5 Western States with Over-the-Counter Elk Tags for Non-residents for 2023

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By now, it shouldn’t be a secret that you can do a DIY elk hunt without winning the lottery.

So, if you want to hunt elk in the West, why does everyone tell you have to start building points in the various lottery or draw systems?

Sure, in order to get tags for a trophy bull in the best units and to hunt during times when there is less competition and when elk are bugling and distracted by the rut, you will have to draw a tag and you usually need a lot of points to do it. But that is a different article.

There are many units with general season tags or Over-the Counter (OTC) tags that offer a good chance at getting an elk, especially if you get an any sex elk tag.

Every year, it takes me about a week to navigate through 11 state websites and regulation pamphlets trying to find all the information that should be easy to find. What a pain, but hunting is an activity where we have no choice but to deal with the state bureaucracies.

For years, I have been gathering information about the different hunting seasons and elk tag combinations. It would be nice to have all this information in one place to help decide which hunts work best for us.

But each state has different regulations, terminology and hunting seasons, as well as different wildlife management histories and hunting cultures. On top of that, some states have changed the data they report. I will be lucky to condense all the data into 11 spreadsheets. More on that later.

When Table 1 was first published, I included eight states that offer various OTC elk tags to both residents and to Non-residents. But Wyoming and Montana no longer offered OTC tags to non-residents, but chances are still good to hunt elk in those states. I’ll explain below.

Table 1. General Elk Tags for Non-Residents in Five Western States for 2019 Elk Hunting Season

working on update

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State Any Bull Elk Brow-tined /3-point Spike Only Any Sex Elk Antlerless/ Cow or Calf Total Non-Res. Costs Colorado R – – A A $672 Bull/Any Elk, $507 cow/calf Idaho A-M-R ALW A-M-R A-M-R A-M-R $582 Oregon A-R A-R A-R A-R – $167 + $571 = $738 Utah A-M-R – A-M-R – included w/Archery only $65 + $339 = $458 ($700 multi season) Washington A-M-R A-M-R A-M-R A-M-R A-M-R $593.80 Arizonais a special case. Their only OTC tags are in areas where elk are not wanted; Non-Res cost is $825 (probably best left for locals) Montana# no longer offers OTC tags for non-residents – but manyunits have 100% draw; Non-Res Bull Elk $888 or $1,045 for Any Elk & Deer Combo; Cow Elk $275 Wyoming no longer offers OTC tags for non-residents – but many units have 100% draw and leftover tags may be available; Non-Res Elk $692 (cow/calf $288)

A = Archery, M = Muzzleloader, R = Rifle, ALW = Any Legal Weapon; info in the table is accurate to the best of my knowledge as of Jan 2020, but some changes may occur later.

California, Nevada and New Mexico do not offer any OTC Elk tags, so all elk tags in these states are limited entry only.

Some of the OTC tags are not limited except in certain units, while other tags may be limited state-wide. In that case, it is first come, first serve, so you might guess the best units will sell out fast, but many of these tags do not sell out until the hunt starts. In some states (like Idaho) if tags don’t sell by a certain date, anyone can buy them as a second tag.

I suggest getting a couple of buddies together and start planning a hunting trip. I’ve even done the budget for you (read here).

Surely, you know someone that lives in one of these seven states. If so, you will have a base to operate from. Even if you came to scout and didn’t hunt, you would have a blast, but why not get an OTC tag? It makes the hiking and scouting a little more interesting.

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*Arizona has special Over-the-Counter Nonpermit-tags for Elk

These tags are very limited and are only offered for specific locations where the Arizona Game and Fish Department do not want elk. Why wouldn’t the state want elk? Because they are mostly on private land and they cause problems for local ranchers. The areas and times of the hunts are subject to change (read more here). These tags are best for locals that have knowledge of the area and elk movements, so unless you have a friend that has that local knowledge, it is best to leave these tags for the locals.

#Montana Offers Combination Big Game or Elk Tags

Over-the-counter (OTC) tags are no longer available for non-residents. You will have to apply for what they call Combination Elk, Big game Combos (Deer and Elk) and Combination Deer licenses.

In past years, there were more people applying for these tags than the 17,000 quota, so they had a drawing to decide who got tags. The sale of these tags have been down for several years, partially because of rumors that the Montana elk populations are down because of wolves. Not true according to Montana biologists and according to harvest reports and elk populations objectives. Listen to what people say (or write), but look at the harvest reports for yourself.

Anyway, for the last several years, every non-resident that applied for a tag got one (read more). That has not been true for several years, but odds are still good for most units.

It has been over 25 years ago since I left small game hunting in the southern Piedmont and moved to live in elk country. For this transplanted southern boy, there is nothing like seeing big elk in the backcountry unless it’s seeing elk with a tag in your pocket.

I still get a kick from just watching a herd of cows and calves and compared to most white-tailed deer, even the calves look big. In fact, the average elk calf weighs more than a 4½ year old mule deer buck (read How Much Meat to Pack Out on an Elk or How Much Meat to Pack Out on a Mule Deer).

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Like everyone else, I am building points trying to draw one of those coveted limited entry bull elk tag here in my backyard.

But we still hunt every year with General Elk tags. We put meat in the freezer and we get to spend time in beautiful country and have a great time. We usually see lots of game and few other hunters. So why do OTC tags still seem like a big secret?

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Even Locals don’t Know about OTC Elk Tags

A few years ago, I met one of my neighbors for the first time after his dogs followed us home from a walk. I called the phone number on the dog collar and he came to pick them up. We talked for a while and when he mentioned he had horses, I asked him about using his horses to help pack out my next elk. He got pretty excited when I mentioned elk hunting, but said he hadn’t been able to hunt in the state since he moved here five years earlier because he hasn’t been able to draw a tag.

He was very surprised to learn our state has OTC bull elk tags plus a 50% chance to draw on several nearby units for cow elk hunts. I did him two favors that day. I know it’s a pain to carefully read your state’s (or any state’s) Big Game pamphlet, but you may be missing out if you don’t.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>