Last-Minute Opportunities to Hunt Western Big Game
September 26, 2016
So you didn't draw that coveted trophy buck or bull tag you've been applying for. Disappointed? Don't be. A number of western states offer last-minute opportunities for bucks, bulls and even bears. In some states, you can buy a tag right before or even during the season.
In other states, however, you'll need to act fast. Utah, for example, sets a quota for general season bull and spike elk tags and sells them until they are gone. According to a Utah Division of Wildlife spokesman, they always sell out in the days leading up to opening day.
In other words, time is short. If you still want to head west for that dream hunt, move fast. Buy your tag now, use that week of vacation you've been saving and figure out the details when you get there. You may not be in a trophy unit, but you'll still be chasing bucks and bulls in the places many hunters only dream about.
Idaho Whitetail, Mule Deer and Elk
Arguably, no state offers better last-minute big game opportunities than Idaho. A booming whitetail population, a thriving elk herd and a mule deer population on the rise make the Gem State a diamond in the rough for non-resident big game seekers. If that's not enough to coax you to Idaho for a last-minute trip, consider this: Nearly two-thirds of the state is public.
National forest land covers a whopping 20.5 million acres and BLM land consists of 11.9 million. Even better, you aren't required to buy your tag prior to the season's opening day. Simply show up, hand over your credit card and go hunt, even if it's the last day of the season.
Some units are restricted and tags typically sell out quickly, but over-the-counter tags are abundant for much of the state. The Panhandle has a thriving whitetail herd and lots of public land. Elk are generously scattered throughout the state. So are mule deer.
If you want to hunt antelope, stop reading and go to the list of leftover licenses and click on "antelope." If you hurry, you might find one for you and your favorite hunting partner. Although most antelope tags are sold through the Wyoming Game and Fish's drawing, some regions have leftover tags. Units 23 and 24, for example, had more than 500 either-sex tags as of September 19. They'll be gone soon, so don't wait.
Be warned, though. These units consist entirely of private land. That means you can expect to pay a trespass fee at the least or possibly even a guide fee. These days, getting permission simply by knocking on doors is as rare as a 17-inch pronghorn buck. It's not impossible, but it's always a good idea to line up a place to hunt before you make the drive.
Oregon Bulls, Bears and Blacktails
Although nearly all of eastern Oregon's deer and elk hunting is restricted through a limited-entry lottery system, the Cascades region and the coastal region offer unlimited tags for both deer and elk. Both regions offer good opportunities for blacktail deer and good-enough elk hunting for those who just want to hunt.
Because anyone can buy a tag, expect lots of hunting pressure, particularly near towns and close to roads and major trails. Hunting pressure tapers off toward the end of the season, but there are fewer bucks, and those that remain bury themselves in thicker cover.
Public opportunities consist of 15.7 million acres of national forest and 15.7 million acres of BLM land. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife also has a millions more acres of private land open to hunting through its Access and Habitat Program. Tags can be bought online or at license agents, but purchases made after opening day come with additional fees.
It's not a bad idea to buy a bear tag if you don't mind the extra money. Although success rates tend to be low for incidental bear hunters, you never know when you might cross paths with a bruin.
The Rocky Mountains may not cut through Nebraska, but the rugged land, wide open spaces and the sparse population of the western third of the state make it a great place to chase whitetail and even mule deer. So does the availability of deer tags good for either a mule deer or whitetail.
Although tags are sold on a unit-by-unit quota basis, there are thousands left in units all over the state as of late September. Be warned, though. They typically do sell out, often in the days leading up to the season. Some large tracts of public land lie in the northwestern corner and offer decent enough hunting opportunities. That's where the most mule deer live, too. Whitetails are scattered throughout the state.
Colorado Elk and More
No state has more elk or more elk hunting opportunities than Colorado. Although some big game units are limited entry, the majority of the state is open through an unlimited number of over-the-counter tags. Generally, Colorado's OTC firearms elk hunt is split into three separate seasons and hunters can buy only one tag. With 14.5 million acres of national forest land and an additional 8.5 acres of BLM land, there's plenty of room to roam. Be prepared to roam, though. Because tags are unlimited, you'll be sharing the woods with plenty of other hunters.
If the idea of sharing the woods with a few of your new best friends doesn't sound appealing, check out the current list of left-over licenses. Antelope, bear, elk and whitetail and mule deer tags that didn't get awarded during the draw are available through a first-come, first-served basis. Many are for cows and does, but a few offer a chance at a buck or bull, including some late-season opportunities. Some are private land-only while others include public land. Don't wait, though. They tend to go fast.
Thirty-thousand general season non-resident bull elk tags go on sale starting in July, but as of late September, nearly 2,000 any bull tags and more than 4,500 spike bull tags remained. Although Utah has numerous trophy units that have a limited number of tags available only through a lottery, much of the state is open to those who buy an any bull or spike bull license.
Some parts of the state are good for those any bull tags. Other regions are designated spike bull areas. Even better, there are more than 31 million acres of BLM and national forest land to roam.