When discussing over the counter rifle elk hunts, Colorado and Idaho are very popular states; and for good reason, because they both provide ample opportunity. However, Utah general elk hunting is often left out of the conversation, but Utah offers a lot to the DIY guy looking for a fall elk hunt. Utah has numerous over-the-counter units spread across the state where a tag can be purchased without participating in bonus points or the lottery. In these units archery tags are unlimited and for muzzleloader/rifle seasons there are 15,000 tags available between the two seasons. Any bull is legal for harvest, and in select units a cow tag is also available once you have purchased your license and bull tag. There are also spike only tags available in high quality units, but this blog will focus on the any-bull units.
As for cost, Utah has offered the most affordable non-resident elk tag for a while, although they have raised their tag prices slightly in 2020. Currently, a Utah general elk tag will cost you $593 and the hunting license is $72. Last year I purchased a cow tag for $92 in the unit I was hunting. However, this year with the increase in tag prices, expect to pay a little bit more for a cow. You can check on current Utah licenses and fees here. The rifle hunt usually begins around Oct. 5th and runs for ten days. The elk are in post rut and often migrate to wintering grounds sometime during this hunt, but if you hunt aggressively at the beginning you should be able to get on elk that are still bugling.
My 2019 Any Bull Hunt Experience
Last year I traveled to Utah with three friends to hunt Utah general elk season for the first time. We spent considerable time throughout summer scouting available over-the-counter units with the onX Hunt app and eventually settled on a unit and area four miles from the trailhead. We hiked into camp on opening morning, set up our tents, and were hunting by 11 am. The first day I saw two cows and a calf and jumped another elk out of its bed that I never saw.
On day two, my buddy Luke had an encounter with two different bulls that were bugling with a herd of cows. He was seconds away from squeezing off a shot on one bull when the bull spotted him and spooked. This gave us confidence going into day three that we could get on bulls that may still be bugling even though it was early October.
I had no action the morning of day three, but there was an area about four miles deeper into the backcountry that I wanted to hunt, so I set out for it mid-morning. Around lunchtime I found a lake and spent an hour catching arctic grayling, which was a first for me! I then spent the evening sitting on a meadow but saw no elk. As the sun began to set I began hiking back to camp, but after a few steps down the trail I heard a bugle in an adjacent meadow. I dropped my pack and crept into the meadow and immediately saw a cow standing about 200 yards away. Because I had no rifle rest, I crept towards her until I was about 100 yards away and steadied on a fallen tree. I shot and dropped her in her tracks.
As the rifle shot rang down the meadow, a large bull ran from the adjacent forest edge and stopped between me and the cow in complete confusion. I reloaded my rifle and shot. He never moved but just looked my direction, so I shot him once more. He then ran out of the meadow, so I followed suit. I ran into the next meadow where he stood 50 yards away staring at me with his head lowered, suggesting that he was hit. I shot him twice more and was finally out of rounds. Seconds later he swayed and fell over. I stood in disbelief, realizing I had filled both of my general season elk tags in Utah!
Expectations vs. Reality
I realize that my experience in Utah was exceptional, especially considering that this rifle tag usually has a success rate around 15%. When I return to hunt this area again someday, I do not expect things to work out so perfectly, but I will say that my group had a phenomenal experience on this hunt. We all saw elk, and most of us had an opportunity at a bull. In fact, one of my friends called in and harvested a bull the same day I shot my elk. So, our group had a success rate of 50% on bulls!
For those considering the general elk season I have a couple tips that I feel helped us be successful. 1) Pack way into the backcountry. I killed both of my elk over eight miles from the closest trailhead! 2) Hunt aggressively at the beginning of the hunt. Bulls were bugling the first three days of our hunt but eventually quit. Whether this was from hunting pressure, migration, or just the rut fading away, I believe the best chance of success on this hunt is the beginning.
If you are looking for more info on the current price of Utah general elk tags/licenses checkout the Utah DNR website here. For more information on the over-the-counter units that are available for this tag, checkout Backcountry Chronicles where you will find lots of helpful information on the various units. You can also learn more about Utah’s hunting units and their seasons on the Utah DNR Hunt Planner. If you are considering a Utah general elk hunt remember, licenses will go on sale mid-July and are normally sold out in a month. Goodluck!
Listen to my Utah general elk hunt podcasts for a day by day breakdown of the hunt recorded in the backcountry!