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Wyoming Elk Hunting: What to Know, Where to Go For That Big Bull

Wyoming Elk Hunting
Travis Smola

Wyoming is something of a hidden gem for elk.

When it comes to the top states for elk hunting, Wyoming is sometimes lost in the shuffle. It gets overshadowed a bit by states like Idaho and Colorado as the top destinations for a non-resident every hunting season. However, for those in the know, the Wyoming elk hunting season is among the best in North America.

The bulls are large, and success rates are usually high. It is the place to experience a true backcountry big game hunt away from some of the crowds that pack public lands on other states.

Today we will cover everything you need to know about Wyoming elk hunting from how to buy an elk tag to outfitters and potential places to hunt. The Equality state may just be your next big game hunting season destination.

Can non-residents hunt elk in Wyoming? And how do I get a tag?

Wyoming Elk Hunting
Travis Smola

Yes, non-residents can hunt for elk in Wyoming although these tags are doled out strictly by a draw system. Only residents can purchase over the counter elk tags and in limited areas. One must live in the state for 180 days before you can be a resident. So, if you just moved to Wyoming at the start of hunting season, you may be out of luck until the following year.

The application period for both resident and non-resident elk tags begins almost as soon as hunting ends in the calendar year. The application period starts in early January and the application deadline usually runs through the 31 each year. Drawings are held in May. Although the Wyoming Game and Fish Department usually offers up additional tags in a leftover draw to elk hunters in hunt areas that did not see as many applications later in the summer. That usually happens around June. Obviously, some areas will be easier to draw than others thanks to limited quotas of tags allotted.

If you are planning a hunt for a few years out, you will want to look at Wyoming's preference points system. This system is slightly different from other states where you get a point for an unsuccessful draw. No such luck with that here. In Wyoming, you must purchase preference points each year. If you are still years out from planning your hunt, the time to start buying points is now. They can be purchased from July until November. A non-resident elk preference point is $52 each year. Some of the most popular elk spots in the country could take up to seven points for a successful draw. If you are planning one of these harder-to-draw spots, you may have to wait a while.

Still, the reason you want to purchase them is because the Wyoming Game & Fish Department allocates 75 percent of available licenses of each type and area to the preference point drawing. You can try applying without them, but it ups your odds considerably of being drawn. Once you are drawn for a non-resident elk hunting license, it uses up your points, so apply carefully. There is also the non-resident special draw which offers better draw odds, but costs more than double in license fees. It is up to each hunter to determine if it is worth the money. Either way, applying for the drawings can only be done on the WGFD website and comes with a $15 application fee.

Once you are drawn, license fees for non-residents break down as follows:

  • Nonresident elk: $692
  • Nonresident cow/calf: $288
  • Nonresident landowner: $692
  • Nonresident landowner cow/calf $288
  • Nonresident Special: $1,268
  • Nonresident youth: $278
  • Nonresident youth cow/calf: $100
  • Nonresident youth landowner: $278
  • Nonresident youth landowner cow/calf: $100

That is about it. Do not forget your conservation stamp, which is required to hunt Wyoming and costs $21.50. The draw system for elk licenses is simple, but it plays out extremely slowly because the state of Wyoming also does draws for pronghorn antelope, mule deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and moose. It takes a while for them to process all the applicants. There are also a few special hunts you can apply for. One prime example is the antlerless cow elk hunt near Jackson Hole in Grand Teton National Park or the National Elk Refuge in Elk Hunt Areas 75 and 77. You may not be allowed to harvest a bull in these areas, but you will be treated to a hunt in some of the most scenic landscapes western Wyoming has to offer as your hunting backdrop.

Oh, and one other thing. Any full priced elk license in Wyoming comes with an annual fishing license included for free! So, if you want to add to your overall hunting experience, pack a rod and reel along for the trip for during your downtime! You could also pack some fishing in prior to your hunt as it is valid as soon as you receive your license, which is usually June. 

Where is the best elk hunting in Wyoming?

Wyoming Elk Hunting
Travis Smola

Before we go any further on this, we need to mention something important about any Wyoming hunt for big game in federally designated wilderness areas. If you are planning to hunt one of these places, such as a National Forest, you must have a licensed hunting guide or a resident companion with you. This rule applies specifically non-resident big game and trophy hunters, so do not get confused. Fortunately, there are plenty of Wyoming outfitters willing to take you on a guided elk hunt.

Outfitting is not cheap. You are looking at anywhere from $2,200 to nearly $7,000 depending on the guides and hunt areas. One bonus to hiring a guide is that many of these hunts take place on private land. This means you can enjoy rifle season or your archery hunt in peace and with less competition from the crowds. These hunts are usually offered from guides in three to six-day packages. The nice thing is there is usually something for everyone. Want to spend each night in a warm lodge with home-cooked meals? No problem. Want a true backcountry experience with canvas wall tents? There is usually a guide who provides that hunting experience too.

Choosing a place to hunt in Wyoming is not easy because there are so many animals there. While you cannot hunt Yellowstone, you can hunt the greater ecosystem. There are some truly giant bulls running around the northwest part of the state. The only problem is that your odds of getting drawn are extremely low. They dole out very few tags for these places to non-residents. Still, areas like hunt unit 58 saw success rates as high 92 percent in 2020. If you can get into a spot like this, you are in for a treat, especially on a bull elk hunt.

Other low draw areas with high success rates for non-residents include hunt units 11, 22, 18, 24, 30, 32, 58, 122, 123, 320, 344, and 430 to name a few. While the western side of the state holds some great elk opportunities, do not overlook places in the southeast and south-central parts of the state either. You have good odds of being drawn in places like hunt unit 7 Laramie Peak, which boasted a 62.7% success rate in 2020. Hunt units 6, 12, 13, 16, and 19 are solid. In the central part of the state, look at areas like 61 North Greybull River, which saw a 62.6& success rate. Areas 60, 63, 66, 67, and 68 are great places to try too.

Normally we include a list of season dates in a guide like this, but Wyoming's dates for archery elk, and rifle elk seasons vary sometimes depending on the area and there are too many to list here today. You can use the previous year's dates as a rough guide, but do not expect it to be spot on the following season. Scheduling a Wyoming elk hunt may require a little jostling of the schedule, but it is worth it for the opportunity and beautiful majesty of this state's natural areas.

Is the elk hunting good in Wyoming?

Absolutely. It usually only takes one visit for most hunters to get hooked on the Equality State. It truly is a place for a monster bull of 300 to 350 inches or more. And the nice thing is that Wyoming usually sees less pressure than neighboring Idaho, which is cheaper to hunt, but sees more pressure from out of state hunters as a result. That little bit of extra cost is worth it for the extra peace and solitude offered on many Wyoming elk hunts. Oh, and it never has a bad sunset. The scenery truly is second to none when it comes to great hunting backdrops. If you have been looking for a truly awesome place to have that hunt of a lifetime, Wyoming is a state to consider.

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For more outdoor content from Travis Smola, be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out his Geocaching and Outdoors with Travis YouTube channels

NEXT: THE AXIS DEER AND HOW THEY'RE IMPACTING PARTS OF THE UNITED STATES

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Wyoming Elk Hunting: What to Know, Where to Go For That Big Bull