The Real Cost of Going On an Elk Hunt

I don’t personally know any hunter who doesn’t dream of going elk hunting. But for many, elk hunting never becomes more than just that – a dream. There are so many obstacles and unknowns, that it truly can become paralyzing, to the point that the dream never gets legs and becomes a reality. Trying to understand how to obtain tags, learning how to use elk calls, navigating the overwhelming list of elk-hunting-specific gear…and none of these concerns even begin to address the actual tactics for finding, hunting, and killing an elk! And then there are the costs…


I know that if you do a quick Google search for “the cost of an elk hunt”, you’ll see everything from $3000 for a DIY hunt to $14,000 for a basic guided hunt, and for most of us, we slouch back down in our seat, convinced that it’s simply too expensive to even start planning for. But the truth is, it isn’t.

Before I jump into the details of exactly what to expect, and exactly what to budget for to make your dream of going on an elk hunt a reality, let me address a couple of issues that are relevant to this discussion.

First, there has probably never been a better time to go elk hunting than right now. Elk numbers are robust in several states. E-scouting resources make it possible to effectively scout for elk without even stepping foot in an area. A plethora of detailed information is available to allow you to easily immerse yourself in all aspects of elk hunting instruction. Many of the hurdles that once stood in the way of planning your own elk hunting adventure have been lowered – or completely eliminated!

But it isn’t all rainbows and unicorns when it comes to going on an out-of-state elk hunt. We are already seeing the front-end of a movement that it is likely going to make it harder and harder in the near future to make your elk hunting dream a reality. Non-resident elk hunters are already capped in most states. That is, only a limited amount of elk tags are available for non-resident hunters to acquire. Additionally, almost all of the states that have historically been relatively easy for non-residents to obtain an elk tag in have recently proposed changes that will make it drastically harder in the near future.

Just this year, Wyoming proposed a bill that would have further restricted NR (non-resident) elk hunting opportunity from 16% of tags to “no more than” 10%, while also increasing the cost of NR elk licenses by 16%. Colorado took what were historically unlimited OTC (over-the-counter) archery elk tags in the SW corner of the state and turned them into a limited draw where NR’s are restricted to no more than 20-35% of limited draw tags. And Idaho just passed a rule beginning in December of 2020 that increases the cost of hunting licenses for NR from $153 to $183, elk tags from $415 to $650, and archery stamps from $18 to $80. And this is in addition to a reduction in NR big game hunting opportunity in the state.

Idaho has historically been one of the lower-priced states for a NR to hunt elk in, and for the remainder of 2020, it is still just $586 for an archery elk license/tag. But next year, this same opportunity will cost a NR $913 – an increase of 56%! And this increase in cost comes at the same time as the decrease in NR elk hunting opportunity.

In no way am I complaining or saying that the sky is falling. But I am saying that elk hunting for non-resident hunters is going to get harder and harder, and cost more and more in the very near future. Now is the time. If you have dreamed of going on a DIY elk hunt, stop dreaming and go! Seriously. Commit to planning out your elk hunt and going – if not this season, then during the 2021 season.

What Will It Really Cost?

In talking to thousands of hopeful elk hunters across the country, there is no doubt that the biggest obstacle “perceived” to be standing in their way is money. And I say “perceived” because they often express that they can’t afford $5000 to go on their dream elk hunt. Fortunately, it is possible to go elk hunting for much, much less.

Keep in mind that what I am going to share with you are average, estimated costs. There are several factors that could potentially swing the actual cost in both directions – but usually upward. As you add on more amenities (meat packers, hotels, success, etc.), the cost can climb rather rapidly.

Here is a general breakdown of what to expect in terms of the costs for a 7-8 day DIY Elk Hunting trip:

  • Nonresident License/Tags – $700 (2020 prices: Colorado $763, Idaho $571.50, Oregon $738.00, Wyoming $707, Montana $885) – note that some of these states add additional fees (currently nominal) for archery specific hunts.
  • Fuel – $300 (based on a 2000-mile round-trip drive at $2.50 per gallon in a vehicle that gets 17 mpg)
  • Essential Gear – $500 (updating gear, purchasing essential gear, etc.) – obviously, if you already have the gear, this can be minimized. If you don’t have anything other than a flashlight, you might need to spend a bit more.
  • Groceries – $200

Total cost to go on an out-of-state elk hunt – $1700

Having a partner with you will reduce the costs of fuel and maybe a little on the groceries, but cost-savings won’t be the greatest advantage of bringing someone with you. When you are successful, that extra helping hand (and back), will be far more valuable than the money you shaved off the fuel bill.

And speaking of being successful….you could potentially incur some extra costs due to your success:

  • Meat Processing/Freezing – $250 – if you can do it on your own, great!
  • Taxidermy – $1000 – if you shoot a bull worthy of your living room wall, most taxidermists are going to charge you $800+ for a shoulder mount.

Realistically, I would recommend setting aside $2000 for an out-of-state elk hunt. You can shave a few dollars off that, but more than likely, you’ll end up adding a few by the time you get back home (again, depending on travel distance, if you stay in a hotel on the drive out, etc.).

While $2000 isn’t something to scoff at, it also isn’t a mark that is completely unobtainable. If it’s out of reach for this season, you have 18 months to start saving for next year. Finding a way to save $100 per month will absolutely get you in the ball park of making your elk hunting dreams a reality. Work some overtime, pick up a part-time job, or simply cut coffee or cable TV out of your budget, and you’ll be elk hunting in no time!

With the hurdle of finances out of the way, it’s time to start planning your hunt. And I have you covered in this area as well…

If you’re serious about going elk hunting, but aren’t sure where to start, you can Sign Up for the University of Elk Hunting Online Course right now using the special promo code of BUDGET20. You’re going to save $20 and receive immediate access to everything you need to help you prepare for every aspect of your successful elk hunt. From determining how to get elk tags and where to go, learning to use elk calls, and every other imaginable elk hunting tactic, plus everything that comes in between and after, the University of Elk Hunting Online Course is the most comprehensive and complete resource available to elk hunters.



Again, you can sign up today using the promo code BUDGET20, and you’ll get access to the UEH Online Course with 60 chapters filled with Elk Hunting gold that will walk you through every aspect of planning, preparing for, and going on a successful elk hunt.

And if you’re looking for more reinforcement on how you can pull off a successful elk hunt on a budget, check out the recent Elk Talk Podcast I did with Randy Newberg: CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO “THE DIMESTORE ELK HUNTER”

You can do this! The obstacles that once stood in your way have been diminished. Don’t let the opportunity to experience one of the most incredible hunting adventures slip by!