One of my elk hunting buddies and myself started planning an over the counter hunt in June. When it was time to leave in November, there were six of us going. Being able to add people to the hunt, right up to the time to leave, is only one good reason to buy over the counter tags. We went to Colorado that year, but there are other state’s with over the counter elk tags. I want to talk about some of them today.


Colorado is king of the state’s with over the counter elk tags. With abundant seasons and the largest elk herd in the country, the possibilities are endless. Most of the western half of the state is OTC for either archery or one of the many rifle seasons. In archery season expect the elk to be at higher elevations to beat the heat and insects. Look for water and seeps where the grass grows more lush. Cool north facing slopes in the dark timber are good bedding areas and preferred by big heavy bulls. High meadows are a great place to get in on the rutting action and can be very exciting. There are plenty of OTC second rifle season opportunities to choose from. The OTC hunter gets to enjoy a ten-day second rifle season right when the weather is starting to push the elk down out of the high country. Before we started archery hunting this was our preferred season because of the length and timing with the beginning of the migration. Colorado has millions of acres of public land and all of it is easily accessed. There are hundreds of campgrounds and miles and miles of well-kept trails with marked trail heads. ATV’s with a permit open up hunting opportunities for those not able to walk the miles it sometimes takes to find elk. Wilderness areas are accessible only by walking or horseback, so if you want the true back country experience a wilderness hunt is what you should look for.


Central Idaho has some of the most rugged and remote wilderness in the continental United States. With little access and vast road less areas, hunting in these middle units of Idaho can be a real challenge. If you’re a hunter looking for an adventure in the back country with a chance of seeing few other hunters, or maybe none, you need to be experienced and prepared. Some areas require many miles on horseback to reach and usually have no cell phone service. I recommend using an outfitter to hunt these wilderness areas. Elk numbers are below objectives in central Idaho due to wolf populations, but a quality hunt can still be had. This is a good area to harvest a gray wolf, so buy a tag. Southern Idaho holds some of the most sought after units in the state. Elk numbers are good and access is easy, to many areas, due to roads and numerous logging sites. Old logging roads make walking for miles and miles possible. Hunting pressure is high during the rut in these easy to access areas so early and late season hunts may be a better option, if you want to avoid the crowds. Elk numbers are good in northern Idaho. The terrain is steep and mountainous with dense evergreen timber so glassing will be limited. I suggest hunting this area during the rut to take advantage of locating bulls by their bugle. For less than $600 a nonresident can buy an over the counter elk tag in Idaho and have an amazing adventure. A nonresident elk tag can be used to tag a black bear, mountain lion, or gray wolf if you get the opportunity and don’t mind giving up your elk tag. The cost of a gray wolf tag is less than $35 and it’s a good idea to have one on hand no matter where you hunt in Idaho. To hunt remote wilderness areas, you really need to be honest about your fitness level and realistic about your ability. Idaho is a great state for an over the counter, public land hunt from a campground. Although hunter success rates are low, Idaho is a great place to go as an alternative if you didn’t draw a more coveted tag in another state.


Oregon has a lot to offer an OTC hunter with rocky mountain elk to the east and opportunity for Roosevelt elk to the west. For about $650.00 a nonresident can get a general hunting license with an elk tag. For an additional $16.00 each you can get a black bear and a cougar tag, with seasons that overlap archery and rifle seasons. Eastern Oregon has two regions to talk about for rocky mountain elk. The northeast region holds a lot of elk and there are 18 units available to the OTC archery hunter. This area has heavily timbered mountains mixed with meadows and large aspen groves. Spot and stalk hunting is effective along with decoy and cow calling sequences. Like most other places in the west elk have gone silent due hunting pressure from humans, canines and bears. Bear season runs almost the entire hunting season while wolves are still protected in Oregon. There are many acres of National Forest in the northeast so access is excellent. Finding a campground will be no problem either. The southeastern part of Oregon is all controlled archery hunts but OTC for rifle hunts. The terrain is mostly sage and juniper which is better for the rifle hunter anyway. This area has lots of public land with good access and large hunting units. In Oregon, you must choose a unit and weapon. There are also several rifle seasons to choose from. If you buy a deer or elk tag in Oregon, you must report on the tag at the end of January or you will be fined $25 the next time you buy a license in Oregon. Successful or not they want the information to use in the state’s management programs.

Leftover after the draw

There are three state’s to mention under this heading. Arizona, Nevada, and Montana. OK I know what you’re thinking and yes these are big trophy state’s with hard to draw tags, but they do put out over the counter tags. They are tags leftover after all draw applicants have received tags and the quota has not been met. Arizona leftover tags sale starts in April and is first come first served until license are sold out. Nevada leftover tags go on sale in July and are first come first served until sold out. Montana leftovers go on sale in August and are first come first served until sold out. Montana also sells returned deer and elk tags right up till the day before season opens. Nevada and Arizona leftover tags are usually in less desirable units and Montana leftovers are usually general unit tags. Availability of these tags vary from year to year but offer the last minute option of getting a great elk tag without the need to have or even use any preference points.


As you can see there are many options available to the hunter willing to put in the time researching state’s and units or areas within that state. I have listed six state’s with over the counter elk tags here to give you an idea of all the possible elk hunting adventures you can achieve through easy to get licenses. Some of the best hunting trips I’ve been on were OTC, DIY, public land hunts from a campground. Look into it. Give it a try. It will be a great learning experience and loads of fun.


HAPPY HUNTING                                                                             

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