Elk as a general rule is the most broad topic when discussing North American big game hunting. The reason for this is because there is a broader price point, and diverse habitat, and styles of hunting available of any of the North American animals bar none. Knowing that if you ask the question of ‘Where can I hunt elk” of 10 really good elk hunters you will probably get 10 different answers.
If you are looking to plan a free range elk hunt there are elk hunts that are based around a horseback adventure with wall tents miles from a road this is available, if you would like to hunt them in a corn field in the midwest this is available, if you would prefer to hunt them in the closer to the east coast there are options in multiple states including Pennsylvania, Kentucky and now even some options in Tennessee. There are Roosevelts elk hunts up and down the west coast, Tule elk hunts in the marsh lands of California, and big bulls all throughout the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico, and even West Texas. There is great elk hunting from British Columbia to Saskatchewan in Canada, and even Roosevelt elk hunting on a few islands in Alaska. In short if you were to throw a dart at North America you are more likely to hit somewhere that offers an elk hunt than not.
Elk hunting can be magical.
No matter where you end up you are in for a good time, there is something truly special about elk, there is really nothing in the western hemisphere quite like them, a mature bull can tip the scales at over a thousand pounds, during the fall they stand in the forest and scream their heads off with an iconic bugle that will be an experience you will never forget. If you have never heard an elk bugle in the wild then you are missing out. And having a tag to hunt one while they are bugling can even be more fun.
Where you can hunt is just a start.
So let’s jump into it, where can you hunt elk? This is not a question that has straight forward answer as you might hope for. Just because elk exist and are available to hunt in one place or the other doesn’t mean you can simply purchase a permit or guided hunt and head out into the field. There are options like this, the three states that have this available for nonresident hunters are Oregon, Idaho, and Colorado. If you happen to be a resident of Wyoming or Montana these over-the-counter options are available as well, but only for residents. Now each of these states also have opportunities that hunters can hunt if they were able to draw through a lottery process typically the draw areas a state offers are managed for better hunting be it a higher population of elk or an older age class. The draw processes are different state to state but some lend themselves to a lower number of years or money invested in order to be successful.
Private land elk hunting.
So let’s talk about what to expect when looking to hunt in the different areas that elk exist. Starting in the east the two most prominent elk hunting states are going to be Pennsylvania and Kentucky. The draw process in Kentucky is a random drawing so it’s very similar to purchasing a raffle ticket. Pennsylvania on the other hand is more of a bonus point system and you are given extra raffle tickets for each of the years you are unsuccessful in drawing. Regardless of where you can expect a rather different experience than most places out west when hunting elk. You are almost certain to be on private land in each of these states and although there are options for hunters to hunt public land they are scarce and the success rates drop considerably when hunting these areas. For a permit that is so hard to come by planning a DIY public land hunt is not a good fit for these rare chances to hunt in the far east.
Resident only elk hunts.
As we move into the midwest Nebraska and Kansas are the most notable yet both states only offer their elk hunting to residents other than a couple of raffle options in Nebraska. These hunts are very different as you very well may be hunting elk in a cornfield or on small strips of timber on the edge of the prairie or some agriculture. The far northwest corner of Nebraska and the Blackhills of South Dakota are much more broken, has much more timber and is more of a classic elk hunt, but a hunt here could still culminate in a corn field without question in this part of the country.
Horseback elk hunts.
As we move further west we get into the heart of elk hunting in the world, these are the states that you most often think of when dreaming of an elk hunt. States like Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming and Montana. It’s worth mentioning that Nevada and Idaho belong on this list as well. This is where things can go in a hundred directions. If you are looking for more of a horseback experience with wall tents, dutch ovens and high mountain lakes you will need to focus on Colorado, Western Montana, and some parts of Wyoming. This style of hunting can be found in most all of the different states but is by far the most prominent in these three states. Planning a hunt like this outside of these states should be done carefully as there are few operations offering this style of hunt as their core offering.
Spot and stalk elk hunting.
States like Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada as a general rule hunt elk in a different way. These states rarely offer these backcountry style of hunts and if they do it is often in units with extensive wilderness areas. When hunting these units often the hunt will be staged out of a camp, a ranch house, or even possibly a lodge although rare. You can expect to drive to different areas of the units or ranch you are hunting. There is some level of hunting that is happening while in the vehicle but often you can expect to spend the days on your boots, but never to the extent that you will not be staying wherever you hunt is based out of. The days are often spent moving to and from different glassing locations and will be spending long amounts of time behind your optics preferably mounted on a tripod.
Still hunting elk.
As we continue to the west coast we get out of the core of the Rocky Mountain Elk hunting and get into the coastal elk, primarily the Roosevelt elk that live in the temperate forests from California to Alaska. There are also small populations of Tule elk found along the central coasts of California as well as some inland marshes in the center of the state. Hunting for these elk is very different from any other elk hunts in the country. The Roosevelt elk hunts again are very unlikely to be done in a pack in style hunt and are more day hunts. Some of the best still hunters in the country are Roosevelt elk hunters on the coasts. These hunters move through the woods on game trails, they use logging roads to cover ground and slowly and quietly as they look for a flick of an ear, or the slightest bit of movement through the dense cover.
Tule elk hunts.
The Tule elk hunts on the other hand are more about glassing large marshes that may not have ideal glassing locations as well as the fringe areas that are much more broken and allow for more conventional elk hunting.
Elk hunting by boat.
The elk hunting done in Alaska is Roosevelt elk hunting and done on a few islands including Afognak Island (the most northern portion of Kodiak Island) as well as a few other islands along the southeast coast. These hunts are unique as that you will need to access the island either by boat or plane. These are very remote hunts that are either conducted by spike camp style hunting or other times even Yachts where you will stay on the boat during the nights, skiffed to shore in the mornings where you will hunt from the beach each day up the mountains as you search for elk.
Elk hunting in Canada.
The elk hunting in British Columbia is a mix of Roosevelt elk and Rocky Mountain Elk and overall most hunters aren’t headed to British Columbia for elk as the focal species. Often if a hunter takes an elk in this province it is because there was an opportunity to take one while they were on a hunt for another species. The exception to this rule would be Roosevelt elk hunt planned on Vancouver Island which is considered one of the best places in the world for Roosevelt elk hunting and these hunts are more classic Rosey hunting. The rest of the province is primarily Rocky Mountain Elk hunting and depending on what kind of hunt you are booked on will dictate what style of hunting you will be hunting.
Once you move back to the east into Alberta and Saskatchewan there is a mix of mountain style hunts in the far west and move into both the prairie, large areas of agriculture and millions of acres of the Borealis Forest. The elk can be found throughout all of these different ecosystems but once you leave the mountain much of these hunts are more farmland style hunting which will often include lots of time behind the windshield covering lots of ground.
What kind of elk hunting experience do you want?
As you can now see, elk is such a broad topic, there are so many different places and styles of hunting when it comes to hunting elk. If you are looking for an intense mountain experience, or something less physical there is something for everyone who is interested in hunting these amazing animals. Each of them have different processes in place in order to secure a hunt but with a little planning and maybe a little luck each of them are obtainable.