How to Go Elk hunting

When you’re from the East Coast, going on a West hunt is challenging, outstanding, and intimidating. But, if you’re ready for elk hunting, you’re ever so closer to a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Elk hunting in Western states is a lot about preparation at every step. From packing the proper hunting equipment, wearing the right hunting boots and clothes, to selecting the state, hunting districts, and spots, there are only so many aspects to plan. And, when you’re almost ready, you also need to choose your hunting partner, which is easier said than done.

It’s all about planning

As a hunter, you need to manage many things, and paying attention to the most minute details makes a difference. If you’re organized, you are more prepared to handle the unexpected, which we all know can happen with any hunt. We’re aware that you need structure and plans, so a “plan for the planning” comes right down below.

Select a state

If you live in a state where elk hunting isn’t doable, you need to pick your form for hunting. You have to examine your chances and financial spending for the tag. One advantage when you’re hunting out-of-state is that you can pursue the exact location every year. However, you need to draw the unit annually. If you’re interested in hunting several times every three or four years, look for the states allowing you to do so. For instance, Arizona and New Mexico are great for trophy elk hunting. Hunters outside Colorado are welcome for elk hunting, and there are many over-the-counter (OTC) tags and units to purchase. You will get familiar with the land as you get to hunt the same unit every year. Travel corridors or escape sanctuaries are some of the best hunting spots, and only experienced hunters know how to appreciate them. It can take you days and even weeks to hunt a particular area and find your elk. Hunting in a new location doesn’t come easy.

When you select the state for elk hunting, pay attention to the following elements:

  • The travel distance to the state
  • The price for the tags
  • The frequency you can draw.

Some states provide hunters with a tag that is valid for several seasons. If you don’t have the time for several hunts, it’s not worth paying the extra buck for such tags.

Choose the part of the state/district

Once you have your mindset on a state, you also need to select the district/part of the state where you will go. Use goHunt to pick the units that can be drawn with zero points or those that are OTC. You will find the necessary information on every state’s website. Information about the complexity of the hunt, pictures, and hunters’ reviews are helpful too. Once you select the units, check out the state’s website and look at the maps. Typically, states provide users with elk density maps or maps displaying which unit is over/under the game commission’s goal for elk.

We recommend you not pick a unit over the goal or at the highest density, but instead go in the middle. You don’t want to go to a crowded area because it can ruin your shot for success.

Gather all the information you need

You should focus on three to four OTC units with acceptable harvest statistics and a healthy elk population. Get as much as you can on each of these units. Use all the tools available: aerial maps, Google Earth, Forest Service maps, and any other sources to know as much as possible on each unit. Locate and highlight every trailhead, and seek the drainages that seem more difficult to access or are far from the nearest trailheads.

Contact the local Forest Service

Once you have a complete image of the unit of your choice, contact the local Forest Service, game wardens, and game and fish department. They can provide you with information you cannot find online. Again, be organized and write down all the information they can give you about trailheads, drainages, or road-specific details. Professionals can help you fill in the missing data, but you need to know a lot about the unit and questions. Be prepared with a good set of questions so that you’re efficient. You don’t want to get out there only to realize that the unit is overhunted.

Ideally, you should have a notepad and a map open to note all the specifications for the unit of your choice. Write down the name of the person who helped you; next time you’re calling, make sure to ask for the same person (if he was willing to help, of course). It can take you several calls until you make a clear idea about the four units. At the end of it all, you should be able to pick your unit for elk hunting.

Plan the hunt

If you’re going on a 7-day hunt, you should pack for 10-day trip hunts in various unit areas. It’s a safety measure, as the risk for excess hunters in your spot, road closures, inclement weather to happen is never null. Use Google Earth to pin your camps, plan your trailheads and choose glassing/hiking locations for all your hunts. You need to be prepared and have a Plan B to enjoy it thoroughly for each day of your hunt trip. You learn about hunting because things don’t always go as planned, and you don’t exaggerate by having a backup plan. You can never be too sure when hunting.

Consider the spending for your elk hunting

Finding the best spot for hunting is the most challenging aspect, but it’s only the first part. You need to consider the financial element as well. When you go elk-hunting out of state, $1,500 should be enough. Let’s say you want to go to Colorado for elk hunting; the non-resident license is $700. If you’re traveling from Portland, Maine to Denver, Colorado is around 2,000 miles every way. The hunting rig takes around 15 miles per gallon, the price of gas is $2,50, so the cost for each trip is around $300. Should you go alone, $150 should be enough for food, but it’s cheaper to go with a hunting partner. You always need to decide if you’re going alone or bring a partner/several partners for hunting.

When you go with a partner, you get to split the spending for gas and food. Plus, you split some of the hunting gear as well. So, needless to say, you have to plan what food to pack; hotdogs, canned chili, fruit bars, snacks—these are foods that most hunters like to pack.


Small hunting towns have inflated prices, so make sure you pack wisely the right foods. Also, stick to 4-5 hunter groups. You want to enjoy the hunting trip, and things can get rough after a couple of days with the same people.

Choose your hunting partners wisely

Never undermine the importance of selecting hunting partners. Your hunting partner needs to be reliable, committed, have experience (it’s even better if he/she is more experienced than you), and make the whole hunting trip a pleasant experience. Small things that annoy you on the first day can escalate and make the entire experience miserable on the 7th day of your trip. You need your partner to be as committed as you to go elk hunting.

It’s not enough that you have good chemistry with a hunter or that he/she is as dedicated as you; they also need to be financially prepared for the hunting trip. Be honest about the spending and give all the information you have beforehand; it’s only fair that way. Even if your partner doesn’t have the money right now, he can put it aside before you go hunting.

Make sure that your hunting partner has a similar physical shape as you since you will hunt together. If you think about bivy hunting, you need to agree who is going bivy or who will hunt from the truck. Always set the things straight before you embark on your elk hunting journey.


You may plan the camping spots and help your partners pick the hunts. You want to share both benefits and responsibilities and not feel like someone is taking advantage of your work and efforts. You can select the glassing points together because you are partners.

Your possible partner, just like almost every other hunter out there, dreams about hunting elk out West. But that doesn’t mean that he/she can do it together with you. Pay attention when selecting your hunting partner. If you don’t find the same level of commitment and dedication, it’s better that you look elsewhere for a hunting partner. Spending a whole week with someone who isn’t as excited and determined to shoot an elk can affect your experience and ruin it for good. All the effort you put into your elk hunting can go down the drain if you are with the wrong partner up in the mountains.

Instead of a conclusion

Hunting is for people who are patient and determined to manage myriads of elements for a successful experience. Once you decide which state to go elk hunting, you need to find the spots for hunting, talk to the local outdoor officials. You also need to write down the spending and choose a hunting partner—it’s more affordable than going alone.

Elk hunting is challenging, and you need to go a long way until you get to take that shot. From carefully planning the hunting to preparing physically and mentally, there are only so many things to take care of. But, even if you don’t succeed the first year, you can increase your chances and go to the same spot the following year. Planning and preparing are keys for successful hunting, simply because so many things can go south (and not West J) all of a sudden on any hunt! And once you get the taste of success, you will become addicted to one of the most challenging types of hunting, elk hunting.