Should I Apply For Elk Tags? | | Eat. Sleep. HUNT ELK!

Should I Apply For Elk Tags?

2016_0111_Out of State Apps_Jason Phelps_800x400

Yes! Yes is the answer. Budget permitting, there is no reason not to be putting in for – or at least buying points for – some or all of the western elk states. With the exception of Idaho and New Mexico, a bonus point or preference point system is in place and often stands between you and drawing a tag for a “better than average” elk hunt.  This is in comparison to their over-the-counter (OTC) counterparts.  Now don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing OTC elk opportunities if one works hard enough, but by drawing a tag, the quality is better controlled through quotas and pressure and typically provides a higher quality hunting experience.


Like many others, I divide my elk hunting into three categories: Every Year (OTC), Every Few Years (3-5 years), and “When I can get them” (gambling).  The quality of bulls often seems to have a strong correlation with how hard the tags are to draw. I want to make sure that I’m hunting elk every year, so I currently have Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado and Montana (so far they have been under prescribed every year) where I can bowhunt for elk every year.

A Draw Tag Every Few Years

Jason Phelps' Washington BullBUT, what about applying for Bonus Points and preference points? What will that get me? Personally, it gives me a chance to hunt more and bigger bulls in country I might not see otherwise. On the 3-5 year plan, I have the ability to semi-plan for an out of state hunt. These hunts are typically fairly involved logistically. Venturing out on these types of hunts require advanced approval for time off from work, and often require a long drive and the sacrifice of being away from home and family for extended periods of time.

That is what I like about states like Wyoming, Colorado, and Arizona. Disregarding point creep, these states all have fairly predictable draw schedules. Depending on the desired hunting unit and points required, you can forecast approximately when you will draw a tag. It also gives me what I consider to be “bonus” opportunities to hunt elk outside of my standard OTC hunts.

In my opinion, success is directly related to opportunity. By applying out of state, you can increase your opportunity when you have a tag in your pocket.  You had better believe that when I draw a special tag in one of these other states, I will also figure out a way to combine an OTC elk hunt in the same year to expand my opportunity. In my hunting camp, the mantra that you will hear multiple times throughout the hunt is, “Keep punching the time clock…” In other words, the only way to kill an elk is to be hunting elk.

2008_0922_Elk_Corey_AZ1_smallLet’s take Wyoming, for example. In my opinion, Wyoming has done a great job of providing opportunity to the Non-resident elk hunter. They have multiple Type-9 archery-only tags, as well as Type-1 archery/rifle tags. In Wyoming, many draw strategies can be employed. Some guys will try to draw a general tag every 1 to 2 years. These tags may be a slightly “harder” elk hunt, but the potential for mature bulls is still a possibility in some areas.  Some may decide they only want to hunt there every 3-5 years.  These hunts will provide a better opportunity with a better chance of seeing and hunting mature bulls. Or, some hunters might treat Wyoming like a premium state and apply only for the max point units in an effort to hunt some of Wyoming’s trophy class bulls. You can tailor your application strategy depending on what you want to get out of your hunt. Opportunity, cost, trophy potential, number of elk, etc.… all of these things play into ones decision on how to apply.  I also take into account all the states I apply in and try to strike a balance between opportunity and quality. I also try to ensure that I don’t end up drawing a bunch of tags for the same year.

High Quality Hunts

Trevor MarquesI also apply for elk tags in states that I feel would be my “dream hunts”.  These hunts are ones that I may only draw once in my lifetime.  There is no predicting when I will draw these tags, but I still put in for them religiously.  States like Utah, Nevada, and Washington are states that I really have no idea when I will draw, but I do know that when I draw a tag there the hunt will be worth the wait.  These state’s premium tags are all known for excellent trophy quality, great elk numbers, and an overall quality hunt.  I like to think of myself as a “trophy hunter with a meat hunter’s trigger-finger”, but rest assured, when I draw one of these premium tags I will have someone else carry my quiver for me!

Fees and Dates

What about the Cost? Unfortunately, you have to pay to play the game, but the cost structure and fees vary greatly from state to state. Some states require you to front the cost of a license and tag, but refund all but a minimal application fee if you are unsuccessful. Some states require you to purchase a license in order to accumulate points. Others allow you to simply pay a minimal fee to “purchase” a bonus point for the years that you don’t want to draw. Many hunters, me included, have utilized a “Poor Man’s” application strategy to maximize the number of states we apply for. This involves applying online using a credit card, then paying the interest on the card for a couple months until the money is refunded.  That way you are only out a small amount of interest and the application fees if you don’t draw.

Application Summary ChartI have attached a chart with state-by-state license and tag fees for Non-residents, but I suggest that you read up on each individual state’s application process, as the process – and the fees – are subject to change.

That is enough talking about the trophy side of applying for elk hunts out of state. Now, it’s time to talk about the real reasons that are often overlooked. My past out-of-state hunts are some of the most treasured hunts I’ve been on. They often take place with friends and family, and from the moment we leave the driveway, these hunts are an adventure. Together, we get to explore awesome new country chasing the animals that we love.

Application Deadline ChartIf you are serious about expanding your elk hunting opportunities, there really isn’t a good reason for not applying out of state. Most states allow you to apply online, and most have easy-to-read and easy-to-follow websites that will answer any questions you may have regarding the application and draw process.

So, what are you waiting for?  Start applying for elk in other states across the west to extend your elk hunting opportunity and help guarantee yourself quality elk hunts in the near future.


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