Wyoming’s elk herds continue to do very well, considering. With some predator problems and coming off of a few tough winters this year looks to be yet again a very solid year for Wyoming’s very plentiful elk herd. With plenty of hunt areas and hunt options to choose from, Wyoming continues to offer up the best hunt opportunity vs. hunt quality in the country in my opinion. The fact is, if you are not applying for elk in Wyoming, you are missing out.
With only a few days to decide on an elk application strategy here are a few areas you might want to keep in mind if you have yet to make the decision. The following are my top five choices with a few additional ideas mixed in.
#5 – AREA 22 (Ferris, Max+) – The 5th best elk area in Wyoming in my opinion is Area 22. With only 40 tags on quota, fairly easy terrain comprised of more than 80% public land this elk hunt is a very solid choice for the hunter that wants to take his time and not be bothered by the crowds. A bowhunt here during the entire month of September would probably be considered off the hook by most standards. Even if you don’t bow hunt, a lengthy three-week rifle season that begins on the 8th of October will offer up a very good opportunity at a nice 6-point bull. The Ferris elk unit is over population objective by nearly three times, while the bull to cow ratio is sky high with more than 60 bulls per 100 cows. The elk rut in this area is sure to be beyond dynamic. Over 70% of the hunters here will kill branch antlered bulls each year. If you are an older bowhunter looking for a great bowhunt in relatively easy country this hunt may be just the ticket. Maximum preference points will be required to have a chance at this hunt again for 2019. There are no tags available in the random draw for this elk hunt.
#4 – AREA 30 (Aspen Mountain, Max+) – With a seat at the top five table again this year, the Aspen Mountain elk area in southwestern Wyoming continues its track record as a very good elk hunt. Much like Area 22, the Aspen hunt is very limited (50 tags) with relatively easy country and plenty of public land (65%). The big bull potential here is a bit better than Area 22 which puts this area a slight notch above the Ferris hunt. Incredibly, nearly 90% of the hunters in this area will kill bulls each fall. The elk herd in this area is very stable with a population that is right at objective levels and a steady bull to cow ratio that is at a very healthy 38/100 level. In my humble opinion, the bowhunt in this area is as good as anything in the country right now. Given the very mild winter we are experiencing this year the elk in this area should begin to expand in both quantity and quality over the next few years. The herd bulls in this area will range from 320 -370. No random draw tags are available in the draw for this unit and max points is a requirement to draw here.
#3 – AREA 54 (Bald Ridge, 8-13 pts.) – The Bald Ridge elk area is a very familiar resident on this list. The Bald Ridge unit probably has some of the biggest bulls in the entire state of Wyoming roaming the deep and steep nooks and crannies of this elk area. The Type 1 hunt is the better of the two on the southern portion of the unit. There is a Type 9 bowhunt in this area that takes about 10 points to draw if you are a hardcore bowhunter. This area is full of deep country and lots of grizzly bears, but the big bull potential is very, very good here. The elk herd is right at objective and the bull to cow ratio is beyond juicy. This area has over 80 bulls per 100 cows which is almost unheard of. About 60% of the hunters here will kill bulls but this is mostly due to the rough and rugged country. The biggest bulls are very deep in this unit and a hunter that is very experienced and hardy will be the most successful on the biggest bulls here. With a two-month season, this hunt is not for the faint of heart, but the upside reward here can be tremendous. If I had one Wyoming elk area to choose from to kill a 350+ bull, this would be it.
#2 – AREA 124 (Powder Rim, Max+) – This elk hunt is an elk hunters dream come true in nearly every respect. A lengthy six-week rifle season preempted by a month-long bow season and only 50 other hunters to worry about this massive area just keeps getting better and better each year. Nearly 90% of the elk hunters here will kill branch antlered bulls this fall. This area is mostly comprised of big sage flats with sparse juniper and pinion ridges. The rutting action here can border on the insane and the big bull potential has improved dramatically over the past ten years. What used to be the extraordinary in this area is now the norm. A 350 to 380 bull is definitely possible in this Wyoming elk area. This is the type of hunt where a guy can take his time and really enjoy the hunt and soak in all that this area has to offer from the beginning of the rut in early September to the late season in late November. There is only one area in the entire state that edges this hunt out in my opinion and not by much!
#1 – AREA 100 (Steamboat, Max+) – The best elk hunt Wyoming has to offer this year should be the Steamboat hunt. Due to drastic habitat improvements from solid winter conditions and good summer rains this area has in my opinion peaked out to become the best over-all elk hunt in the Cowboy State. There should be some random tags available in the “special” draw for this year, otherwise max points will be needed to draw with any surety on this hunt. With 100 tags, a massive hunt area, and over 90% public land, a big bull will have a hard time getting away from a very good elk hunter in this unit. The area is massive and some serious scouting will be helpful to find a big bull here, but they do exist and they exist more plentiful than ever before here. The Steamboat hunt boasts the highest hunter success on branch antlered bulls in the West, with nearly every single hunter that draws this tag punching it on a branch-antlered bull. The bowhunt in here is as solid as they come on big open country desert bulls. Water, feed and cover are the keys to finding the biggest bulls in this area. A hunter in this unit will have to sort through a pile of 300 to 330 bulls to find the hidden gems that this area has to offer.
Guy’s Low Points WY Elk Options:
If you find yourself lacking in the points department, here are a few elk areas that don’t take max points but can still offer up a great elk hunt for those that can hunt hard and have some solid elk hunting experience under their belts.
Best Less Than 4-Point Option – WY General: The general elk tag in Wyoming is actually better than many limited quota elk tags throughout the West. With plenty of areas to choose from, 50 in total, and some very favorable seasons the general tag is certainly nothing to be afraid of when it comes to Wyoming elk. The average success in the general areas varies drastically from a high of 47%, which rivals most limited areas in the West, to an overall average of about 17%. More than once have I heard from hunters that they have spent too much of their life fretting over the preference points game while they should have just hunted general season units all along in Wyoming. Once you get to know one of these areas well, not only can you become consistently successful, but you can also have a chance at a good 320-360 bull if you hunt hard and do your homework. Some of these areas actually open for rifle on the 10th of September, and 400” bulls have been killed in general units in Wyoming! Not many other states can say that.
Best 4-Point Option – Areas 25/27: This hunt is a bit off the radar but can be a very good elk hunt for those who just want to chase some good bulls in some pretty rough country. The Wind River Mountains are tough country but there are some nice bulls to be had here. This hunt has no outstanding features to speak of, but is very solid in nearly every regard of the measure. The trend here is on the upswing for sure, as nearly half of the hunters in in 2017 managed to kill branch-antlered bulls on this mostly public land hunt. With an elk herd that is at objective and a bull to cow ratio that hovers around a very solid 35/100 this hunt is as steady as they come in Wyoming.
Best 5-Point Option – Area 51: The big bull potential here is very high. This is a feast or famine type hunt, with 100 tags available and a very favorable season during the entire month of October. Plenty of grizzly bears and some deep rough and rugged country to hunt in this hunt is not for the faint of heart. Horses are nearly a must to get back into the big bull areas of the back end of this unit. But for those with the guts to push on, this elk hunt can produce bulls in the 360-390 class on occasion. Even if a monster bull is not a must for you, this area can produce some good bulls in the 300 to 330 class for many of the hunters who hunt hard here. Nearly half of the hunters here will kill bulls.
Best 6-Point Option – Area 117: The Black Hills elk hunt can be a bit of a puzzle for some, but once you figure it out, this hunt can produce some very solid results. There is big bull potential here and the country is fairly easy on the hunter. With 300 tags on quota, getting away from the crowds will be a must. This area lacks public land, but does tend to get a little checkered with private in some areas. With a 50% success rate on bulls and a solid bull to cow ratio, most of the elk hunters in this area tend to find a way to get it done. I would say a 300-320 bull is a good bull here, with the outside potential for something much bigger if the stars align right.
Best 7-Point Option- Area 23: The elk hunt in the Rattlesnake Mountains outside of Casper can be a very consistent elk for those who know how to maneuver around private land holdings and hunt elk in broken juniper type country. This area does not tend to produce giant bulls, but there are plenty of elk in this area with good opportunity. A 330-class bull would be a real win here, with most bulls stretching the tape at around 300. With success rates at over 60% this area is a very reliable elk producer for the Cowboy State. With plenty of time, hard work and a good mapping software a nice bull elk in this unit is very likely with somewhat minimal physical effort.
For more details regarding these and all remaining Wyoming elk hunts make sure you check out the MRS section in the Jan/Feb issue of Eastmans’ Bowhunting Journal either in the print or digital edition found at www.eastmans.com.