming from the southwest, Gallation National Forest is the place to be. With its Block Management Program, you can have access to some of the best public and private hunting lands in the state. But you best be in shape; Montana's rugged landscape makes for one of the most beautiful backdrops to hunt elk. The terrain also isn't for the faint of heart, or the weak-legged. Finding success here isn't easy, but it is extremely rewarding.
8. Siuslaw National Forest, Oregon
Hunting Roosevelt elk is an experience all its own, and there's no better place to do it than the Siuslaw National Forest in Oregon. This area covers approximately 630,000 acres, meaning there are plenty of chances to get away from it all and enjoy the peace and solitude of nature on your hunt. Aside from the great scenery, it's one of the top places in Oregon to shoot a trophy bull. Not only were 17 of the top 25 Boone and Crockett bulls harvested from this area, but with over 8,000 elk harvested from public lands each year, you're chances of a kill are greatly increased.
9. St. Joe's National Forest, Idaho
If you like to hunt in the vast wildness, then St. Joe's National Forest in Idaho's panhandle is another great option whether you prefer archery or rifle season. These woods give you a hunt you won't soon forget. The area will make you work for it, but that just adds to the satisfaction of a successful harvest. Due to the rapidly growing wolf population, elk numbers in northern Idaho are starting to fall. But that doesn't mean it's a bad experience. If you know what you're doing and you're looking for a challenge, you've met your match with St. Joe's.
10. Elk County, Pennsylvania
You may not get the giant trophy bulls you find out west, but Elk County, Pennsylvania, can easily be considered one of the best places to elk hunt east of the Mississippi. Nestled deep in the middle of the Allegheny Mountains, Elk County provides you with the opportunity to find huge herds sometimes so abundant you sometimes must drive through them. The only downside is that planning a trip to the Keystone state sometimes requires years of planning in advance. That's mostly because Pennsylvania's elk hunting runs on a lottery system, and there's only a limited supply of licenses available.
These picturesque spots across the country would make great vacations, which is a great excuse to get away. An extra bonus would be to bring back a trophy elk.