guided elk hunts

Perhaps the most coveted of all big-game animals, a total of six subspecies of North American elk roamed the continent from coast to coast when the European settlers first arrived. However, the U.S. elk population had shrunk to less than 100,000 animals by the early 1900s due to market hunting and human encroachment. Today, thanks to aggressive conservation efforts, over 31 states have stable populations totaling well over one million animals.

Two of the subspecies of North America, the Eastern, and the Merriam’s elk, are extinct. The four remaining subspecies of elk still roaming North America are the Rocky Mountain, Roosevelt, Tule, and Manitoba. The Rocky Mountain elk are the most plentiful of the four and are somewhat lighter in color with slightly smaller bodies and larger antlers than the Roosevelt. The Tule elk are the smallest of the subspecies and exist only in California, whereas the Manitoba elk are found on the great plains of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Canada.

guided elk hunts

Roughly two-thirds of the states that hold elk offer hunting seasons, and many booking agents across the country offer luxury hunting tours for the various elk subspecies. However, not all elk-hunting states are created equal, and several factors must be taken into account when considering which states are the best to hunt. These factors include population size, access to hunting areas, license availability, and the number of trophy elk harvested each season. To help you narrow down your choices, here are the five best states for hunting trophy elk in the U.S.:

5) Oregon

Oregon holds some of the most stunning elk country in the U.S., with dense rain-forest like woodlands and high mountain peaks. The Beaver State earns a spot on the list because it offers opportunities for Rocky Mountain elk and holds the title of being the best state in the country for Roosevelt elk. Overall, Oregon holds one of the largest elk herds in North America at approximately 120,000 animals, with numbers being split evenly between the two subspecies, and hunters can use their tag for either species. While Oregon elk tags can be bought over the counter, the best units sell out quickly. However, tags in the more remote and harder-to-hunt areas are much easier to come by. Oregon also produces a larger percentage of trophy bulls per hunter each year than most of the more well-known elk-hunting states. All told, this sleeper state for elk is worthy of serious consideration.

hunting trophy elk

4) Montana

Montana is one of the long-standing elk-hunting favorites for a variety of reasons. Spectacular high-mountain scenery, abundant public lands, high elk numbers, and one of the highest hunter-success rates make Montana one of the best places on earth for hunting trophy elk. However, all the reasons that make Montana such a coveted destination are also the one fly in the Montana ointment as it can be exceptionally difficult for a non-resident to secure a tag. While residents have no quotas and can purchase their tag over the counter, non-residents must go through what many consider a complicated lottery draw process with a “preference point” system. Hunters earn one preference point for each year they enter a drawing and are not selected for a tag, and hunters accumulating the most preference points are given priority in the lottery. So, theoretically, the longer a hunter goes without drawing a tag, the more the odds of being drawn increase. The Big Sky State also has plenty of outfitters that provide guided elk hunts.

3) Idaho

With a population of around 125,000 head, the Gem State is another sleeper state that most hunters overlook. However, as it shares its eastern border with the Big Sky State, western Idaho has almost all of the same elk-hunting attributes as Montana. While most of Idaho’s elk population is found in the mountains, there are some hunting opportunities in the lower-lying regions in the state’s west. Additionally, tags can be purchased over the counter and for a more reasonable price than most of the big-name elk hunting states. However, the most accessible units sell out fast. Idaho consistently produces 350-inch class bulls each season, with most of those coming from the rugged Hell’s Canyon area and the steep mountains along the Montana border. Altogether, for hunters looking for an easy-to-obtain tag at a reasonable price along with the opportunity to score a trophy bull, Idaho should be on the shortlist.

2) Colorado

guided elk hunts

Holding the largest elk population in the country with over 250,000 animals and plenty of public lands to hunt on, Colorado is sure to provide a Rocky Mountain High to elk hunters. Colorado offers over-the-counter tags for residents and non-residents alike for both antlerless and antlered elk, along with over 13 million acres of public land. Colorado claims the largest annual harvest at over 30,000 animals each season and produces Pope and Young and Boone and Crockett records each year. September and October are the prime months to hunt elk in Colorado’s high country, and the vast majority of elk are found on the west side of the continental divide. The huge elk population scattered across a dozen National Forests and multiple parcels of BLM lands, along with a guaranteed tag, offers hunters opportunities many other states can’t provide and earns Colorado the number two spot of the best places to hunt elk in the U.S.

1) Arizona

While the Grand Canyon State, with it’s vast deserts and iconic saguaro cactus, may not come to mind as the best state for hunting trophy elk, Arizona has held both the typical and nontypical record book bulls since 2010. Even though Arizona has nowhere near the populations or harvest numbers of the rest of the west, with just over 9,000 head taken in 2022, Arizona consistently ranks at the top for producing trophy-class bulls. However, the bad news is Arizona has the lowest odds of drawing a tag of any state, and only 10 percent of the total allotment is awarded to non-residents. Nevertheless, for those lucky enough to draw a tag, the chance of harvesting a trophy bull is outstanding. Booking with an Arizona outfitter will increase your chances of success as well as the potential for a record-book bull. For example, Big Chino Guide Service has the deserved reputation for constantly harvesting bull elk, scoring 350 Boone and Crockett points and better. Big Chino offers fully outfitted guided elk hunts for all archery, rifle, and muzzle-loader seasons in most hunting units in eastern, central, and northern Arizona.

For the next few years, there is a special off-season Elk Hunt with a guaranteed tag in Arizona. That’s right, GUARANTEED tag! Please contact Joe Rossi with Wildside Adventures Travel Service to grab one of these tags while they are still available.

With its remarkable recovery from near extinction-level numbers at the turn of the 20th Century, the North American elk is one of wildlife conservation’s greatest success stories and now allows sportspeople to experience one of hunting’s most significant challenges.

hunting trophy elk

If you aren’t the type to go it alone, guided elk hunts are available in most states that hold elk seasons. Wildside Joe books luxury hunting tours and fishing excursions all around the globe. He hosted “Joe’s Wildside Adventures” for 10 years on the Sportsman Channel, FOX, and ROOT Sports. Visit Joe’s YouTube channel WildsideJoe to see some of his adventures. You can contact Joe at Wildside Adventures Travel Service, or call him at 412-352-8703.