Hunting Idaho has many advantages, including guaranteed tags
By Steve Stuebner
Hunting Idaho is the clear choice for big game hunters who like plenty of elbow-room, value an authentic fair-chase, guided hunt and have the amazing opportunity to pursue five big game species in a single, week-long hunt in this rugged mountain state in the American West.
In-state and nonresident hunters are seeing high value in pursuing Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, antelope and the best variety of predator hunts anywhere in the West. Hunting numbers are climbing in Idaho, and that means it’s important to book a trip early!
Idaho hunting trips are selling out in the fall of 2021. Make your reservations soon! See a list of big game outfitters on Hunting Idaho.
In 2020, resident and non-resident hunters harvested more than 20,000 elk – 22,775 bulls and cows to be exact – for the 7th year in a row. Deer harvest has evolved to where it’s now 50-50 between muleys and white-tailed bucks, with approximately 50,000 deer harvested statewide last year.
“We’re entering the second golden age of elk hunting” in Idaho to have elk harvests ranging above 20,000 animals in that many consecutive years, Idaho Fish and Game officials said in a recap report.
One of the prime, unique aspects of big game hunting in Idaho is that we have a number of super experienced, licensed outfitters who have intimate knowledge of the backcountry – secret spots where big game animals like to feed, travel and sleep. But you still have to stalk the game, with a hunting guide providing tips on how to do so, and make an accurate shot to harvest the animal.
In short, it’s still going to be a challenging, fair-chase backcountry hunt – something that’s becoming less available in the fast-growing western states, where road-hunting in monster trucks and UTVs is becoming more and more prevalent.
A key differentiator for Idaho outfitters is that they have guaranteed big game tags for clients, unlike most other western states, says Travis Bullock, co-owner of Mile High Outfitters in Challis with his wife, Brenda.
In other states, hunters might have difficulty purchasing tags for the right species or hunting unit where they would like to pursue game, Bullock said, but not in Idaho.
“Once they book a trip with an Idaho hunting outfitter, we have set-aside tags provided by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game,” Bullock says. “They basically are guaranteed to be able to buy a big game tag for the unit where they’d like to hunt, if they go with an outfitter.”
Typically, Idaho’s big game outfitters ride guests into the vast backcountry of Idaho on horseback, and leads them to hunting camp, a base camp where they’ll sleep and enjoy hearty meals after a long arduous day of hunting. And then, each morning, they’ll get up very early in the dark of night to venture out in pursuit of wild game for an unforgettable adventure.
Bullock has been leading hunting clients into the 2.3-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness for 35 years. It’s the largest forested wilderness in the lower 48 states. Bullock’s clients harvest an amazing array of species in “The Frank,” including elk, deer, mountain lions, black bears, and wolves. For those lucky enough to draw, Bullock also takes clients bighorn sheep hunting or pursuing mountain goats.
“You can hunt five different species of big game in a single wilderness hunt,” Bullock says. “There’s no other place in the lower 48 where you can do that.”
Bullock’s hunting territory is immense – 650 square miles in the hear of the Idaho backcountry. “It’s a huge amount of area,” he notes. “Sometimes it takes that much territory to know where to find the wild game.”
In a video produced by Idaho Fish and Game, a hunter named “Mike” pursued a 6-point bull elk with outfitter Stan Potts, retired, out of Salmon, Idaho. They hiked through the rugged wilderness for a whole day before Mike shot his bull. “It took a long time getting here, real tiring,” he said, pausing for a trophy photo with his bull. “But you know what, I’m not tired anymore, it’s great.”
Thanks to pressure from big game hunters, ranchers and private landowners, the state of Idaho is doing a better job of reducing wolf numbers to manageable levels, Bullock says, and that has caused elk numbers to grow and elk harvest to increase in recent years. He’s seen the whole picture of federal wolf recovery efforts since wolves were transplanted from Canada into Yellowstone National Park and the Frank Church Wilderness in Central Idaho 25 years ago.
“We’re finally getting a good handle on the wolves,” he says.
Idaho’s pro-hunting culture has led to more aggressive harvest targets for wolves, including legislation passed in 2021 that seeks to reduce wolf populations to conform with the state wolf management plan, or a minimum of 150 wolves statewide.
Predator hunts are a great way for big game hunters to take part in game management, Bullock says.
“Anyone who goes hunting with us for elk and deer can also buy a wolf tag and harvest a wolf if they have an opportunity,” he said.
Idaho hunting seasons for black bears and mountain lions are liberal to keep the numbers of those predators down as well. There are spring and fall bear seasons, and you can pursue mountain lions with hounds and snow machines in the winter months.
Hunting season begins with archery elk or deer season in late August. Bow season is usually open for about a month. And then in Idaho backcountry units, rifle hunting seasons begin in mid-September when the elk are bugling, a key chance to call in quality bull elk during the bugle season.
“That’s another rare opportunity that we have in Idaho – being able to call in an elk during rifle season,” Bullock points out.
The hunting season rounds out with muzzle-loader and short-range rifle seasons in the late fall.
Steve Stuebner has experienced week-long wilderness elk and deer hunting adventures with Idaho outfitters. He can’t wait to go back again!