First season without a doubt. 5 year average drops from 36 in first to 24 to 14 by third season. I don't have all the 4th season data compiled, but you could compare those two. Any time you can hunt a controlled season it is better than an unlimited season.
But you might want to look into your tactics also. That being said, welcome to elk hunting, even during first season the average hunter only harvests once out of three years. So maybe this is your year?
A perk of majoring in wildlife biology in college is the plethora of hunting knowledge that you collect throughout your course load. One of the most important factors in whether an area can hold large quantities of animals or produce large antlers is forage.
Most universities, state schools and even community colleges offer basic botany courses and plant ID courses. Although it might not be feasable for the average middle age hunter to pay tuition and go back to college to learn hunting...