Best Elk Hunting State

Best Elk Hunting States in 2023

Elk hunting is a popular sport in many parts of the world. In the United States, the elk population has grown to the point where they are now considered to be overpopulated. That means that there are now more elk than there is space for them to live. This has led to a scarcity of elk permits and made it more difficult for hunters to find an appropriate place to go elk hunting.

If you are a hunter looking to get out into the great outdoors but can’t find any opportunities to hunt, look no further. The following list details the top states in the U.S. to go after elk.

Elk only exist in the U.S. in a few states; mostly, they are found close to the Rocky Mountains of western America. While some will have more of a chance than others depending on the size and quality of their populations, it is important to understand that not every east state has the same opportunity for these types, so I would recommend going over things to consider before going over Elk hunting.

best elk hunting states

How to Find the Best Elk Hunting States:

Well as you know, the United States is home to some of the most beautiful, abundant, and diverse wildlife populations in the world. Elks are no exception. There are an estimated 8.9 million elk in the lower 48 states, which makes them one of the more common big game species in America. To hunt elk in the U.S., you must first find the right state. Here’s how to find the best elk hunting states:

Measure Up Your State:

The number one factor in determining the best elk hunting states is the quality of the hunting habitat. When you’re measuring up your state, look for the following in particular:

  1. Elk populations: do your state’s elk populations have a steady population?
  2. Quality of habitat: what kind of quality does your state offer for big game species like elk?
  3. Hunting regulations: are there any restrictive regulations that might be detrimental to your experience?
  4. Public lands availability: are any public lands available for hunters in your state?
  5. Rules and regulations: are there any rules or laws that could inhibit or hinder your hunt?
  6. Purity of water sources: is the water supply pure enough to support a healthy population of elk?

Choose a Season:

Elk hunting seasons are not limited to a specific time of year. In fact, it’s best to find a state that has elk hunting seasons throughout the year. To do so, you should choose a state with mild winters. States with cold winters have trouble sustaining large populations of elk during the winter months.

If you want to hunt elk in Alaska, choose a state like Arizona or Utah that has multiple seasons throughout the year. If you want to hunt elk in California, choose a state like Wyoming or Idaho that has wild seasons only during the fall and winter months.

Decide on Your Pursuit:

Before you can find the best elk hunting states, you must determine what you want to hunt. If you’re looking for a guided elk hunt, there are many options in the U.S., but if you’re interested in a self-guided elk hunting adventure, your options are more limited. If you’re an experienced hunter and would like an expert to guide your hunt, then head to Montana or Wyoming.

If you’re new to this sport and just want to go on a hunt with no hassle or worries, search for a state that offers elk-season hunting options.

Determine the Area You’d Like to Hunt:

Before you start looking for elk hunting states, figure out what type of area you’re interested in. Do you want to hunt in a national forest or on private land? Do you live near a state park? The type of elk hunting area will help determine which states are the best options for your trip.

Learn About Your State’s Elk Population:

There are a couple of ways to find out how many elk there are in a specific state. The easiest way is to visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s website, which has been collecting data on elk populations since 1986. These surveys have included information on where hunters can go hunting, how many hunters per unit area were killed, and how many elk were hunted during the survey period.

If you want to know more about your state’s elk population, you can also contact your state wildlife agency. This will help you with certain aspects of finding an ideal hunting spot, such as what areas have the best habitat for elk or what times of year are good for hunting.

Now, I think it’s enough for any hunter to have this amount of basic information, now let’s jump over the main topic:

What are Best Elk Hunting States?

The list of best elk hunting states changes every year, for 2023 here are the best elk hunting states:

  1. Colorado – 233,000 Population Estimated
  2. Montana – 170,000 Population Estimated
  3. Wyoming – 110,200 Population Estimated
  4. Oregon – 125,000 Population Estimated
  5. Idaho – 120,000 Population Estimated
  6. Arizona – 35,000 Population Estimated
  7. Pennsylvania – 29,000 Population Estimated
  8. Utah – 5,199 Population Estimated
  9. Washington – 4,700 Population Estimated
  10. North Carolina – 150 – 200 Population Estimated

This data has been derived from the census.govworld population, and data commons organization.

And each map you are going to see below to list is coming from Infoplease.

Colorado – Best Elk Hunting State

map of mcolorado

Colorado comes first by leading the list of places with high marks in almost all of our metrics. If you need to guarantee that you have the chance and accessibility to get an elk, head to Colorado.

Colorado is one of the greatest places to be in order to find elk. Colorado is the state with the most elk. The population of Colorado’s elk over a large portion of a million makes up their biggest concentration on Earth.

That population leads to more out-of-state permits issued and more units to hunt. States tend to issue a few hundred elk licenses, while Colorado issues thousands of them. There are plenty of open spaces in the zones where you can draw a tag and hunt with lots of open spaces for a good shot. There are several bow and rifle hunting units in the state, but just a handful of archery-only zones.

The cost of an all-out permit is $604 for non-residents. Expect to pay more for a hunt in the USA, but it is well worth it. There’s always the potential for success. Colorado’s elk are not always rated with high trophies but they have a lot of big bulls, generally more than 300 inches.

Although these enormous bulls may not come with a record kill yet, they are still worth hunting for. These 350-inch bulls are rarer in Colorado, but any hunter can get one if they keep their eyes open for them.

Moreover, the state has an expansive range of forests, mountains, and plains that provide ample habitat for these beautiful animals.

This diversity means there’s something for every hunter out there! The state also provides many other ways to hunt such as muzzleloader season permits available through lottery systems so hunters can bag their game without having any restrictions on what they may use during this time period.

No other place will give you a better opportunity to find elk hunting than in Colorado

Montana – Best Elk Hunting in the United States

map of montana

The state of Montana is one of the best places to go elk hunting because it combines two factors: If you disregard the outstanding scenery, this might be your best chance at an elk. It’s also a great shot for taking home some real trophies!

The first factor to make a contribution to this is that Montana has been generally dismissed by elk hunters. The more southern states get a higher amount of hunting activity than Montana. This means that most units will have a 100% draw regardless of whether they don’t offer OTC tags for non-residents.

The cost of a tag is around $858. This makes it the most expensive state to hunt for non-residents. With so many hunters trying to buy up tags, neighboring states are filling up their big game units in Montana with no room for new hunters. 

Montana has the second largest population with more than 10 Million last time anyone checked. These are scattered over a wide range, and they have higher concentrations near the Colorado Rockies on their border with Wyoming. Attempting to land one of these units would give you a decent shot at killing something. 

Most units, when using archery equipment alone, experience success rates in the 20-40% range. When a rifle is used instead of an arrow, the numbers just go up. Colorado and Wyoming are both states in the US, but they have a lot of trophies. Their bigger land territory also makes them more rare animals than those living in dense forests.

It is because of their small size that this difference exists between Colorado and Wyoming, which live on earth without much competition for food or resources. Lower elevations in the southwest corner of your state are a good option if you’re just starting out.

Wyoming – The State with Best Chance at A Tag

map of wyoming

Wyoming may not be the largest population of elks, but it has many opportunities that make it stand out. The elk population in Wyoming is a good one. They thrive well and have been able to bounce back from the change of their habitat over time.

Wyoming has always had high numbers of elks so there are plenty of opportunities for these creatures to roam free across the state! These boundaries make it difficult for predators, however; this might be why they seem more abundant than other places that border areas with less wildlife like Nebraska or Montana.

The most stunning hunts in the Rocky Mountains are those that take place on the low passes. A hunt here will be a true experience for nature and wildlife lovers. The vast majority of these properties have the potential to be part of great hunts, however, most have elk in lower-elevation areas.

Wyoming does not require non-residents to use OTC tags as other states do. Most units here have a 100% chance of finding an OTC tag, so your chances of getting one are really good. The cost for labeling tags is $577 and can be added to a bow or rifle purchase. Archery tags are available for an additional fee in the event that you don’t get one with your bow.

Wyoming is becoming one of the best elk hunting states with excellent elk that surpass 350 inches in length each year. A large number of them can be found in the lower spans of the mountains. Regardless if you don’t manage to take a shot at one or not, Wyoming is probably still a good state for shooting an elk with big groups.

Oregon – Best Elk Hunting in The United States

map of oregon

Oregon is the only state on this list that has two species of elk. These are Roosevelt elk and common white-tail deer. Oregon State also offers hunting opportunities for these two species, something no other state on here can offer! They also have bigger Rocky Mountain selections and you can take either one with a single tag.

Elk populations are between 100,000 and 125,000. The two species consist of a half split among them. Oregon is home to a large number of American elks and may be among the largest herds in the United States. 

Oregon is not the cheapest state to get a license in. It has a high rate list price that comes with no sales tax and a higher non-resident tag cost. To be mentioned, the non-resident tag costs $735. Despite the high number of deer hunters and the low daily limit, many don’t mind paying for a fair chance.

It is well worth it to pay for this opportunity in order to bag that trophy buck or have a successful hunt, so even if there are fewer people hunting today than before, they still come back every year.

The main issue that kills people’s enthusiasm is the Oregon state problem. What if you could never get your hands on one of these units, no matter how hard you tried? Even with their over-the-counter status (meaning they’re not at all difficult to acquire), it would be nearly impossible.

Irritating right? If you are in a tough situation, it will be easier to take your unit tag however the difficulty of finding an adequate unit is not worth waiting for. There may also be other states available where it would be easy to find one.

The hunting in Oregon is said to be better than ever with the forests being dense, the views are grand and there’s a lot of game. It offers plenty of opportunities for a hunter to get great shots. One of the best places to hunt elk is in this state. The natural landscape offers a great place for unarguably excellent hunting experiences, and there’s nothing better than when you’re on your quest!

Idaho – Best Value Elk Hunting State

map of idaho

Idaho is the fastest-growing elk hunting state, but it’s still relatively unknown compared to other states. It offers a good experience with an abundant chance of success. Out-of-control fires, wolves, and elk have in the past demolished a population of them. Now they are making a solid comeback with Idaho being one of their best bets at this point on the list.

The population of Elk approximately ranges between 105,000 – 120,000.  Hunters have a variety of weapons that include ‘bows, muzzleloaders, and rifles. They boast some enormous meandering groups, and you can use a bow or muzzleloader with them to hunt, you are free to use whatever you want in terms of hunting methods.

The tag alone costs $571.50, which is the lowest and a bow will cost you an extra $20. In all, this is just about as cheap as it gets – and that’s not including the prices on tags! For the time being, non-residents can buy their tags OTC, but that may soon change likely due to the growth of its popularity as a destination.

In general, the odds of bagging an elk will be less in Idaho compared to its northern neighbors. There are certain states that have greater odds of scoring a bull or cow, however. In some cases, those with more opportunities to go hunting may find higher success rates in other regions.

With everything that has happened up to this point in Idaho, the main reason it is low on the list is because of its remote elk hunting zones which offer quite a trouble for hunting. It’s more difficult to travel and hunt here than much of America, so it’s ranked lower. Some animals may be easy to get, but they sell out fast. The elk is one of them. You have to work hard if you want an elk in Idaho.

Utah – Best Rocky Elk Hunting State

map of utah

Utah is a land of contrasts. It has the Rocky Mountains, vast desert landscapes, and abundant wildlife in general. This makes it an ideal spot for elk hunting.

The abundance of elk also makes this state a popular place to hunt deer.

Despite being overpopulated with elk, Utah still offers some of the best hunting opportunities in the country.

Arizona – Best Elk Hunting States

map of arizona

Many hunters of elk have long favored the southern states for their hunting experience, but logistics and other factors make this a less-than-ideal option. Although the hunting opportunities in this state are great, it’s low ranking on this list is due to some dangerous metrics.

In recent years, the issue of obtaining a tag has become more and more difficult. A major issue with obtaining a tag is the elk that are in places where they need to be removed for native farmers. With over-the-counter tags becoming scarce, those who wish to hunt elk must demonstrate that it is necessary, and not solely for their personal benefit.

For hunters, these are not perfect hunting locations by any stretch of the imagination. If you really want a good place to hunt, chances are that you’re going to have to wait it out.

Even Tags that are drawn can cost as much as $850, resultantly making New York the most expensive state to hunt. The settlement of Arizona is now the most populous state in the country. Despite this, it’s going to be a popular destination as units are filling up even faster than we thought. The truth is that this will probably happen without too much ado. ​​

The main reason for Arizona’s popularity as a hunting state is that it puts out lots of trophy bulls. There are many other states, such as Colorado and Wyoming, which also put these types of animals out a lot more often than the rest. The population density in those countries must be what makes them so popular to hunt there.

Despite having a tiny population, these animals are completely surrounded by wilderness. They’re able to travel over wetlands and marshlands easily with the help of fences that separate their camps from the outside world. Even a unit in Arizona is more likely to be robust and reliable. While you may need to get out there, the effort needed is much less than in other states. What you need are some tags!

Pennsylvania – Best Eastern Elk Hunting State

map of pennsylvania

It may not have been thought in the past that hunting in eastern states was up to par with western, but there are lots of elk on that side of the Mississippi who can be just as smart – you just need to be lucky. 

You need to be lucky for many reasons. For example, Pennsylvania contains a few thousand elk. Also, the state closely regulates their movements so they can’t escape. If you are looking to go hunting in another state, this implies that your hunt will be only a few days longer.

However, if you are planning on drawing permits for more than just one week of hunting and want some flexibility with where those hunts can take place, then the Mississippi deer season is the best option for you.

The cost to purchase a tag in Pennsylvania is $250 and it costs an elk hunter less than most other states (excluding eastern states). A big part of this, not surprisingly, has to do with the low hunting pressure within much of the state. Maybe you should try applying just to visualize if you are doing get a lucky break. You would only be picked once during the five-year time period, though.

Hunting in the east is more difficult than hunting in the west, and there are a few things you can do to make it easier. For example, if your budget allows for it (and if time permits), you may want to hire an expert guide from another state such as Pennsylvania who will show you new areas and help with your hunt. If you’re looking to hunt in the dense forests, it will be difficult. However, a good hunting unit might make up for this.


map of washington

You’ll also find elk in Washington State. This state is a great place to hunt because there are plenty of elk, making it one of the best states for hunting. 

Washington is also home to some of the best hunting areas and is an excellent place to hunt elk in general.

The state is well known for its abundance of big game animals and its exceptional hunting opportunities.

North Carolina

map of northcarolina

North Carolina is one of the best states in the USA for a hunter to go elk hunting. North Carolina boasts over 6 million acres of state land set aside for elk hunting. Additionally, there are many private ranches that offer elk hunting and deer hunting as well.

What’s more, this state is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country as well as some of the most challenging terrain.

This is not only an excellent state for a hunter to go elk hunting, but it is also a great place for an avid outdoorsman to take their family on a wilderness adventure.


Of course, this list of the top seven states is not exhaustive. There are many other states that you should consider as well! The best course of action is to apply for excellent elk hunting spots in many states so you can continually choose from the list. You’ll be able to do this until one state appears on your over-the-counter unit and state combo, at which point you’ll have gotten what you wanted.

Hunting is an exhilarating yet challenging experience that can last a lifetime. It’s like anything else in life- the more you learn, the better you will be at it. So why not check out our reviews on hunting boots and other kinds of equipment? Check here; best crossbow for deer hunting, best bow for elk hunting, and best elk hunting binoculars.

Hunting in Colorado is one of the best pieces of advice if you are looking for something with a small chance to be successful. If you are hunting specifically for large games like elk, moose, or deer, it may not make sense to hunt here. Find another more suitable location nearby that will give you your desired animal type and size such as Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Alaska is also worth considering because it offers some great trophy hunts too!

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