Nothing epitomizes the do-it-yourself spirit quite like bowhunting public land elk. Part of it has to do with the fact elk largely occupy public land open to all (those who can secure a tag, at least). Most elk habitat is also made up of vast National Forest, Bureau of Land Management, state-administered or timber lands and is open and waiting for any bowhunter willing to invest the research and effort.
Since not everyone resides in the middle of elk country, these places normally involve traveling to distant areas, across the state, several states over or across the nation for pre-season scouting missions and season openers.
To ensure you hit the ground running, start your planning at home. Invest in “desktop” scouting through maps and other resources to narrow down prospects. Interview knowledgeable persons and local game managers to gain a better idea of what you’re in for. Assemble the necessary gear and get yourself in top physical conditioning to better handle the demands of a thinner atmosphere and rough and tumble country.
But before all that, the bowhunter must pick a destination. Here are our picks for the top DIY elk hotspots across the nation (hotspots are weighted heavily on easily obtained tags).
- Nevada has emerged as one of the surest bets for arrowing a trophy bull in the entire West, with 60 percent archery-season success rates and several 400-inch-plus bulls taken in recent years. The bad news? Drawing a tag can prove nearly impossible, in addition to the $1,200 price tag for those tags. Someone has to draw those tags, right? Or, you can buy a private landowner tag if you have a spare $10,000 to $15,000 sitting around. Non-residents have only three options in Nevada, though herds are expanding quickly. You’re looking at White Pine County (two non-resident tags), Nye and Lincoln counties (one non-resident tag each). Nevada issues bonus points, purchased outright each year until you’re ready to start playing ball, or issued automatically after each unsuccessful application, and they’re squared each year to reward persistent applicants. It is possible to draw a tag on the first try. Of course, in order to win your preference point you’ll have to buy a $142 hunting license. Nevada’s application deadline normally arrives about late June. Why bother, you might ask? Of the 53 total Boone & Crockett bulls taken in the Silver State, 45 have appeared in the past decade—pretty impressive for a state allotting so few tags. The takeaway: Draw a Nevada elk tag, hunt hard and kill a bull of a lifetime. One can dream.