Considered to be both a mountainous as well as a plains dweller, the North American Elk originally lived through most of North America’s temperate regions, other than the Great Basin and the south east. Some types of elk as most of us are aware, are now extinct, including eastern elk and Merriams elk, and although many restocking efforts have taken place, and the populations are rising in many areas, for the most part the plains and the deciduous hardwood areas of their original range are strangely without elk.
There are exceptions however, such as the small, introduced, isolated populations in those areas.
One area which has had great success in building the elk herd is a smaller area in the mountain and hardwood regions of Pennsylvania, coincidentally named… Elk County. Elk County does offer elk hunting in the state of Pennsylvania now, as the elk herd has grown now and requires some culling.
Another area where elk have been very successfully reintroduced is a plains area in Nebraska and its neighboring Colorado.
The Rocky Mountain elk has been reintroduced by hunter-conservation organizations in the Appalachian region of the eastern U.S., where the Eastern elk once lived.
After elk were replaced in the states of Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee, they then migrated into the states of Virginia and West Virginia, and have established permanent populations there.
As of 1989, population figures for the Rocky Mountain were 782,500, and estimated numbers for all North American subspecies was well over 1 million.[Before Europeans came to North America, it is estimated that about 10 million elk lived on the continent.
Worldwide population of elk, both on farms and in the wild, is approximately 2 million so the reintroduction by game commissions, largely funded by sportsmen and women has been very successful, to the point that the elk build to numbers in some areas where they may have a negative impact, which has led the IUCN to identify the elk as one of the world’s 100 worst invaders.
Elk hunting, is of course not permitted in every state and in fact, is done by lottery in many states, and the chances of getting an elk license are not always good.
Several states however, usually the ones with a much larger elk population, are among those where its easier to take an elk, but they probably are not going to be the trophy size you might want for your first kill.
There are two main things to consider when you begin choosing a state to hunt elk – you are looking for quality and quantity. In most cases you’re not going to find both, so you need to consider first whether you want a trophy, or a decent bull.
The best bet for the first time elk hunter will probably be, to go to a place where you can find a ton of elk, but perhaps not trophy racks. That’s going to give you an edge so far as how to hunt them and the kind of behavior they exhibit.
The top states for trophy elk are New Mexico and Arizona if you’re looking for real quality antlers, and the vast majority of the trophy bulls in the past few years are coming from these two states…Arizona has the most in Boone & Crockett Club, New Mexico is the top in the Pope & Young Club.
Both of these states have a lottery system for elk permits, so it may take a few years to get selected and in addition to that, New Mexico has a rule whereby anyone who is not a resident is required to hire a guide to go elk hunting in New Mexico ..While it does make sense, having lived and hunted there, and knowing the area can assuredly be very rugged, it also increases the cost of the hunt quite a bit.
In the Eastern US, Pennsylvania has also begun to permit bulls to be culled from the herd, but again, this is a lottery and its going to take time to get that permit.
The best place to go, frankly, the top state for hunting elk if you’re not necesarily in need of a trophy.. and a state which isn’t full of trophy bulls but does present a few.. and always has elk to be had, is Colorado. It has a huge elk herd of about 200,000 animals and the state offers permits to hunters to harvest about 50,000 elk each year. There is also no permit limit for nonresidents, which means this state is a pretty sure bet if you want to bring home a decent elk in a reasonable amount of time.