Elk Hunting: The Best State You Can Hunt Elk In

Elk Hunting: The Best State You Can Hunt Elk In

Elk Hunting: The Best State You Can Hunt Elk In

What states have elk hunting? If you want answers to this question, you will be happy to know that the U.S. has over a million wild elk spread across several states. Most elk hunters gravitate towards hunting states like Colorado, Wyoming, and Oregon because they have high elk populations and bountiful hunting grounds.

However, not every state with a substantial elk population has accommodating elk hunting laws. To help you with planning a successful and enjoyable elk hunting trip, we’ve researched and compared several locations to help you find the best state for elk hunting.

So Where’s the Best Place to Hunt Elk?

After asking several hunters about the best place to hunt elk, we discovered that opinions vary. Some hunters prefer certain states for their high elk population, while others prefer states that attract fewer beginner hunters.

Below are some of the best elk hunting states our research revealed and the benefits that set these states apart from other elk hunting places:


According to data gathered by the Wildlife Informer, Colorado has an elk population of about 290,000 – the largest in the U.S. and more than double what you can find in other top elk hunting states. The high elk population makes Colorado arguably the best place to elk hunt if you are a beginner.

Veterans also enjoy hunting in Colorado because it offers the cheapest elk tags, which you can get over-the-counter via phone, online, or licensed agents. Even better, Colorado has millions of acres of public land where you can hunt elk, making it the best state to hunt elk on public land.

If you prefer less crowded hunting areas, you can find private elk hunting grounds in various parts of the state. Another feature that brings thousands of elk hunters to Colorado yearly is the high hunting success rate. Since the state has one of the highest elk harvests each year, you have a good chance of bagging an elk if you hunt in Colorado.

While Colorado has a high elk population, not every part of the state offers good hunting. According to Montana Decoy Co, the best elk hunting places in Colorado are:

  • Units 4 and 13 in Moffat and Routt counties
  • Unit 65 in Gunnison, Hinsdale, Montrose, and Ouray counties
  • Unit 22 in Rio Blanco and Garfield counties
  • Unit 11 in Moffat and Rio Blanco counties

However, you cannot hunt in these areas throughout the year. Archers and muzzleloaders can hunt elk in September, while rifle hunters hunt elk during specific weeks in October, November, December, and January. For more about elk hunting seasons and fees in Colorado, click here.

Since elk hunting season in Colorado occurs during the chillier months, you should wear waterproof and warm clothing while hunting. Colorado law also requires that hunters wear pink or daylight fluorescent orange outer garments. Wearing such clothing will reduce the risk of hunters shooting at you because they mistook you for prey.

Do you need a license to hunt in Colorado? To hunt elk in Colorado, residents and non-residents need a hunter education license and a big game hunting license. Hunting elk without a license can lead to fines between $250 and $1,000. For more on applying to hunt elk in the Centennial State, visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife site.


Even though Idaho does not have as many elk as Colorado, many hunters consider it a top contender for the best state for elk hunting. The elk population within the state stands at around 120,000, and Idaho’s elk hunting success rate stands at 20 to 25%.

Since elk typically avoid populated and high-traffic areas, you may need to travel deep into the Idaho wilderness to find prey. The adventure is worthwhile because Idaho has beautiful outdoors, and you have a high chance of returning with a cow or bull.

Most of the Idaho hunting grounds with the highest elk populations are fortunately on public land. However, you can choose to hunt on privately owned properties that allow elk hunting. Some of the most sought-after zones for elk hunting in Idaho include:

  • Units 22, 32, and 32A in Weiser River
  • Units 30 and 30A in Beaver Head
  • Units 1 and 4 in Panhandle
  • Units 36A, 49, and 50 in Pioneer
  • Units 46, 55, 56, and 57 in the South Hills
  • Units 23 and 24 in McCall
  • Units 40, 41, and 42 in Owyhee

Click here for more on the best place to hunt elk in Idaho.

General elk hunting season in Idaho is from August 1st to December 20th. However, note that each zone has its own rules regarding hunting times and taking methods, and these rules regularly change. You can get the most up-to-date information by reading the latest Idaho big game rule book.

Archers, muzzleloaders, and rifle hunters are all welcome to hunt elk in Idaho. However, before hunting, you need to get the correct tags. Residents and non-residents can purchase over-the-counter general season tags or controlled hunt tags.

Your tag will dictate the zones you can hunt and the type of weapon you can use. For example, A-tag holders can hunt with bows or muzzleloaders in some zones, while B-tag holders can hunt with rifles. Besides tags, you will need to pass a hunter education course if you were born after January 1st, 1975. You will also need resident or non-resident permits and licenses.

You do not have to dress for cold weather if hunting in August or September, but between October and December, you’ll need to dress warmly. Also, even though Idaho does not require big game hunters to wear orange outerwear, we still recommend wearing it for safety.


Montana is among the best elk hunting states for hunters looking for trophy game, such as big bulls. However, many of the hunting areas in the state have rugged landscapes that you will find taxing if you are out of shape or inexperienced. Hunters willing to brave the terrain have a good chance of bagging an elk, thanks to Montana’s impressive elk population – 120,000 to 150,000.

Most of the elk hunting in the Treasure State occurs on public land, and according to reports, 50% of elk harvests come from the southwest part of the state. However, not every public land in Montana is open for hunting. For instance, hunting in Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, or an Indian reservation is illegal.

Even if a particular public land is open for hunting, you need the proper licenses and permits before you can elk hunt there. Some of the licenses required to hunt elk in Montana include a:

  • Conservation license
  • Base hunting license
  • Carcass tag or license for the species you are hunting
  • Bow and arrow license for archer hunters
  • Hunter education certificate for people born after 1985
  • General elk combination license

For more about Montana’s elk hunting license requirements, click here.

Like most states, Montana divides its hunting grounds into hunting districts. According to Backcountry Chronicles, the top districts for Montana elk hunters are:

  • Unit 391 in Townsend
  • Units 392 and 446 in Canyon Perry Dam
  • Unit 393 in Ringling – Livingston
  • Units 311 and 312 in Bozeman
  • Unit 325 in Lima
  • Unit 590 in Roundup
  • Units 411 and 511 in Big Snowy Mountains

Hunting season for archers starts September 3rd and ends October 16th. On the other hand, the general hunting season is from October 22nd to November 27th. Montana also has shoulder seasons during which the state allows elk hunters to hunt in areas overpopulated with elk. If you are a muzzleloader hunter, you are in luck because Montana recently introduced muzzleloader heritage season.

Since snowy periods are the best time to hunt for elk, and Montana starts getting snow after September, elk hunters in the state need to dress warmly. Montana law also requires that big game hunters wear at least 400 square inches of orange clothing above the waist to improve visibility.


Now You Can Plan Your Next Elk Hunting Trip

Besides the three states that made our list, other states that many consider top states for elk hunting are Oregon, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona. The differing opinions indicate that the correct answer to what state has the best elk hunting will depend on who you ask and their hunting experience.

If you want to pick the best elk hunting state for your next adventure, go for a close-by destination that fits your budget. Also, pick the right elk hunting state by choosing one that can provide the type of hunting experience you desire.

For instance, Colorado is an excellent choice if you want a state where you will meet several hunters and easily find game. However, if you want a quiet hunting experience in a location where you won’t have to compete with several other hunters, a less visited location like Utah or Arizona may be a better choice.

The best place to elk hunt will also allow you to use your preferred elk hunting ammo and weapon. Also, do not forget to perfect how to aim for lethal shots and elk field dressing before you go hunting. These skills are necessary if you plan to have a hunting trip with a happy ending.

If you have other questions regarding how to prepare for a hunting trip, browse our blog and Frequently Asked Questions to find your answers.