"As soon as the first shots are fired, the elk head away from the roads and into the thickest cover they can find," says Anis Aoude. "If you want to be a successful elk hunter, you need to get into that cover too."
Utah's 2012 general rifle bull elk hunt kicks off Oct. 6. And permits for the hunt are almost gone.
On Sept. 26, about 2,600 permits to hunt on any-bull units were still available. About 2,400 permits were also available to hunt on spike-only units.
You can buy an elk permit at wildlife.utah.gov. Permits are also available at DWR offices and from hunting license agents across Utah.
Elk are doing great
Aoude says most of the state's herds are doing great. Based on surveys this past winter, DWR biologists estimated the state's population at more than 72,000 elk.
Aoude says some of the largest elk herds are found on the Central Mountains (Manti) and Wasatch Mountains units in central Utah; the South Slope, Yellowstone unit in northeastern Utah; and the Plateau, Fish Lake/Thousand Lakes unit in south-central Utah.
He says plenty of elk are also found on the Morgan, South Rich unit in northern Utah. But this unit is almost entirely private land. You must obtain written permission from a landowner before hunting on it.
Finding the elk
Much of Utah's elk hunting takes place on units that are called spike-only units. Spike bulls are the only bulls you can take on these units. Plenty of spike bulls are available on these units. But once the hunt starts, the animals can be tough to find.
"The success rate on spike-only units averages about 15 percent," Aoude says. "Fortunately, you can do several things to increase the chance you take an elk."
Unless it gets cold and snowy before the hunt, Aoude says elk will be scattered at higher elevations when the season opens Oct. 6. He says the key to finding them is to get off the roads and into the backcountry.
Aoude says elk are wary animals that are sensitive to hunting pressure. "As soon as the pressure builds," he says, "they head into the thickest cover they can find. To find success, you have to head into the backcountry and find them."
The rut (breeding period), which occurs right before the general rifle hunt starts, can also make it challenging to find spike bulls.
During the rut, mature bulls gather groups of cow elk to breed. If one of these large bulls sees a spike bull, he'll chase the spike bull off.
Being chased into cover by the bigger bulls makes the spike bulls, which are already nervous, more apt to head back into the cover once the hunt starts.
"The larger bulls scare the spike bulls as much as the hunters do," Aoude says. "Unless you get into the backcountry areas where the spikes are hiding, you're probably not going to see many.
"The good news is, if you do get into the backcountry, there's a good chance you'll be among those who take a spike bull this year."
OHV maps–don't leave home without one
If you're going to use an off-highway vehicle during the hunt, it's critical that you obtain an OHV riding map for the area you're going to hunt. These maps are available from the agency that manages the land you'll be hunting on. That agency is usually the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management.
Aoude says it's important that hunters keep their OHVs on designated roads and trails. Taking OHVs into areas where it isn't legal to take them damages the habitat the elk rely on, disturbs and scatters the animals, and ruins the hunting experience for others.
Aoude also encourages you to do some preseason scouting and to check the boundary descriptions for the areas you'll be hunting.
You can get maps and boundary descriptions for the general elk units at the following Web pages: