With plenty of hunts to choose from that offer a wide range of season dates, weapon choice, physicality, and trophy/opportunity potential, Wyoming is a great state for anyone looking for a quality elk hunting experience. Elk numbers are holding steady throughout the state, and as usual, a handful of 350-380"+ bulls were taken in 2022. The elk range in Wyoming varies from its desert lowlands and rolling sagebrush country to high elevation mountain basins above timberline. It offers the best mix of quality and quantity of any western state. While not likely to turn out as many giant bulls as some states, it is a solid option for a mature bull and a fun hunt.
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Seventeen years ago, Wyoming started a modified preference point system for nonresidents. This system is great if you got into it early. Unfortunately, like Wyoming’s sheep and moose point creep, its elk point creep isn’t much better. In 2022, less than 70 elk permits were awarded in the preference draw to maximum point holders. With over 800 non-residents sitting on max points going into the 2023 draw, you’re in for a long wait to catch a max point unit if you’re even one point under max. If you don’t have max points and you only want to hunt the best areas, make sure you are applying in an area that has random licenses.
For the self-guided hunter, Wyoming has tons of public land. Unfortunately, non-residents are not allowed to hunt in the wilderness without a guide or a Wyoming resident who is willing to accompany them. If you have a resident who is willing to hunt with you and you have access to horses, the possibilities are endless.
The general elk license is a great choice for someone who does not have many points. In 2022, the draw odds were 8% in the random draw and 100% with 4 points in the regular draw. The odds were 19% in the random draw and 46% with 3 points in the special draw. Given the average rate of point creep that we’ve seen over the past few years on the general elk license, do not expect to be drawn in the regular draw with less than 4.5 points in 2023. In the special draw, you should be looking at a little better than a 50/50 chance with 3 points. If drawn, this license provides a chance to hunt any of the 50+ general units. It is the same license that a Wyoming resident can buy over-the-counter. If you are looking for more information on the most successful general elk hunts, check out our “Opportunity Hunts” section.
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For bowhunters, you can apply for the available type 9 archery-only hunts or draw a type 1 or 2 license and purchase the $72 archery license and, in most cases, hunt the archery season. If unsuccessful, you can return during the rifle season. Not all type 1 rifle units give you the archery option, so check the regulations before applying. Wyoming is a state that allows hunters to use a crossbow during the archery season. If you’re not a bowhunter but want to experience the elk rut and extend your season, you should try hunting with a crossbow.
The units surrounding Yellowstone National Park in Northwest Wyoming regularly produce some of the state’s biggest bulls. These units are 51, 53, 54, 55, 56, 58, 59, 61, 62, and 63/64. The later rifle hunts in some of these areas can be much better with early snowfall to push some of the bigger bulls these areas are known for out of the backcountry. Late snowfalls over the past few seasons have delayed winter migrations, and as a result, fewer of the top end migratory bulls have been taken. This in turn has led to more of the better resident bulls being hunted harder and harvested. While this is not good news for trophy potential among resident elk, with a normal winter migration in 2022, hunters should have plenty of big migrating bulls showing up on their hunts in these areas. Keep in mind that most of these units have wolves, grizzly bears, and wilderness areas. Due to grizzly bears, a lot of hunters don’t want to hunt these units. These units also have a lot of wilderness that can limit self-guided non-resident hunts. If you have a friend who is a Wyoming resident with horses, you should probably be taking a hard look at these areas.
Units 22, 30, 31, 32, 100, and 124 are extremely popular due to all of the public land and lack of wilderness areas. These units are managed to produce better bulls by offering fewer licenses. As usual, due to the public access and number of good bulls, these licenses went to max point holders in 2022. Of these units, only 22, 30, and 100 had random tags in 2022.
For hunters willing to work at navigating public access around private land or who are willing to hunt private land by hiring an outfitter, there are some good hunts that are typically drawn with less than max points. Units like 7, 16, 19, 23, 34, 111, 118, and 122 have some great bulls, but they also have a lot of private land to work around. Units 113 and 123 are expected to be open to bull hunting in 2022.
Some of the units within the Bighorn Mountains, 35, 38, 39, 40, 41, and 45, have a great mix of opportunity, access, no wolves or grizzles, and quality for a self-guided hunter who is not sitting on max points. Hunters are going to have to work hard in these units to be successful as there are a lot of licenses issued. During rifle season in the Bighorns, you can expect to see a lot of hunters unless you are in the wilderness areas. Units 35, 41, and 45 all have some wilderness areas. Bighorn units continue to be over objective for elk.
Read through all our tables and then give us a call if you have any questions about Wyoming elk hunting or outfitters.
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The application deadline for non-resident elk is 11:59 p.m. MST on January 31, 2023.
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Wyoming Elk Hunting Articles from Huntin' Fool Magazine