Elk Hunting in Idaho: A Complete Beginner’s Guide

elk hunting in Idaho

Elk hunting in Idaho is a fantastic adventure to take on. With an above projective population of more than 130,000 elks, Idaho offers diverse and incredible hunting opportunities. You can pursue elk herds into the mountains or chase bulls among sagebrush and northern Idaho timbered ridges in this state.

Currently, Idaho offers over the counter tags, creating annual hunter engagement alongside hunting mature bulls in controlled situations.

What are the Regulations for Elk Hunting in Idaho?


How Are Elk Tags and Hunting in Idaho Managed?

The IDFG or the Idaho Department of Fish and Game is mandated with managing the elk management zones and units. There are 28 zones within which are 96 elk management units. 

In Idaho, OTC or over the counter tags can be bought for the general season. In all but one management zone and three management units, Idaho residents and non-residents get a chance to hunt elk with OTC tags. 

The tag system is two-tier, involving ‘A’ tags and ‘B’ tags. With an A tag, you get more opportunity for Idaho archery elk hunting as well as for muzzleloading firearms.

A B tag will offer opportunities to hunt elk with centerfire rifles. It’s up to you as an elk hunter which category you want to buy into, whether A or B tags. 

Options for the general elk hunting season with Idaho tags include rifles of any type, muzzleloader, and archery.

When looking at the latest information tables, I can see that a few changes have been made. Older hunts have been removed while elk hunting in Idaho on public land has improved. 

Elk Hunting in Idaho on Public Land

In Idaho, about 66% is public land. Of these, 20.4 million acres belong to the US forest service, while the Bureau of Land Management manages 11.6 million acres.

With another 2.7 million acres of state-owned land open to elk hunting, Idaho holds a total of nearly 35 million public land acres.

In Idaho, other than the managed elk hunting zones, public land hunts include;

  1. 74 units have 127 elk hunts where any legal rifle can be used
  2. 115 hunts in 87 units are open for Idaho archery elk hunting
  3. 37 units are for hunting with muzzleloader firearms
  4. Six units will offer short-range weapon opportunities

Within the three main weapon categories for elk hunting in Idaho on public land, up to six hunt options are offered. These hunts, alongside some short-range weapon hunts, include;

  • Hunts for antlered elk or Idaho bull hunts
  • Open elk hunts for both sexes 
  • Antlerless or Idaho cow elk hunts
  • Hunts for spike elk only
  • Antlerless or spike elk hunts 
  • Only brow tined elk bull hunts 

How to Undertake an Elk Hunt in Idaho

Whether in Idaho or any other place, elk hunting is a commitment that requires preparation. Practically a challenging task, elk hunters in Idaho fall into three categories like you and me.

These include hunters who purchase a guided elk hunt, drop camp hunting, and hunting with no assistance. 

Guided Elk Hunts in Idaho

While being the most expensive for hunters, a guided elk hunt will take care of all your supplies. There will be tents, horses, a base camp with several days of food, while any meat harvested will be processed and transported for you. 

The elk hunting guide also knows how to get you where there is elk, giving you a better chance of making the kill shot.

Drop Camp Elk Hunting 

Some outfitters and guides in Idaho will offer elk drop camp hunting. The outfit takes you to where you want to hunt elk, and after setting camp, leaves you to supply your own food.  

In this type of arrangement, there is no guarantee that you will see or shoot any elk. If you are able to hunt your game, meat processing may also not be included in the guide outfit’s itinerary. 

A guide may come back mid-hunt to check on you, but usually, they’ll pick you up at the end of your drop camp elk hunt. Drop camp outfits will charge each horse used when getting your hunting party in and out alongside any meat harvested.

Hunting Elk on Your Own in Idaho

This is the least expensive but most involving way to hunt elk, either on your own or as a group. A hunter must do their homework and have a good insight on where to find elk.

I prefer getting hold of a horse and setting out to a well-researched zone where my chances of decreasing the Idaho elk population are high. Afterward, I have a carrier for my harvest out of the wild without self-exerting and facing the risk of losing meat. 

Staying Better Prepared for the Requirements of Elk Hunt in Idaho

Many elk hunting guides I’ve come across tell me that the biggest challenge faced is the hunter client’s fitness. Elk is one of the largest deer species, and they live in open or steep terrain.

Hunting elk means getting close, which can prove challenging if you haven’t kept up a fitness regime all year. This may translate into coming home without any elk venison, especially if you were hunting without horses.

Closing the distance between you and the elk is paramount; otherwise, they move on. To keep up and efficiently carry the meat out of the field, muscle endurance and vigorous cardiovascular exercises should never cease.

Your shots need to be on point within a sitting, off-hand, or prone position. There are no opportunely situated branches or tree stumps for leaning your rifle or crossbow around when you need them in the wild.

If you are a centerfire tag B holder, don’t go for the long-range rifle when hunting Idaho’s elk population. These have proved to be a handicap for many elk hunters. 

Holding zero at 400 yards and overshooting at 200 yards won’t cut it. Instead, get close and zero at 200 yards to hold center at 250 yards. 

For Idaho archery elk hunting tag A holders, avoid over hunted legendary areas such as the No Return forest of Frank Church. While the scenery is postcard perfect, the success rate yield is only about 15%, meaning memories may all you get to take home. 

Take Advantage of Idaho’s Over the Counter Elk Hunting Tags

I recommend that you start with National Forest land if you are DIYing an elk hunt in Idaho. You can hunt in over 6,000 acres with a diverse elk population in Idaho with the readily available Over the Counter tags.

To better your chances at a controlled or limited entry elk tag, make a point of hunting with general season OTC tags. It may take a while before you have your go at prime bulls in a limited entry, but at least you won’t be an elk rookie.

While on Idaho cow elk hunts, your non-resident tag is also valid to take mountain lion, gray wolf, or black bear. If Idaho archery elk hunting is on your cards, high chances in units that offer over 75% success rates await.