Everything You Need To Know About Idaho Elk Hunting

For hunters in North America, there is no more rewarding game than the elk. For as long as there have been hunters in North America, they have hunted the elk for its massive yield of meat ,which is considered one of the leanest sources of protein from any game animal. Such a great trophy animal can’t be taken down easily, however. Elk are truly one of the most magnificent game animals, and Idaho elk hunting is top class for serious hunters wanting to give their best shot at hunting these creatures.

Tracking elk is a difficult task that requires preparation, planning, and if you’re serious about bagging a top-notch bull, even some exercise is an absolute must. An estimated 120 thousand elk are roaming throughout Idaho’s diverse habitat, which is divided into 28 elk management zones and 96 management units. So if you’re planning an elk hunt in Idaho, let’s take a look at some things you’ll need to know before setting out.

Elk 101: About These Majestic Creatures

an elk on a green field

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Elk were abundant in the days before European colonialism in North America. An approximate 10 million elk roamed the country during that time. However, by the turn of the 20th century, it was estimated that only about 50 thousand elk remained, and 2 species of elk had gone extinct. Elk had disappeared from all but the mountainous regions of the U.S. and Canada.  

Efforts by conservationists, which included Teddy Roosevelt, led to a resurgence in elk herd populations. Today, organizations like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, founded in 1984, see to the protection of these incredible creatures in the U.S. Elk have been reintroduced east of the Mississippi where they used to dominate the habitat, and have been introduced in new areas such as New Zealand and South America.

Elk Sizes

Weighing in at an average of 700 lbs, elk are one of the largest game animals in North America, just after the moose. With all of that lean meat in a 5 foot high (at the shoulder) by 8 long foot frame, it’s no surprise that they’re so frequently sought after by serious hunters. Given their difficult-to-reach locations, and with antlers that can reach 4 feet in length and 4 feet apart, anyone can see why these massive animals are considered one of the top trophy animals in the world.

Elk Behavior 

Elk travel in herds of mostly single-sex groups during the majority of the year. During the mating season, known as rut, bull elks will follow groups of female (cow) elks in order to compete for a harem, or a group of cow elk that a bull has laid claim to for mating purposes. Bull elk seen fighting are often fighting for or defending their harem from an opposing bull. 

Rut season in North America typically lasts from mid-August to mid-October, but can vary slightly depending on the exact location and variations in climate or season. Elk can be found sticking close to water during the rut season, and will spend more time than usual bedding down and resting.

Elk communicate and attract cow elk with a verbal call known as “bugling,” and it is considered one of the most recognizable sounds in nature. The high pitched, drawn out bellow is also used to establish dominance over rival males, making bugling a handy skill for any elk hunter as it can draw in a large, curious bull.

Elk Habitat 

Elk tend to reside in mountainous, high altitude areas, which adds to the degree of difficulty in hunting them and is another reason they are so highly regarded by serious hunters. What this means for you is that you’ll need to stay in shape for your elk hunt. Tracking elk can be arduous and will undoubtedly require miles of hiking, often in steep environments, all while carrying equipment and, if all goes well, several pounds of meat.

With an estimated 120 thousand elk living in Idaho, the state boasts a healthy population and 28 management zones, ensuring these magnificent animals are preserved, and that Idaho elk hunting remains one of the top experiences of hunters.

Common Questions About Idaho Elk Hunting Answered

What Is the Best Weapon to Take Down an Elk? 

a hunter holding a rifle for idaho elk hunting

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That answer is entirely up to you. Hunters use both bows and rifles to hunt elk, so it entirely depends on the preference of the hunter. The important thing is to choose a bow or firearm that suits you. You need to be proficient with it when the time comes, so this means owning a weapon that you can practice with often.

If you do use a firearm, a good rifle with heavy enough caliber to take out a large animal is a necessity. Typically, a bolt action rifle with a mounted scope is preferred in elk hunting, as it is in any type of big game hunting. You don’t need a .50 caliber, but a varmint caliber won’t work, either. Standard .308 or .30-06 used for deer hunting are the most common for elk. Whitetail deer hunters who are used to using .270 ought to upgrade to a .30 caliber round.

The tool you use to bring down your game is up to you, but it is a must that it is in proper working condition, you are proficient with it, and you are capable of hitting vital areas. Ensure you are caught up on elk anatomy, and possibly even try to acquire elk targets to practice on.

Can Non-Residents Acquire Tags in Idaho? 

Yes, General Season tags are available to non-residents, and they can be bought over the counter each year, so residents and non-residents alike can take part in Idaho elk hunting. They are, however, available on a first come, first served basis, and it is possible for them to run out.

Is It a Good Idea to Hunt with a Guide?

an elk hunter with a companion

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If you think you might need a guide along your hunt, then it’s possible that you do. Guided hunts are a great idea for those either inexperienced or ill-equipped for an elk hunt. These hunts can be an especially good idea for those who are traveling from outside of Idaho and don’t necessarily want to haul their equipment across the country.

Aside from having the obvious benefit of a guide, guided hunts are often well equipped (at cost, of course) for the experience. If you have the money and don’t mind an extra person along, guided hunts can be a great way to experience Idaho elk hunting. Check out businesses such as Boulder Creek Outfitters if you think a guided hunt is the right idea for you.

Tips and Things You Should Know before You Go

Bugling 

Learning the elk’s call will be a very useful skill to draw attention from nearby bulls. As with your weapon, it requires practice to perfect, so no time is too soon to start. Keep in mind, bad bugling can just as easily send an elk running, so ensure you’ve perfected the art before you use it in nature.

Scents

Elk scents can be purchased online or at most outdoor outfitters. Scents can help in 2 ways: 

1. To mask your own scent, which can spook and elk if it ends up downwind from you

2. The scent can bring them closer to investigate 

Learn what scents work best for the particular time of year you are hunting during, and use them accordingly.

Exercise

It can’t be said enough that elk live in difficult areas, and being out of shape and unable to track your game can ruin your trip, as well as anyone else’s trip that you’re hunting with. Doing anything from cardio, weightlifting, or even hiking in your local area with the pack you intend to use can be great ideas while preparing for your hunt. Of course, getting plenty of sleep and a healthy diet go a long way as well.

Laws and Rules

Ensure you check with the Idaho Department of Fish & Game and are caught up on the rules and regulations regarding Idaho elk hunting.

Field Dressing 

As discussed, an elk is a large animal with a huge yield in meat, so be prepared and equipped to haul that meat out of the field. If you’re in a far, remote area or are camping, you’ll also want to make sure you have a way of storing the meat properly until you’re home. ATVs and horses, where available, can be great resources when hauling out an elk.

Prior knowledge in elk anatomy and general field dressing of animals is important before setting out on your elk hunt. The last thing you want after all your efforts to land an elk is to lose the meat because you were logistically unable or unprepared to handle it.

Final Thoughts on Idaho Elk Hunting 

The thrill of an elk hunt can be a rewarding experience, and Idaho is one of the best places you can take that adventure. Whether it’s in the thick timber ridges of the north, or the rugged mountains in the central state, Idaho elk hunting is among the best in the country, and anyone who considers themselves an avid hunter shouldn’t skip out on the experience of tracking one of the most exciting game animals in the diverse, sprawling habitat of Idaho. Plan your elk hunt in Idaho, and you’ll thank yourself for the experience.

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