Core Stories

How to Hunt Elk Every Year

A Randy Newberg Spotlight

As one of the lucky few who gets to hunt elk every year, I’m often asked, “How can I do that?” I usually answer with a couple questions of my own: “What does your budget and schedule allow?” And more importantly, “what type of bull are you looking for?”

Truth is, if money and time aren’t a worry for you, hunting elk in a bunch of states isn’t an issue. You can buy tags through guides or build years-worth of points while you wait to draw the perfect unit. But that’s not an investment everyone can make, which is why I’m going to focus on how you can hunt public land elk every year on just about any budget, the same way I like to hunt ‘em.

If you want to make sure you’re always in the game, you need to look for states that have good over-the-counter hunting options or leftover tags after the general draw. The three western locales you should focus on first are Colorado, Idaho, and Montana. Each one of these states provide out-of-state hunters with great opportunities to hunt elk almost every year. Better yet, they typically only require you to budget for a non-resident license, an elk tag, and travel/lodging costs. Let’s take a quick look at each state.


If you’d prefer to avoid a tag draw system altogether, Colorado is the place to be. Much of the state is a near-guarantee for the archery and muzzleloader hunter, and over 90 elk units have over-the-counter tags for the second and third rifle seasons. Colorado is also home to the largest elk herd in North America. You may not find yourself a true “Booner,” but the more elk, the better your odds of punching a tag.

  • Where to apply: Click here or visit a retail location in Colorado. 
  • Deadlines: The deadline for limited license applications is April 3. Leftover and over-the-counter licenses are available in early August.
  • Estimated costs: Non-resident elk tags are $661.
  • Where to go: Public land hunters in Colorado are going to find the west slope areas more accessible from a land ownership pattern. Colorado has 23 million acres of Forest Service and BLM lands, most of which is west of the Continental Divide.


For non-residents, Idaho remains a limited-quota state – meaning there are only so many tags available in some zones. First come, first served, until the zone quota is gone. Non-residents can purchase general elk tags valid for a specific “elk zone.” Thing is, in recent years, the state has had many general elk tags left unsold. Take advantage of opportunities like these or apply for the coveted “Controlled Hunt” elk tags that are harder to draw. To hunt elk in Idaho, you need a non-resident hunting license and an elk tag. That’s enough to gain access to any of the units in the general zone for archery and rifle hunts.

  • Where to apply: Click here
  • Deadlines: The controlled hunt application period is May 1-June 5. General non-resident tags are available now.
  • Estimated costs: A non-resident hunting license starts at $154.75. Elk tags start at $416.75.
  • Where to go: Idaho’s elk population is doing well on the public lands in the eastern and central regions of the state. Start there.


Montana, like Idaho, has had extra general elk tags available after its annual drawing in recent years, though fewer are available each year. Cashing in on an opportunity in Big Sky Country grants you unprecedented flexibility – the state is home to the longest seasons in the west. The general archery elk tag gives you six weeks, spanning the entire rut. If you’re looking for a public land trophy bull on a limited budget, a Montana archery tag just might be your answer.

  • Where to apply: Click here
  • Deadlines: The deadline for special drawing tags is March 15. Leftover tags would become available in early August.
  • Estimated costs: A non-resident elk license starts at $885. 
  • Where to go: Public land hunters should focus on western Montana – more specifically southwest Montana 

Longer-Term Drawing Strategy

If it’s the thought of a true trophy bull that keeps you up at night, you may want to consider applying for the many limited-tag draws across the west. Arizona, Wyoming, and New Mexico (no point system) are other states known for big elk where you should be able to draw a tag –  every six years, or so.

Even the states featured above, Colorado, Idaho, and Montana offer such draws in specific units, which are known for producing their best elk – and you can apply for or (in some cases) build points in Colorado and Montana without sacrificing your chance to hunt general or over-the-counter tags. If you’re willing to go the distance, you can absolutely hunt elk every year. Have rifle (or bow), will travel. Check out my video below for more details on my draw strategy.

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