These are all the states with over-the-counter elk tags available.
When it comes to elk hunting, many hunters probably have a similar story of frustration. You apply year after year for nonresident elk tags in a specific state with no success. In the meantime, you continue to get frustrated feeling like you will never draw that Utah limited entry or Arizona tag for a hunting unit. Wouldn't it be nice if instead of waiting for Wyoming or Montana to draw your name you could just get out and hunt some prime elk habitat this season?
Perhaps you feel like you are not getting any younger and a DIY-style elk hunt needs to happen sooner rather than later. Or perhaps you simply do not feel like putting in for a draw season after hunting season with nothing to show for it. We do not blame you, some of those drawings can have expensive entry fees for deer tags and pronghorn antelope let alone a hunting license for one of the most coveted big game animals of all time.
Whatever your reason for not wanting to wait may be, we have you covered with this definitive list of states that offer over-the-counter elk tags. So, what are you waiting for? Stop trying to get that difficult draw for a bull tag in a coveted unit and instead start hunting elk immediately this season! Note that these are the only states that offer these tags to non-residents. We have the resident-specific lists at the bottom.
Arguably the best western state in North America to go for an OTC elk hunt is Colorado. Heck, they may be the best state overall for any hunt for that matter thanks to their robust elk population and plethora of National Forests and other public hunting areas. However, we advise elk hunters to make sure they are reading the fine print before they buy because some of Colorado's OTC elk hunts are restricted to private land or public land only. Hunt unit 82 for example, has valid archery season licenses for either sex or cow elk on public lands only. OTC tags are available there for rifle season only on public lands for the second and third seasons. Just be aware that hunting pressure is likely going to be greater on public lands in OTC units than ones restricted to draw only. Be ready to do a fair amount of research to find the best hunting areas with the highest success rates.
The Gem State has a healthy elk herd, but there have been some concerns about overcrowding on public lands in recent seasons. Idaho Game and Fish still plans to sell OTC general season permits but starting this year nonresidents "will be limited to 10 to 15 percent of the total hunters in each elk zone or deer unit based on hunter participation estimates averaged over the last five years." Do not let that discourage you though, it only resulted in a reduction of 600 tags sold. And even though Idaho is first-come first-serve on these tags, there were still hundreds available out of the quota of 12,815 tags at the time of this writing in late September. Although you still may wan to buy early each year when tags go on sale in December. If only to ensure you get into a better area to hunt.
We will not lie, the main reason many people do not take advantage of Utah's OTC opportunities is because they are the leftover permits from their numerous big game drawings. These are almost always going to be in less desirable areas where competition is often fierce. However, getting drawn for premium big game hunting tags in Utah is often difficult, so for many hunters, this may be the only viable option for hunting the Beehive State. These tags go on sale around mid-July and are first-come, first-serve. So, the earlier you jump in to buy, the better the permit you are likely to get. These hunts may not be for everyone, but for the hardcore archery hunting enthusiast or muzzleloader hunter who likes a challenge, Utah's OTC elk tags deliver.
One of the more unique things about Oregon is the opportunity to pursue two different elk subspecies. You can hunt the Roosevelt elk in the western part of the state and Rocky Mountain elk in the eastern portion. In general, it is usually easier to get a nonresident OTC tag for firearm than an OTC archery tag. If you can gain access to certain private land areas, Oregon also sells a private land-only OTC antlerless elk damage tag for areas where the animals are starting to cause some serious property damage. If you just want meat and do not care about harvesting a large bull elk, it is a viable option. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife only asks hunters to secure permission to hunt before purchasing these tags. Mostly because they do not assist hunters with finding a place for their hunt.
This state is a bit unique in that most elk tags are OTC anyway. The only hard part is deciding where to hunt and what weapon to use. Because if you buy archery elk, you cannot use a firearm, rifle hunters cannot pick up a bow, etc. Washington also splits their state in two halves, east and west and you must choose what side you hunt. West offers better chances at a bigger bull, especially while bowhunting. Unfortunately, access to public land is more limited there. The east has more public land opportunities for the first time elk hunter. However, a large portion of that side of the state is spike bull only, especially the southeast corner. Do your research carefully to determine what tag and area is best for you before you buy. And remember, an east side tag cannot be used in the west and vice-versa.
States that offer OTC to residents-only.
There are a few states that offer OTC opportunities for elk. However, some states have taken to selling them only to residents. If you are a recent transplant to one of these places, make sure to look up the definition of resident first. Some states require you to maintain a permanent address within their borders longer than others. Wyoming for instance, requires you to have residence for a full 180 days before you are considered a resident. So, if you move there in late summer, odds are you are going to miss hunting the elk rut. The list of states that offer resident-only OTC elk tags is short. Montana is also on that list, as is Arizona and Kentucky. Although those last two states only offer tags as a control effort for elk that have spread beyond areas game and fish does not want them. Odds are not great in these hunts in most cases.
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