If you’re planning an out-of-state elk hunt, it’s time for some serious research. Where should you go? Can you go alone? What should you pack? If you’re overwhelmed by the number of decisions ahead, we’ll explore some great options to get you started. Out-of-state hunts offer experiences that hunting in your own area just can’t. You’ll have new land to explore, new animals to pursue, and new people to meet. In our experience, there aren’t many hunters who regret this incredible experience. Let’s look at what you can do to get started planning your most exciting hunt yet.
Where to Hunt
The decision of where to hunt can be the hardest choice you’ll make in preparation. While there are limited options on where you can hunt elk, there are still several great choices. Each state offers its own benefits and unique challenges. We’ve chosen our two favorites to help narrow down your choices.
Colorado is perhaps the most popular elk hunting destination due to its large population. In Colorado alone, there are an estimated quarter million or more elk, the largest population in the United States. Hunters love this state all year, particularly for September and October hunts. Access to vast amounts of public land is usually simple, and there are opportunities to purchase over-the-counter archery tags for doe or bull elk or rifle tags for bulls. Many states have stringent tag limitations to keep elk hunting in check, but in Colorado, the population is so large that tags are much easier to come by. Willi Schmidt of Pure Hunting says, “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 approximately 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.”
But while Colorado certainly takes the award for the most animals, Utah ranks among the best states for large bull elk. Utah sits just behind Montana for the record size of typical bulls taken since 2010. If you’re looking for a trophy-sized animal, this is the state to head to. Additionally, Utah’s tag system is set up to allow first-time applicants the ability to draw a great elk tag. We’ll explore more about permit systems in a moment, but simply put, Utah draws 50% of its tags from a bonus points pool and 50% from remaining applicants. While getting a tag in Utah may not be as simple as in Colorado, you will still have a good chance. Be sure to check local guidelines to know when applications must be submitted.
When heading to a new state with unique restrictions, it’s important to understand its permit system. Each state handles elk hunt permit distribution differently, which can confuse new out-of-state hunters. If you want to get a tag, knowing the ins and outs of your chosen state’s system is critical. There are many ways states go about this.
The simplest state rule to work within is the general elk season system. These states allow hunters to purchase tags over the counter, though some do require a submitted application. In the event that an application is required, these states usually still guarantee a tag. An example of this is Colorado. On the opposite side of the spectrum are preference point systems. In these states, a hunter must apply for a drawing to hunt in a specified area of the state; if the hunter is not chosen, they receive a preference point. When the next drawing happens, those preference points give priority to receive a tag. For example, a hunter with 4 preference points is guaranteed a tag before anyone with only 3 preference points.
Within these systems are many variations. Some states use a combination of random drawings and preference points, while others restrict even further. Having a backup plan when hunting in a state that limits tags is prudent. That way, if you miss out on a tag in your preferred state, you aren’t blocked out of an incredible elk hunt this year.
What to pack
Packing for any hunt is different for each hunter, but there are additional needs when heading far from home. A weeklong hunt requires more gear than a casual weekend excursion. While your packing list might differ from ours, here are some essentials we recommend.
The first things to pack are certainly your weapon, ammunition, and optics. Ensure your weapon is properly stored for travel, and be aware of any restrictions you may encounter, particularly if you’ll be flying. Pack enough ammunition for the entire hunt, as backups may not be available. Whether you’re rifle- or bow-hunting, we recommend binoculars and a spotting scope. For comfort, also consider a binocular harness.
There are basic food and water needs in any pack and a few extra items you’ll want to bring from home. A sturdy and sharp knife is necessary for setting up camp and butchering any elk you take down. For your game, also pack rubber gloves and sturdy game bags. Remember, elk may be larger than your regular targets, so a game bag that will hold up is essential. Also, toss in the basics like lighters, paracord, and a first aid kit. We also recommend sunglasses, a sturdy camera, and a solar charger for any devices.
We know planning an out-of-state hunt can be a surprising amount of work, but it can also be the best hunt of your life. And the more trips you take, the simpler this will become. Don’t make this a once-in-a-lifetime hunt; plan for elk this year, black bear next year, and maybe even bigger game in the future. With great planning and preparation, this will be a trip you’ll talk about for years to come. You’ll be telling your hunting friends about the time you bagged a huge elk, then pointing to those prized antlers on the wall.