Elk NetworkPoor Man’s Bowhunting Guide to Elk Decoying and Over-the-Counter Tags

General | July 15, 2020

There are major benefits to hunting deep in the backcountry, penetrating remote wilderness, and creeping into barren deserts. The advantages are psychological, strategic and financial. Off the grid, there’s still a place for the guy who likes to earn his trophy, rather than pay for it. And in areas where over-the-counter (OTC) elk tags are easy to come by, terrain is harsh enough to allow bulls to grow big and hunting pressure remains fairly low.

In this article, we profile states where (OTC) elk tags are abundant. Plus, you’ll get tips on where to go, what to take, and how to find success.

Colorado Public Land OTC Elk Hunting

Colorado is divided into hunting areas called game management units (GMUs). And since the elk population continues to thrive in the Rocky Mountain state, over-the-counter elk tags are easy to get. As such, the hunting pressure can be higher than any other western state. That’s why having a sound knowledge of your hunting area is so important. First, know the boundaries of the unit. There are no “accidents” when it comes to traipsing across boundary lines into other units, or worse, private land; even if you legitimately think you’re in the right spot. Using the Hunting GPS Maps system onX is super helpful, as is making a preseason trip to scout. OTC elk hunting tags will go on sale early August. First, read our article on the best OTC Colorado elk hunting units.

Oregon Public Land OTC Elk Hunting
Oregon is home to two elk species:  of elk – the Rocky Mountain elk in the eastern part of the state and the Roosevelt’s elk near the Pacific Coast, in the Blue and Cascade Mountain ranges. The state is divided into wildlife management units that collectively span millions of acres. OTC elk tags are available in just about every unit.

Unlike Colorado, planning the best DIY elk hunt in Oregon relies less on research and more on strategy. The Roosevelt’s elk favors a disposition you’ll see in whitetail deer. They are far less nomadic than their Rocky Mountain cousins and will follow a loose pattern until hunting pressure drives them elsewhere, just like a whitetail.

Go scout, if you can. Locate areas with fresh sign, find a well-concealed spot, and plan to sit and wait when the season rolls around. For the DIY bowhunter, one of the best tips for hunting elk in Oregon is put in the legwork before the season. The archery season runs from late August until late September.

Idaho Public Land OTC Elk Hunting

Idaho is divided into 28 elk zones that each consist of one to nine hunting units. The Gem State is almost the exact opposite of Colorado in terms of elk and hunter numbers. Fewer elk mean fewer hunters and that’s less hunting pressure and more forest to yourself. The statewide success rate on elk hunts is about 20-25%. This is partly due to the lower numbers, but also because many hunters don’t get far enough from the road. Year after year, Unit 66A sees a success rate on bulls that is hard to argue with despite both a large number of nonresident hunters and wolves. With almost 172,000 acres, most of which is forest, this OTC Idaho elk hunting unit produces some of the larger bulls harvested in the state each year. But be prepared for a feast or famine type hunt, where you could go four days without seeing a single elk only to unexpectedly stumble on a number of good bulls on the fifth. That’s why an elk decoy during the archery season is a good idea. You just never know when you’ll need to draw an old herd bull away from his harem.

Public Land Elk Decoy Tactics

To appeal to all the senses of a mature bull, use every tool available. And when bulls begin to round up cows, elk decoying tactics can make all the difference.

What decoy you use is mostly personal preference. If you’re covering a lot of ground or looking to leave the trails and trek into the backcountry, the Back Country Elk is the minimalist’s decoy. You can use it with the lightweight aluminum leg pole included or just slide it on your trekking pole. In dense cover, the broadside pose of the RMEF Cow Elk increases the chance a bull will see it among patches of thick timber. But if you’re hunting feeding and watering areas, the head-down pose of our Miss September is your best bet. Then you have the Eichler Elk. It’s our most versatile elk decoy. The head-on cow pose works well for almost any situation.

For DIY bowhunters, decoying elk has become vital. Especially in states offering OTC tags, like those we profiled above: Colorado, Oregon and Idaho.

If you’d like to get the latest on elk decoying tactics and read more about backcountry hunting from the writers at Montana Decoy, sign up for our newsletter and get 15% off your first order!