If you are dreaming of hunting elk out west, and you are looking to do it more often than not, but don’t want to get tied up with a number of different applications each year, and want to hunt often, applying for Wyoming and New Mexico are really the best location choices to consider.
The reason these two selections stand out amongst all of the other choices comes down to the way that the draw is processed each year, and the caliber of elk you can find in these states.
Applying for Elk hunting in Wyoming
First is applying for Elk hunting in Wyoming with a preference point deadline happening late into the fall each year new applicants have a chance to get involved often times the year before the actually start applying. Because this is a modified preference point system applicants can expect to get to a finish line with this application that does not require luck and depending on what hunt you are applying for could be drawn as often as every other year with the General tag as well as a few other units that are almost entirely private property, but have good elk populations and age class. The General elk tag that is over-the-counter for Wyoming nonresidents is one of the most exciting tags in the country. If you are looking for a horseback adventure above timberline and in some of the most remote areas of the continental United States this is an option with this permit, if you are looking for more of a gentle hunt in the lower elevations this is an option. If you are looking to hunt on big private ranches that have 5 star lodging, and fine dining, this is also an option with this tag. Really there aren't many styles of hunting for elk that can’t be found in Wyoming and can’t be planned when you choose to draw this General hunt.
Now Wyoming does have a slight curve ball when it comes to drawing and this comes down to what is referred to as the Special versus the Regular tag. Essentially 40% of the nonresident permits are set aside for each hunt code into what is called the Special category. Now there is no difference between the Regular and Special except for the cost of the permit. It is the same season dates, the same dirt, there is absolutely no difference except the price. This being said, oftentimes hunters who are willing to pay the inflated amount for the permit in the Special category have better drawing odds year in and year out and can often draw in the max point pool earlier than hunters who want to wait it out for the less expensive permit in the Regular category.
Another reason Wyoming is an exciting state to get started in is because when you draw, outside of a few exceptions particularly in the Bighorn Mountains, the tag is considered a rifle permit, but if you are interested in archery hunting you can purchase an archery stamp which will allow you to hunt during the archery season. If you are not successful during the archery season you are allowed to come back and hunt during the rifle season as long as you only take one elk. If you are a DIY style hunter this is extremely appealing as it gives you an excessive amount of time to fill your tag.
The caliber of bulls in Wyoming on these General tags varies across the state but I would argue this is some of the most consistent hunting for 300+ inch bulls in the country and is without a doubt more consistent than Colorado to the south which seems to be a common pick for many hunters each year. This being said there are a number of 350+ bulls harvested each year, some of them come from the deepest darkest parts of the forest and public land, and others come from private ranches, but the truth is a big bull can and does come from just about anywhere in Wyoming.
Applying for Elk hunting in New Mexico
So how does applying for Elk hunting in New Mexico fit into this equation? New Mexico is a random draw state, which means there is no point system and being that they are very lucrative with their permits in New Mexico it isn’t uncommon for a hunter to have a few bouts of luck over a ten year period. This coupled with the fact that New Mexico allows applicants the option to try and draw three different choices each year, and the state looks at all three choices before moving to the next applicant makes it a solid choice to compliment your Wyoming application and try to draw for the years that you don’t draw Wyoming. You can always apply for what you believe to be the best hunt as your first choice, and if you would like to be more aggressive you can back it up with hunts that you are more likely to draw.
So here is the breakdown of how the jump rope swings on this plan. The deadline to apply for Wyoming is always the end of January. The results for this application are not until the last week of May, and here is the real gem of the situation, you are able to retract your application up until the end of the first week of May. This will allow you to apply for New Mexico each year as aggressively as you would like with your three selections and see the results of that application and still have time to retract your Wyoming application if you happen to have some luck with the New Mexico draw.
Being that you will likely be in the max point pool every 2-3 years if you apply for the General tag your Wyoming application can be more of a back up plan actually and allow you to really swing for the fence in New Mexico for the best tags the state has to offer while still ensuring an elk hunt more often than not. If you draw New Mexico you can retract your Wyoming application for that year, but still pick up an additional point during the point only application period later in the summer and early fall, meaning you are now even more likely to draw the following year.
With the worst luck you can think of this plan without any other applications for any other states will likely mean you have an elk hunt in the west no less than 4-6 times depending on whether you choose to apply for the General Regular tag or the General Special tag. Throw in a dash of luck in New Mexico along the way and as you can see, you will be hunting elk more years than you are not over a ten year period. Now if you want to ensure a few more hunts than this consider adding Montana to your hunt plan especially if you happen to be particularly interested in archery elk hunting, and Colorado. With very few points each of these states can produce above average opportunities to hunt elk and will ensure a hunt once a year, every year, for as long as you keep things up, and as long as the odds stay similar to what they currently are for each of these selections.