Where would you go for a last minute OTC elk hunt.


Well-Known Member
Oct 2, 2014
Dayton Ohio
Hi guys. I'm a total noob when it comes to elk hunting, so please help me out.

Earlier this year, a group of friends and I were planning a Colorado elk hunt out of his cabin that backs up to Roosevelt National Forest. We had it mostly planned out, and then for various reasons, all but I had to back out. Now just recently, some other friends have said they're in for going out west this year, but obviously it's waaaaay late in the game for planning a hunt.

So I ask, if you experienced elk hunters had to plan a last minute elk hunt on an OTC tag, how would you go about it? Here is what we are looking for:

All have us have years of experience hunting white tails and bears in the east and midwest, but all of us are new to hunting the west, so we're looking more for a great experience than a successful hunt. Just locating and seeing some elk would be a success, putting a stalk on one would be exceptional, and killing one would just be icing on the cake.

We are looking for a state with OTC tags for units with ample public land. We're considering Colorado 2nd or 3rd season as a likely first choice, but also Wyoming, Montana, Utah, and Idaho if opportunities are somehow better. We'd also consider a mule deer tag in place of an elk tag if they are more plentiful.

In no way are we after a trophy. Meat is the #1 concern. So we're not above cow or spike tags.

We're all age 29-32, so an easy hunt is by no means needed. We're no strangers to rough country, long packs in, and climbing mountains. We're ready to hunt hard.

We are not looking to necessarily long range either. We plan on glassing for elk and then spot and stalk hunt. We have some long range deer rifles, but nothing suitable for long range shots on elk. Between us we'll likely have 30-06s, 308s, and a 35 Whelen and keeping shots less than 500 yards for sure.

So what do you guys think would be the best plan for a last minute DIY, OTC elk hunt and the best chances for some level of success. Also any tips for novice western hunters will help Any and all help is very much appreciated!
Hey atl,
Up to you on state. I know Colorado is pretty popular for OTC and has a lot of open areas. In CO you won't be getting an OTC deer tag, since you have to draw for most of them, so OTC elk is probably your only option.

Probably best to do some reading, like here:


They have some pretty decent stuff there, and more than I can type here. CH 6 talks about scouting and locating a space. If it were me, I'd pick a unit away from Denver and the metro areas, just because I think they get even more pressure than areas 3-4 hours away.

If you can, scout the area in advance. If not, try to research it online by studying maps, and the local fish & game office may give you a few pointers too. They may at least tell you which general area of the unit more elk tend to be in (so you don't waste your time in a bad section of the unit).

Elk are more like gypsies - they don't set roots in one place and try to stay. They may be in one drainage one week and in another the next. If they get pressured, they'll often travel for miles to a new place. There is no point hunting "good country" that has no elk - they may have been there a month ago, and they might be back in two weeks, but if they aren't there now, you are wasting your time. They may be 3 ridges over, and if so, you need to discover that and be hunting there. Best thing to do if you have a group is to divide and scout/hunt, and by dividing I mean a 1 mile or more apart, often completely separate valleys, perhaps several miles apart. Then you can gather at the camp later, tell stories, and see if anyone found fresh sign.

It is not uncommon to spend the first 2-3 days just trying to locate them. Do a combination of glassing and hiking. Try to have everyone with good glass, looking over different areas at first light. Have everyone get a vantage point where they can see as much country as possible and be there at first light, not 30 minutes later. If you can drive to this vantage point good, that makes it easier, but every other hunter can also drive there and see all the same country. Nevertheless, when you can see for miles, it still doesn't hurt to use a road sometimes. Be there early and spend an hour or more glassing - especially if you can see small little secluded clearings. You often won't see them in the big sprawling meadows, or if you do, they will be gone within 10 minutes of light. They were probably in those big meadows during the night feeding, but at day light you need to look at the fringes and small clearings to the sides of the big meadows (I have to hike in in the dark to a few of my vantage points to see things at first light). If you can see smaller, more secluded clearings, it often pays to stay for an hour or more. Just because you can't see them one minute, doesn't mean they aren't there. They are usually feeding with a destination in mind in the morning and that often takes them in and out of the trees. I don't know how many times I've gone to one of my favorite lookouts and after glassing for an hour figure I was out of luck, sat back and relaxed only to see one feed into a clearing 30 minutes later. They were always there, I just couldn't see them. Again, I wouldn't sit and stare at some large open meadow for 2 hours, but if I could see a whole mountainside or two, with broken, secluded clearings, it is time well spent.

Then after glassing, maybe grab some breakfast if near camp and then pick some secluded places, 1/2 mile or more from the road and spend a few hours hiking around. Look for game and fresh sign. It is hard to get a shot at them in the woods, but 1/2 the goal is to just find them. If you hike a few miles and cover some area, you'll know if it has elk or not. If there is no sign, or it is not fresh, check that area off the list and try somewhere else the next day or that afternoon. This is when it helps having different guys in camp try different areas. Try higher elevations, lower elevations, and completely different valleys.

Once you find an area that has fresh sign, it's best to try to find nearby clearings where they could feed, and try to be ready to glass them and hopefully shoot them in the morning or evening. If all of you just barge into where they are in the middle of the day, you will probably just spook them all, and they will be miles away the next day. Sometimes you have to glass from further away than you can shoot - just trying to locate them. If you see them out feeding, hopefully they will repeat it that night or the next day and you can then be at a closer vantage point that you an shoot from. The downside of sitting right on the clearing, is they often may hear or smell you getting there, or you can't see the clearing as well when you are right on top of it. Ideally you could get a vantage point a few hundred yards away, but that isn't always possible.

Finally, spot and stock doesn't usually work real well for many reasons. First, they walk about as fast as you jog, so it's nearly impossible to stay up with a herd of elk going up to bed in the morning, for example. Plus, they have a lot of eyes/ears to detect you. Also, it's big country, by the time you hike to where you saw them, they're often long gone...and several other reasons. It can be done, it just probably isn't a good first choice for a tactic. Hope that helps. Try some of that elk hunting university and some other reading. Bottom line over 1/2 the trick is learning the specific area and the elk. If you find an area you like to hunt, you can start to learn it this year, have some fun, hopefully see some elk, and be even more ready to bag one next year after you've figured things out a bit. It's a blast, especially once you figure them out a little bit, plus what can be better than good friends, a good camp, and an excuse to park your butt on a mountainside taking in the views for hours at a time.
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