Wyoming Elk Hunting Overview
As I hinted at in the Wyoming combo article, I think I’m overdue for a Wyoming elk hunting overview. Wyoming is a very interesting state for elk hunting in that the elk are distributed throughout the entire state, even the plains. Sure there aren’t many, but there are far more elk in Eastern Wyoming than Eastern Colorado. Wyoming probably offers one of the greatest diversities of elk hunts in the nation. You can hunt them in the Red Desert, the Black Hills, the Pine Ridge, Thunder Basin Grasslands, the Bighorn Mountains, alongside Yellowstone National Park, inside the Tetons and the National Elk Refuge, in the canyons of the Green River around the Flaming Gorge, and dang near anywhere in between.
Acquiring an elk tag for Wyoming is not easy though. Few, if any bull tags go to leftovers, so the only “over the counter” options are cow tags. If you’re a resident, then you can pick up an unlimited tag, but these articles are more geared toward the nonresident hunter and I’m probably not going to tell you anything you don’t already know. Instead, you’ll have to draw a license if you want to go bull elk hunting.
Wyoming’s draw sneaks up on you if you do any late season hunting. The application deadline is typically January 31st. You must submit the full fee upfront, which $591, plus $50 if you want a preference point, so $641 or $1,121 for the “special” price, which I’ll get into. Wyoming has a mix of general units (where residents can hunt without a draw) and totally limited units, where even residents have to apply. There are no preference points for resident applications for elk, deer or antelope. Those draws are totally random. In limited quota units, 75% of the licenses are allocated to the preference point draw, where those with the most points get the tag, and the remaining 25% are allocated randomly. Now, stay with me, things get a little more confusing.
Wyoming also has a “special” price that you can pay. By dang near doubling the price of the license, you can participate in the special license drawing. On average, it seems to reduce the moderate demand licenses by one preference point, but has no effect on the highest demand licenses. So, a general license, which usually takes on point to draw, is now guaranteed at the special price. 40% of the nonresident license allocation goes to the special price drawing, while 60% goes to the normal price. There is still a 25% random draw among the special price applicants, just like the normal price applicants.
There is also a more convenient way of accumulating preference points. Wyoming allows you to purchase a preference point in the summer time for $50. This saves you from having to front the full license and application fee. I believe that the maximum number of preference points held by any applicant is presently just 5. The license demand is beginning to shake out, and it won’t be too many years before you can see what it will take to draw the top licenses. If you dream of hunting one of the premier, limited draw units in Wyoming, you need to start building points now. Yes, it may cost you $500 over the next 10 years, but at least you’ll have a shot at some of those hunts, unlike in Utah or Colorado.
Of all the quirks that Wyoming has, the most irritating to the DIY hunter is the fact that nonresidents are forbidden from hunting wilderness areas without a guide. It’s been challenged in court, and it’s not likely to change any time soon. You just have to deal with it and pick areas that are not too wilderness heavy if you don’t have a guide.
If you have a lot of time that you can set aside for a hunt, consider the general license, especially if you think you can hunt in Wyoming more than once during the fall. The general license will allow you to hunt any open season. And since Wyoming’s seasons vary unit by unit, you can potentially hunt with a rifle from mid September to mid November if you bounce around from unit to unit. You can also hunt with archery equipment beginning September 1st if there isn’t a specified, limited archery hunt in your unit. So, if you’re a resident of a nearby state with an open schedule, you may want to consider the general license.
However, the very best hunts, especially those outside of wilderness areas are going to be the limited quota licenses. As I alluded to in the opening paragraph, there a ton of different hunting style options. In some of the most accessible country, success rates are often extremely high. Other areas are limited due to the proximity of larger populations (if you can call any of Wyoming’s cities “large”). I’ll get into a breakdown of some of these limited quota options in the future, and I’ll also break down different types of hunts at your disposable with the general licenses.
For now, I’ll just leave you with a better topographical understanding of Wyoming’s elk country. Everyone knows about Yellowstone and the Tetons up in Northwest Wyoming. This is where the bulk of Wyoming’s elk are, and also the infamous wolves. Some of the elk densities in the mountains of Nothwest Wyoming approach those of some of Colorado’s most famous areas. Remember though, in much of this rugged country, you’ll have to deal with federally designated wilderness, and unless you’re with a guide, it’s off limits to you. Wyoming is the only place in the Rocky Mountains where there is a gap(which is why it’s always so windy-as all the wind is focused through a 100 mile gap). This is the I80 corridor, and the Bighorn Mountains stop northwest of Casper. Then south of Casper, the Laramie Mountains extend towards Wheatland. The Medicine Bows and the Park Range pop up west of Laramie. Outside of these areas, you have many different types of hilly and broken basin-type or canyon country, but few true mountains. Elk exist in healthy populations throughout all of these mountains.
However, there are many additional elk hot spots outside of the mountains. The Black Hills and Pine Ridge in Eastern Wyoming are one of the more overlooked areas with good elk populations. The Red Desert, the Flaming Gorge and the North Slope of the Wasatch Range provide great spot and stalk opportunities, without the wilderness settings. I could go on and I will in a future article, and for those who drew the general season elk tag, I’ll address some of your options next.