Idaho Elk Hunting

When the romantic image of elk hunting takes shape inside a man’s mind, the vision is always backdropped by the West. The snow-capped Rocky Mountains, untouched meadows, and the thrill of an elk bugle heard in the distance. When it comes to finding elk, almost every western state has a hunting season but none compare to Idaho. 

Idaho Elk

elk stare down Gila Wilderness, New Mexico

Unlike some other states that boast a larger population of elk and huge swaths of private land to hunt on, Idaho stands on its own. Over 60% of land in the state is public and some of the best elk hunting is accessible by anyone who wants to get there. With more than 120,000 elk roaming throughout Idaho, there are plenty of opportunities for a successful harvest.

Are you thinking this all sounds great and you want to hunt in Idaho? Before you make your way to this mountainous paradise, be prepared for the reality that lives here. 


1. Mountainous Topography

There is a reason why so many people prefer Colorado and Wyoming to Idaho when it comes to elk hunting. Idaho is topographically extreme and finding flat hunting ground will not happen. The steep terrain also makes road-building next to impossible and once you get into the wilderness far enough, you will have to reach the elk on foot (or horseback). There is nothing easy about hunting elk in Idaho, it’s hard, it’s exhausting, and it’s fucking huge. Idaho has the largest wilderness areas in the country and more miles of roadless area than any other state.

2. Huge Elk Do Exist

There is a rumor that claims Idaho does not have trophy bulls. As much as I want to perpetuate this myth to keep everyone out of my hunting grounds, the fact is, we have huge bull elk. During my first hunting season, I spotted multiple 6×6 bulls and even a few 8×8. The reason why I’m telling you this is that I don’t think you have the physical endurance to hunt Idaho’s terrain. The elk can get big because most humans don’t have the courage to go after them where they live. 

Idaho Bowhunting

Cow Elk in the Gila Wilderness, New Mexico

Bowhunting is different than rifle hunting because of how close you have to be to the elk for a successful kill shot. And in Idaho, that means going into the right habitat. The number one predator for elk is people, which makes us their most feared predator. There are wolves and mountain lions but neither animal compares to humans. 

Elk are smart, they know people want to eat them and they recognize development as a sign humans exist. When looking for elk, you need to think like one. If you are within the visual range of a road, do you think an elk is going to be there during the hunting season? They understand roads bring humans and will be nowhere near them. 

My advice for Idaho archery elk hunting – hunt at least 1 mile from the nearest road. Luckily, there are literally thousands of acres out here that fit that category. Furthermore, elk are going to be high in elevation during the archery season. The month of September is generally mild in temperature and the winter snows have yet to fall. The herds will seek out the tops of the mountains to be as far away from people as possible. High elevation in the Idaho backcountry is generally between 7,000-8,000’. Getting this far out is hard work and your vehicle will most likely be a mile or more away from your hunting grounds. 

Over The Counter Elk Tags

The huge landscape and almost impossible terrain translate into over the counter elk tags for many elk zones in Idaho. Not all hunting zones are O.TC. but the ones that still offer world-class opportunities. The hard hunting conditions and strong elk population keep permits easy to acquire. With only 10% of archery hunters bagging an elk, many zones allow for cow, spike, and bull hunting. As they say in Idaho – “if it’s brown, it’s down.”

How To Get An Over The Counter Elk Tag

The process of getting a tag is relatively painless. Both residents and non-residents can purchase the tag the day-of from any sporting goods store. It’s Idaho which means every town sells permits. Prices are similar to surrounding states.

Archery Hunting For Elk In Idaho

If bowhunting an elk is the hardest method of harvest then Idaho archery hunting is the hardest form of elk hunting. Wild terrain and the lack of roads make finding elk incredibly difficult. The far distances and seemingly endless terrain makes the simple experience of even seeing an elk a long shot. Not everyone can successfully bowhunt elk and even fewer can brag about bagging an elk in Idaho.  

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