Utah Elk Hunting: The Limited Units, Part 1

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While I’m not particularly high on many of Utah’s general elk opportunities, their limited elk hunts are generally a different story.  Utah’s limited elk hunts can be further broken down by price: premium limited or standard limited.  At $795 (compared to $388) plus the $65 hunting license, there is quite a large premium charged for these tags.  Still, they are somewhat of a bargain compared to the $1,500 charged for the premium limited tags.  And in reality, your travel expenses will probably exceed the price of the limited tag. Sure it adds up, but the price also tends to weed out more casual applicants.  Even the residents are charged $280 for that tag and $508 for the premium limited.  So if you claim to hunt only for the meat, these tags are obviously not for you.  The premium limited entry tag is not for any kind of a different area, it just allows you to hunt during all of the limited seasons.  Since I’m writing this more for the nonresident who likely has a less than a week to hunt, there’s no really good reason to go for the premium tag.

The Utah limited tags are one of the great opportunities to hunt quality managed elk.  In most general or OTC areas throughout the west, the elk are managed for a maximum sustained yield.  Not so in these limited units.  Fewer than 20% of the bulls are harvested yearly in many Utah’s limited units, which allows for an excellent opportunity at an older age class bull.  Another important factor in most of the limited tags is that the hunting pressure is very low.  In many cases there is far less than one hunter per square mile of public land.  Success rates also tend to be much higher than your typical general unit, which can be a function of both accessibility and pressure.   This week I’ll just cover some of the units to avoid, next we can talk about which units to really focus on.

But of course there are some downsides to these hunts:  draw odds can be quite steep, and the cost of the tag is 50% higher than in Colorado.  Choosing to archery hunt will increase your odds substantially.  For example the Book Cliffs, Bitter Creek hunt, your odds of drawing are twice as good with archery equipment.  Odds are even better with a muzzleloader in some areas, so learn to read the drawing odds reports before you get your hopes up.  Another way to increase your odds is to apply for the late rifle bull hunts.  They are in mid November typically, as opposed to the early bull hunts in mid-September, which are in much higher demand.  The muzzleloader hunts are in late September through early October.

As with the general hunts, I’ll start with some areas you should probably avoid, then work our way up to some much better limited hunts.  The Cache hunts really ought to be left to the residents.  It’s a popular area to hunt because it’s so close to much of Utah’s population, not because the elk hunting is fantastic.  And still the nonresident draw odds are quite steep.  From the most recent data I’ve looked at, they are killing  a tremendous percentage of their bulls, over 70% in 2008.  So good luck finding anything over two years old.  And the pressure is still fairly intense.  The scary thing is that it would be even worse if it wasn’t a limited draw area. 

The Plateau units have a tremendous amount of public land, but still the elk here are harvested too heavily to interest me.  The success rates are mediocre, the sex ratio is about 10 bulls per 100 cows, and the elk density is nothing to write home about.  It’s more popular than it ought to be, with the Plateau/Boulder, Kaiparowits early bull nonresident tag draw odds are worse than 1 in 100.

In the Wasatch Mountains and Central Mountains you’re starting to get into some decent elk hunting.  But these places are not significantly better than some of the better general units I mentioned previously.  Once again, it’s popular because it’s National Forest close to home, not because it’s managed tightly.  There’s lots of public land, but there’s a ton of hunters, it’s not easy to draw, fair-but not great trophy potential (roughly 30% of the bulls harvested), and the success rates are middle of the road.  People without proper perspective may laud these units, but they’re really nothing special when you break down the numbers.  If your only experiences were with popular general units in Utah, Wyoming, Montana or Colorado, then I could see why you’d think it’s fantastic.

The Paunsaugunt area may ring a bell, but its famous for deer hunting not elk hunting.  While the trophy potential is poor here, the success rates are quite good (averaging close to 50%).  But as I said earlier it has more to do with access than elk numbers. 

So there’s your teaser of some of the poorest limited units Utah has to offer.  Most of those are popular for the wrong reasons:  they are close to home or they are in a large National Forest.  Next up we’ll get into some of the great units Utah has to offer, and we’ll take a good look at the drawing odds and I’ll try to point out some of the better values.