Plenty of Bull Elk in Utah

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The rifle hunts starts Oct. 4, and there are a few permits still available

A majestic bull elk in northern Utah.  -  Division of Wildlife Resources photoIf you’re new to elk hunting, the Division of Wildlife Resource’s big game coordinator has some advice for you.

“The chance you’ll take an elk while driving along a road is pretty small,” says Anis Aoude. “As soon as the first shots are fired, the elk head away from the roads and into the thickest cover they can find.

“If you want to be a successful elk hunter, you need to get into that cover too.”

Utah’s 2008 general rifle bull elk hunt kicks off Oct. 4. And permits for the hunt are almost gone.

On Sept. 17, about 1,200 any bull elk unit permits, and 1,200 spike bull only unit permits, were still available.

You can buy a permit at Permits are also available at DWR offices and from hunting license agents across Utah.

Elk are doing great

“The weather over the past five years was excellent for elk,” Aoude says. “Most of the state’s herds are doing great.”

Based on surveys this past winter, DWR biologists estimate the state has more than 66,000 elk. That’s only 2,600 animals shy of a statewide goal of 68,600 elk.

Aoude says some of the largest elk herds are found on the Central Mountains (Manti) and Wasatch Mountains units in central Utah; the South Slope, Yellowstone unit in northeastern Utah; and the Plateau, Fish Lake/Thousand Lakes unit in south-central Utah.

He says there’s also plenty of elk on the Morgan, South Rich unit in northern Utah. This unit is almost entirely private land, however. You must obtain written permission from a landowner before hunting on it.

Finding the elk

Most of Utah’s elk hunting takes place on units that are called spike-only units. You may take only a spike bull on these units. Plenty of spike bulls are available on these units, but once the hunt starts, the animals can be tough to find.

“The success rate on spike-only units averages about 18 percent,” Aoude says. “Fortunately, there are several things you can do to increase the chance that you take an elk.”

Unless it gets cold and snowy before the hunt, Aoude says elk will be scattered at higher elevations when the season opens Oct. 4. He says the key to finding them is to get off the roads and into the backcountry.

“Elk are smart and wary, and they’re sensitive to hunting pressure,” Aoude says. “As soon as the shooting starts, they head into the thickest cover they can find. To find success, you’ve got to head into the backcountry and find them.”

The rut (breeding period), which occurs right before the general rifle hunt starts, can also make it challenging to find spike bulls.

During the rut, mature bulls gather groups of cow elk to breed. If one of these large bulls sees a spike bull, he’ll chase the spike bull off.

Being chased into the cover by the bigger bulls makes the already nervous spike bulls more apt to head back into the cover once the bullets start flying.

“The larger bulls probably scare the spike bulls as much as the hunters do,” Aoude says. “Unless you get into the backcountry areas where the spikes are hiding, you’re probably not going to see many.

“The good news is, if you do get into the backcountry, there’s a good chance you’ll be among the 18 percent who take a spike bull this year.”

OHV maps don’t leave home without one

The most important reminder Aoude has for elk hunters is for those who will be using off-highway vehicles. “It’s critical that you obtain an OHV riding map for the area you’re going to hunt,” he says. “These maps are available from the agency that manages the land you’ll be hunting on. That agency is usually the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management.”

Aoude says the DWR is receiving more and more complaints about OHVs being taken into areas where it’s not legal to take them. “Taking OHVs into these areas damages the habitat the elk rely on, disturbs and scatters the animals, and ruins the hunting experience for other hunters.”

Aoude also encourages you to do some preseason scouting and to check the boundary descriptions for the areas you’ll be hunting.

Boundary descriptions are found in the 2008 Utah Big Game Guidebook. The guidebook is available at and from DWR offices and hunting license agents across Utah.