Last week we covered some of the less desirable options for Utah’s Limited Elk units. While some of those areas are in high demand, it generally has more to do with resident convenience than the quality of the hunting experience. We’ve also covered most of the general units, but the units we’re about to get into are the places that put Utah on the elk hunting map. While I was lukewarm at best in my descriptions of the previous offerings, these are some really hot units. If you draw a tag for one of these units, your excitement will be justifiable.
The Fillmore unit is a significant step up from any of the previous units we’ve covered. With success rates around 40%, you’re looking at a place where the elk hunting is extremely productive. The hunter pressure isn’t quite nonexistent, but the tremendous amount of public land reduces the public land hunter density to less than half a hunter per square mile of public land (that means twice as many square miles of public land as there are hunters). Trophy potential is very good, with approximately 20% of the bulls being harvested. While you’re unlikely to run across 10 year old bulls at that harvest rate, 5 to 7 year old bulls are not out of the question. Unfortunately, the big drawback here are the drawing odds. The Fillmore, Pahvant early hunt’s draw odds are pretty terrible (1 in 150), but your odds are much better for the late hunt (1 in 26) or muzzleloader hunt (1 in 30).
In the La Sal area, the numbers really start catching my attention. Any unit with less than 20% bull harvest should be considered a real trophy unit, and La Sal frequently has fewer than 15% of the bulls harvested. Remember folks, this includes the spike bulls harvested off of the general tag. Hunter pressure is extremely low, and public land is abundant. Elk density isn’t stupendous, but that’s really the case throughout most of Utah. Another nice thing here is that the draw odds are much better than say the Fillmore, Pahvant early hunt. The La Sal, Las Sal Mountains early hunt has odds of 1 in 34 and the late hunt is 1 in 20. Yeah, it’ll be a while before you draw, but at least you can count on drawing at some point in your lifetime.
Utah’s bonus point requirement for trophy units are steadily increasing just like the rest of the west, so if you’re just getting started, you’re way behind. I believe 17 points is the present maximum at this time, so the sad reality is, you’re just going to have to keep applying, and count on that 50% random draw in these higher demand units.
The Panguitch Lake hunts are an excellent option for those who aren’t quite as insistent on a really mature bull. Bulls are harvested in the mid 20% range, but the success rates are frequently over 50%, which is pretty stellar. Hunting pressure is extremely low, but the bull: cow ratio is more in line with a general unit at 20:100. Forget about the early hunt unless you’ve already accumulated a ton of bonus points though. Odds for the late hunt are pretty reasonable at 11 to 1.
In many ways, the Southwest Desert hunts are very similar to the Panguitch Lake hunts. Sex ratios are pretty low for high demand, limited units, bull harvest isn’t too special, and the elk density over the whole unit is pretty low. Of course, there are plenty of elk within a few small pockets, so the success rate is averaging over 55%. The early versus late odds are similar to Panguitch also with 1 in 92 for the early and 1 in 12 chance for the late hunt.
Mount Dutton should be compared to the La Sal hunts, but slightly better. The trophy potential, sex ratios and hunting pressure is similar, but Mount Dutton has twice the elk density of the La Sal area. The country and access is slightly tougher, but there’s still plenty of public land. Oh, and the draw odds are much better. For Utah, the Mount Dutton early hunt is a great value pick at 1 in 38 and for archery you’re looking at 1 in 11.
Another top value is the Oquirrh-Stansbury late hunt. There are no nonresident early permits available, but at just 1 in 6 odds for one of Utah’s top elk units, you’re looking at undersubscribed opportunity. Trophy potential is on par with the La Sal area and Mount Dutton (under 15% of the bulls being harvested) and hunting pressure is minimal. Elk density is pretty low, but they are locally abundant in a few hot spots and success has averaged an outstanding 82% the last 5 years!
I’d equate Monroe to the Southwest Desert and Panguitch hunts, only better. Shooting a Boone and Crockett class bull here is more of an exception than the rule (20% bull harvest), but you should still be able to find solid, mature bulls. This is where the world famous Spider Bull was harvested. Freaks like that bull are the exception, not the rule. The success rates average better than 75%, hunting pressure is nonexistent, bull:cow ratio is solid, but not great at 30:100. This unit may be sliding though, so keep an eye on what Utah does with the permit numbers. In the early and mid 2000s, success rates were over 90%, and that has really fallen off from the previous high standard recently.
Utah Spider Bull harvested in the fall of 2008.
The San Juan is one the highest demand trophy units in all of Utah. They kill less than 10% of the available bulls, but the success rates aren’t very stellar. It can be tough country, but the nonresident draw odds of 1 in 470 is the real deal breaker for me, as someone who doesn’t have enough points to ever feel like I have a legitimate shot of drawing.
The Book Cliffs are a better value in my opinion than the San Juan. The draw odds for the Book Cliffs Roadless area early hunt aren’t exactly a gimme, but at 1 in 65 are 7 times better than the San Juan. And the stats are every bit as good. There is a similar bull harvest, but the sex ratio is presently a bit higher in the San Juan. Success rates are generally higher in the Book Cliffs than in the San Juans, indicating the elk are a little easier to get at and the elk density is 8 times higher (though still no better than average for Utah).
So there you have it: the best of what Utah has to offer. I consider the La Sal and Oquirrh-Stansbury hunts to be amongst the best values for your draw odds. I still haven’t decided whether to throw my hat in for the Book Cliffs or Oquirrh-Stansbury for this year, but I dang sure wouldn’t waste my time with the San Juan. Yes, it’s a stellar unit, but you’ll never draw if you’re just now getting into the bonus point game.