Elk hunting is one of the great adventures in life, whether you use a rifle, muzzleloader, or bow and arrow. Unfortunately, getting a license in most Western states requires applying for tags years in advance. Idaho is the notable exception. Today, and probably throughout the early summer months, you can apply for and receive an elk license until the supply is exhausted. Sometimes tags are available on opening day, although waiting that long is not recommended. With a herd of an estimated 107,000 wapiti, Idaho is serious about attracting hunters and has launched this program to simplify the planning process.
A few years back I hunted in the McCall Region and drove a back road to its end, grabbed my bow and started walking. Within half an hour I heard a bull bugle and sneaked onto the biggest bull I’ve ever seen. The monarch had a harem of about 30 cows and when that beast bugled, the entire mountain shook. Its antlers were at least five feet wide and at least that high, such that the rack frame formed a giant box. With so many eyes watching for danger, getting close was nearly impossible until the bull circled back to gather up a cow. Realizing the opportunity, I sneaked, crawled, and reached a large tree where I waited for the bull to return. Unfortunately, the bull had rejoined its cows while I stalked. That was the bull of a lifetime and it may still roam the incredibly steep mountains of Central Idaho. Two years later, I killed a respectable 5×5 by using the exact same tactics. This time the bull was alone with no harem to spot me.
If you’re interested in elk hunting, Idaho rolls out the camo carpet for sportsmen, and the process may be easier than you think. Here’s a simple multi-step plan to make that “someday” elk hunt a reality.
1. Get a group of four hunters and spend a month locating the best area for your abilities and hunting styles. Seventy-five percent of all Idaho elk units have healthy or abundant elk populations, so most units have good hunting. Work any connections that you may have or consider hiring a guide if you can’t make a connection.
2. Fly Southwest airlines to Boise or Idaho Falls. Southwest allows you to take two bags without fees, and eight bags should be enough for hunting and camping gear. Splitting an SUV rental between four persons keeps the cost down; if you’re close enough to Idaho to begin with, drive there.
3. Get into shape; Idaho mountains would intimidate Spider-Man. The higher and more remote the area, the more elk you’ll see, but not always. The elk I shot was just 200 yards from a road and the pack out took less than an hour.
4. Consider timing. With an “A” license, archery season runs September 6–30, with the most hunters in the mountains at peak rut, around the 18th. Consider hunting early, scouting a day or two, and have elk located for opening day. A muzzleloading-only season runs November 20–December 1, which allows you to hunt over the Thanksgiving holidays. Finally, the archery-only season is December 10–16; this can be a great time to intercept elk as they head to their wintering grounds at lower elevations. Check out Idaho’s updated regulations before making your plans.