The state of Utah is quite famous for its trophy elk hunting. However, you need to know how to navigate the regulations in order to take full advantage of what Utah has to offer. One nice thing about Utah is that you do not have to pay the full tag fee up front, but you are required to buy a nonrefundable hunting license at $65. Consider it an application fee. And the license fees for the hot units are pretty outrageous: $1,500 for the premium limited entry units (and they want $500 from residents), $795 for the so-called limited entry units, but just $388 for the basic maximum sustained yield units.
With that expensive hunting license fee, and some other screwy application rules, Utah’s draw odds aren’t unreasonable. Utah allows you to apply for deer, elk, antelope, moose, mountain goat and bighorn sheep, but you can only draw one of the above. Since deer is the first species through the application system, if you draw, you’re done, no more tags (with one notable exception). So if you’re serious about elk hunting in Utah, do not apply for easy to draw deer tags. Go ahead and apply for the other trophy species, as those are drawn after the elk tags. So if you don’t draw the elk tag, you can still be in the running for moose or mountain goat or whatever else you’re into. For a first time applicant, Utah also has the advantage of only 50% of their tags go to the applicants with the most bonus points (basically the same as preference points, but Utah has slightly different nomenclature and their preference points are only for the Northern Region Buck/Bull combo tag).
Before I can break things down, let me give you a quick lay of the land… Essentially, Utah is split down the middle by the Wasatch Range, with deserts to the east and west. The Uinta Mountains run east to west from the Wasatch Range, along the Utah/Wyoming Border, south of Evanston and the Flaming Gorge. The famed deer country of the Book Cliffs come out of Colorado, and run east to west in North-Central Utah along the Colorado border. Small, isolated mountain ranges also exist in Eastern Utah around Moab, Monticello and La Sal, and in the west around Trout Creek and Rosette.
The western deserts are true deserts and part of the Great Basin. The arid lands in the east shouldn’t really be called deserts. It’s all part of the Colorado Plateau, with huge rugged canyons and mesas.
Elevations extend from 2,000 feet all the way up to 13,500 feet, so both desert and alpine hunting opportunities are possible. Utah has no regulations to prevent wilderness hunting by nonresidents and public lands abound. Along the Wasatch Front, public access around the foothills of the I-15 corridor can sometimes be difficult, but outside of there you should have very few access problems. The BLM owns most of the desert country, and the Forest Service owns the vast majority of the mountainous country. Late season hunts are one of the few hunts where you might have some access issues for elk hunting because most of the important winter range is privately owned.
It’s difficult to a long way from a road throughout most of Utah. The Wilderness Areas are generally small, with most being less than 50,000 acres. The major exception would be the High Uinta Wilderness Area. At 450,000 acres it’s kind of the no-braner for a true alpine backpack or horseback early season hunt.
The vast majority of Utah’s population lives along the Wasatch Front (the western face, unlike Colorado’s Front Range where the people live along the east face). Salt Lake County, in North-Central Utah has twice the population of any other county in Utah. The only major population center in Southern Utah is St. George. This is important to note because people have the tendency to want to hunt near home. This can exaggerate the drawing odds in areas that are not particularly good hunting units. We’ll get into this aspect of Utah’s demography later as we delve into some of the overrated units.
Utah breaks its elk hunts down into 3 price structures so I’m going to focus on each price group and the important units in my future articles.