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APPLICATION STRATEGY 2015: Idaho deer, elk and antelope

 

Large velvet mule deer buck
Photo credit: Getty Images

Idaho’s deer, elk and antelope overview

Awesome mule deer genetics, rugged backcountry that supports plenty of trophy bull elk, and Boone and Crockett qualifying antelope bucks are all great reasons to put Idaho on your radar for 2015. In fact, Idaho may be the most overlooked destination in the West. Tags are issued for controlled hunts for deer, elk and antelope through a system that does not hassle with points. If you do not draw a controlled tag in the draw, Idaho makes it simple to head afield every year with their over-the-counter (OTC) opportunities for both deer and elk. If you already applied in Idaho for sheep, moose or mountain goat, then you are not eligible to apply for deer, elk or antelope in the controlled hunt, but you are eligible to buy an OTC tag. One serious consideration is that you must invest in a non-refundable hunting license in order to apply, so be prepared to leave money on the table if you are unsuccessful in drawing without even earning a point! You can apply online here.

Why Idaho for deer
 

  • No point system gives hope. As backwards as this statement may sound, it is actually true when you think about it. It is never too late to get in the game and begin applying for Idaho’s trophy bucks since nobody has an accrued point advantage. You cannot win if you do not play!
  • Multiple species. Both mule deer and whitetail deer are available with the opportunity for trophy bucks for each of the deer species.
  • Incredible genetics. Ranking second to only Colorado for both typical and nontypical Boone and Crockett entries for mule deer, Idaho has some of the best mule deer genetics.
  • OTC opportunity. Some of the best mule deer units can be hunted with OTC archery tags. Many of Idaho’s best whitetail opportunities are hunted with OTC tags.

Idaho mule deer are among the best in the West. The state’s unique system does not allow someone to apply for deer if they have already applied for sheep, moose or mountain goat, which helps to keep deer applicants low. The state has always produced some great bucks and 2015 should be no different. Bucks scoring over 180” B&C is not uncommon for Idaho. In fact, there are usually a fair number of bucks taken in Idaho every year that reach 200” or more. Look to the units in Southwestern and Southcentral Idaho to provide your best chance at a trophy buck. The units of Owyhee County (40, 41, 42, 46, 47) have produced the most B&C qualifying typical mule deer entries over the last 10 years. The controlled seasons in some of these units can be challenging to draw with odds of less than 10%. Remember that nobody has any points accumulated, which means that theoretically everyone has the same chance.

In addition to the controlled deer seasons, Idaho offers plenty of OTC deer hunting with general tags. The best part is that many of the hardest to draw controlled hunt areas have OTC seasons available with different dates. Some of these opportunities may be more physically challenging backpack style hunts but could give you a chance to hunt bucks in the rut.

Idaho's top Boone and Crockett mule deer entries all-time: typical

County

Entries

Units within county

Bonneville 24 63, 63A, 66, 66A, 67, 68A, 69
Franklin 18 73, 74, 75, 77
Adams 17 18, 22, 23, 32, 32A
Boise 16 32, 32A, 33, 34, 35, 39
Idaho 15 10, 10A, 11, 11A, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 16A, 17, 18, 19, 19A, 20, 20A, 22, 26

 

Idaho's top Boone and Crockett mule deer entries all-time: nontypical

County

Entries

Units within county

Adams 18 18, 22, 23, 32, 32A
Idaho 12 10, 10A, 11, 11A, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 16A, 17, 18, 19, 19A, 20, 20A, 22, 26
Gem 11 32, 32A, 38
Boise 10 32, 32A, 33, 34, 35, 39
Caribou 10 66A, 69, 71, 72, 74, 75, 76


Whitetailed deer

The Idaho whitetail deer are thriving and the trophy potential in the panhandle region of the state is hard to beat. Season dates are available that allow you to chase whitetail bucks during the rut. Timber companies own a lot of the property in this region of Idaho, but many of them do allow hunting.

Over the years, there have been numerous whitetail bucks from Idaho that would rival some of the bucks in the Midwest states. Bucks scoring 130” or more are common and occasionally the state produces bucks scoring over 150” B&C. OTC opportunities are waiting for you in Idaho to hunt whitetails.

Note: Idaho Residents or nonresidents may buy one unsold nonresident general season deer tag at the nonresident price starting August 1, 2015 that can be used as a second tag.

Why Idaho for elk
 

  • Trophy bulls. Big bulls scoring 350" B&C or more are harvested in Idaho every year.
  • OTC opportunities. Idaho allows hunters to purchase OTC tags, making it possible to hunt some of Idaho's premium draw units with archery equipment.
  • Wilderness experience. Backcountry elk hunting is found in many areas in Idaho. This could be the most scenic hunting adventure you ever go on.
  • Long seasons during the rut. Archery hunters will find peak rut dates with long, liberal season dates. More days afield equals an increase in hunt success.

Although Idaho does not receive the same attention as other western states for producing giant bull elk, it has become respected as a state of opportunity for the hunter in search of a quality experience. Bulls reaching over 320” B&C are harvested every year in Idaho in many units across the state.

Archery elk hunting seasons in Idaho offer some incredible dates to capture peak rut activity. Some of the best archery units are offered exclusively through controlled hunt choices, but do not overlook some of the phenomenal archery elk hunting available with the OTC general tags. 

The general elk tags in Idaho are available in zones. Each zone is made up of several individual units. Wilderness areas are found within many of these zones and offer some of the most beautiful backpacking country out there. Wolves and other predators have proven to be hard on elk herds in several parts of the state, but Idaho has done a great job of encouraging wolf hunting to help manage this devastating predator. Grizzlies are also found in much of the backcountry of Idaho so be careful while camping and hunting. 

Some of the better options for general elk hunting zones are located along the Montana border. In recent years, the Smoky Bennett, Lemhi, Pioneer and Diamond Creek zones have also produced quality bulls. The most difficult controlled elk hunts to draw are the less strenuous hunts in areas with migration dates or gentle terrain where elk may be found in the peak rut dates. The majority of these units are found in southwest portion of the state. Research the unit profiles to find a season and unit that fits your needs.

Note: Like deer, Idaho residents or nonresidents may buy one unsold nonresident general season elk tag at the nonresident price starting August 1, 2015 that can be used as a second tag.

Idaho's top Boone and Crockett elk entries all-time: typical

County

Entries

Units within county

Fremont 6 60, 60A, 61, 62, 62A
Valley 6 19A, 20A, 24, 26, 27, 32, 32A, 33, 34
Idaho 5 10, 10A, 11, 11A, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 16A, 17, 18, 19, 19A, 20, 20A, 22, 26
Kootenai 4 2, 3, 4, 4A, 5, 6
Shoshone 4 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10, 10A

 

Idaho's top Boone and Crockett elk entries all-time: nontypical

County

Entries

Units within county

Adams 3 18, 22, 23, 32, 32A
Shoshone 3 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10, 10A
Cassia 2 53, 54, 55, 56, 57
Clearwater 2 6, 8, 8A, 9, 10, 10A
Fremont 2 60, 60A, 61, 62, 62A
Idaho 2 10, 10A, 11, 11A, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 16A, 17, 18, 19, 19A, 20, 20A, 22, 26
Latah 2 6, 8, 8A

 

Why Idaho for antelope

Horse Creek Outfitters antelope buck

Photo credit: Horse Creek Outfitters
  • Guaranteed opportunity. Although Idaho is not a contender in B&C entries for antelope, it is a fun place to bowhunt with unlimited tags in many areas.
  • Random draw rifle tags. Aside from New Mexico, Idaho is the only other state that distributes their rifle antelope tags without a point system. This gives hope knowing that you do not have to necessarily wait several years for a chance to draw.

Idaho is a great state to pursue antelope. If you are a bowhunter, then you can draw tags every year since they are unlimited. The rifle seasons are the most challenging to draw in the highly desired units. A mature antelope buck in Idaho can reach 75” or more and a few bucks break 80” annually. Do not travel to Idaho with the idea that you will rewrite the record book, but if you are after an enjoyable antelope hunt then this is your place.

Idaho's top Boone and Crockett antelope entries all-time

County

Entries

Units within county

Butte 6 50, 51, 52A, 58, 63, 68
Custer 6 28, 36, 36A, 36B, 37, 37A, 50, 51
Blaine 5 36, 44, 48, 49, 52, 52A, 53, 68
Elmore 3 39, 44, 45
Lemhi 3 21A28, 29, 30, 30A, 37, 37A, 51, 58
Owyhee 3 40, 41, 42, 46, 47


General herd conditions

Mule deer

Idaho’s mule deer herd is probably one of the very best in the West. In most areas, the state manages the deer herd for opportunity, rather than trophy quality. The overall herd numbers appear to be stable and numerous trophy bucks are harvested annually. Another mild winter should mean that deer numbers are at great levels for the 2015 season. Southern and Southeastern Idaho continue to benefit from mild winters.

Whitetail deer

Deer hunters holding a tag for either deer species often overlook the whitetail deer in Idaho. For this reason, the deer numbers are good and trophy quality is often great in areas where bucks can avoid the limited pressure and grow to maturity. A lot of the whitetail hunting opportunity is on timber industry properties and access is easily granted or readily available to deer tag holders. Look to the panhandle region for the highest numbers.

Elk

Elk numbers still have a long way to go to recover to the levels of the mid-1990s. Despite the current wolf issues within the state, elk are doing well and numbers are slowly climbing, specifically in the wilderness areas where there are a limited number of hunters pursuing wolves. Plan to get physical in order to find a mature bull in the wilderness areas of Idaho. Otherwise, you will need luck on your side in order to draw a tag in a controlled unit that has easier terrain for you to harvest a big bull. 

Antelope

Idaho is home to some great antelope hunting with good numbers available in many units. Consecutive mild winters and current spring moisture should help the antelope herd thrive and produce great trophy bucks for 2015. Look to the units in the south central and Southwestern portion of the state.

What’s new in 2015?

  • The Idaho Big Game Seasons and Rules book (regulations) is valid for two years, which means that the new book is also good for 2016.
  • Idaho has introduced new controlled deer seasons.
    • Unit 44 has a new controlled archery deer season.     
    • Unit 68 has a new muzzleloader hunt with late dates.
  • Idaho has introduced new controlled elk seasons.
    • Unit 39 has a new controlled archery elk season.
    • Unit 39 has a new controlled muzzleloader elk season.
  • Unlimited controlled deer hunts in Units 27 and 73 are now only available as a first choice hunt option only.

The draw system: An overview

  • Tag or license: Game hunting license plus hunt licenses (tags) for each species.
  • Point system: No point system.
  • Youth: No special opportunity in the trophy species; however, a tag can be transferred to a youth prior to the start of the season.
  • Draw type: Lottery.
  • Resident perk: Residents are awarded 90% of the licenses for each species.
  • Application: You can apply as a single person or as a party of four hunters. Residents and nonresidents can apply together, but make sure that nonresident permits are available for each hunt you apply for because applying together will put your application in the nonresident tag allocation pool. Applying as a party for these three species could eliminate you from being drawn if only one tag is available.

Application types and deadlines for 2015
 

Resident &
nonresident
application*

Online application
deadline
(by 11:59 p.m. MT)

Modify/withdraw
deadline date*

Results
available

Deer June 5, 2015 Call IDFG
@ 208-334-3700
July 10, 2015
Elk June 5, 2015 Call IDFG
@ 208-334-3700
July 10, 2015
Antelope June 5, 2015 Call IDFG
@ 208-334-3700
July 10, 2015

*Modifying is only allowed on a case by case basis

 

Item

Resident

Nonresident

Refundable if not drawn?

Hunting license $12.75 $154.75 No
Youth hunting license
(9 to 17 years of age)
$7.25 N/A No
Youth mentored hunting license
(9 to 17 years of age)*
N/A $31.75 No
Controlled hunt
application fee
$10 $14.75 No
Internet processing fee 3% of total + $3.50 3% of total + $3.50 No
Telephone processing fee 3% of total + $5.50 3% of total + $5.50 No
Adult deer tag $19.75 $301.75 Yes
Adult elk tag $30.75 $416.75 Yes
Adult antelope tag $31.25 $311.75 Yes
Junior mentored deer tag $10.75 $23.75 Yes
Junior mentored elk tag $16.50 $39.75 Yes
Archery permit $18.25 $20 N/A
Muzzleloader permit $18.25 $20 N/A

*Must be accompanied by licensed adult

Special limitations to consider

If you have already applied for sheep, moose or mountain goat earlier in 2015 then Idaho will not allow you to apply for deer, elk or antelope in the controlled hunt draw.

Unlocking Idaho’s system

The key to Idaho is to identify the hunt that you would desire most and apply for it, but also select one of the many quality OTC choices that are available for deer and elk. Remember that Idaho offers an unlimited amount of archery antelope tags through the draw.

The point system

Idaho does not have a point system in place.

Youth

Discounted youth hunting licenses and tag fees are available. In addition, there is a mentored youth hunting license that is available to any youth age 9 to 17 that is accompanied by a licensed adult. This mentored youth hunting license will allow a youth to hunt without completing a hunter’s safety course prior to going afield. There are also a limited number of youth-only hunts available.

Party applications

For deer, elk and antelope, you may apply up to four people on one party application. Residents and nonresidents can be combined on a party application. If there are fewer tags available than the total number on a party application, and that party application is drawn, Idaho will NOT issue additional tags to fulfill the party application. In this case, your application will be rejected.

Idaho deer, elk and antelope draw FAQs

Where and how do I apply?

Idaho’s application can be submitted in one of three ways: online, paper application through the mail (must be postmarked by midnight on June 5, 2015) or over the phone (call 800-554-8685). See deadlines and fees in the tables above.

Is Idaho good for building points?

There are no point systems in Idaho.

Can I turn my tag in if I decide not to hunt?

Yes. Full refund for hunting license and game tag is only available to those with illness or injury that makes it not possible to hunt, military deployment or death of immediate family member. If a refund is requested for any other reason, then only partial refund will be granted.

Do I have to front fees in Idaho?

Yes. You will have to pay all fees upfront, including the tag fee. If unsuccessful in the draw, you will be refunded the entire tag fee, but all other fees will be retained by Idaho. The nonrefundable fees include a controlled hunt application fee, a processing fee and an annual hunting license. Only the purchase of one hunting license is required.

Can I archery hunt in Idaho with my any legal weapon tag?

Yes. You can use archery equipment during the any legal weapon season. You cannot use archery equipment during a muzzleloader-only season.

What is a controlled hunt?

This is a hunt choice that is for a limited number of tags in a specific area for a specific species. Hunting pressure is controlled by the limit of tags available. General hunts are not controlled hunts.

Idaho also has short-range weapon seasons. What are these?

Short-range weapons are limited to a muzzleloader, archery equipment, crossbow, a shotgun using slugs or shot of size #00 buck or larger or a handgun using straight-walled cartridges not originally developed for rifles.

The seasons

Idaho offers a season for “any legal weapon.” Although most hunters refer to this as rifle season, the hunter has the option to hunt with any legal weapon of their choice.
 
There are also muzzleloader-only seasons available where only muzzleloading rifles or muskets are permitted. The hunter is also required to have in their possession a license with a muzzleloader permit validation.
 
Archery-only seasons are available for all species. During these seasons only compound and recurve bows are legal and the hunter must have in their possession a license with an archery permit validation. Crossbows are only legal during archery-only seasons if the hunter has a disabled archery permit.
 
Short range weapon seasons are also offered in a select few areas. These seasons allow the use of muzzleloaders, archery, handguns or shotguns only. No centerfire rifles are permitted during this season type.

Weapon restrictions

Muzzleloaders

  • There is a minimum of .45 caliber for deer and antelope. Elk hunting requires a minimum of .50 caliber.
  • Loose form powder is required. Pelletized powder is prohibited.
  • Sabots are prohibited as bullets must be within .010 inch of bore.
  • Projectile must be lead or lead alloy and cannot be jacketed. Patched round ball is legal.
  • You can use flint, percussion cap or musket cap only. 209 primers are illegal.
  • It must be equipped with an ignition system in which any portion of the cap is exposed or visible when the weapon is cocked and ready to fire.
  • It must be equipped with only open or peep sights. Scopes and any electronics are prohibited.

Archery

  • Arrows or bolts must have broadheads measuring at least 7/8 inch in width with a primary cutting edge no less than 0.015 inch thick.
  • Bows must have a peak draw weight of no less than 40 pounds.
  • Expanding broadheads are prohibited.
  • An electronic or tritium-powered device cannot be attached to an arrow, bolt or bow.
  • Compound bows cannot exceed 85% let-off.
  • The arrow and broadhead must have a combined total weight of no less than 300 grains.
  • Arrows must be at least 24 inches in length from nock to tip of broadhead. 

Draw odds and tag availability

Deer

  • Some of the most desired hunt choices are difficult to draw.
  • General deer tags are sold OTC and are valid for seasons that are not categorized as controlled hunts.
  • If you do not draw a controlled hunt, you can still purchase an OTC tag and hunt many units across the state.
  • A second tag may be purchased after August 1.

Total Boone and Crockett mule deer typical all-time

Total Boone and Crockett mule deer nontypical all-time

Elk

  • Some of the very best elk units in the state allow OTC archery elk hunting.
  • The OTC elk tags are available in management zones that are made up of groups of units.
  • Wilderness areas hold a lot of the elk in Idaho and will make for a physically challenging hunt.
  • Be aware of grizzly bears in some of the remote areas in Idaho. 

Antelope

  • There are no general season tags for antelope.
  • There are plenty of great rut dates for the archery hunters.
  • Unlimited tag numbers in many antelope areas for archery-only hunting.

Special features for deer, elk and antelope in Idaho

  • If you are planning to hunt archery, then you need to get an archery permit validation.
  • All muzzleloader hunters must get a muzzleloader permit validation.
  • Crossbows are not permitted during archery seasons, unless you have a disability.
  • Idaho is one of the top producing states for trophy Boone and Crockett qualifying mule deer.
  • No points are available for any applicant or species.
  • If you applied for sheep, moose or mountain goat already this year in Idaho then you cannot apply for deer, elk or antelope in the controlled draw.
  • If you plan to muzzleloader hunt, then review the restrictions. 

Managing points and expectations

There are no points in Idaho. What can I expect?

With no point system in place there is no real draw strategy, but there is definitely a great opportunity for shaping up your fall hunting calendar. Idaho’s application deadline is timed perfectly because you should know the draw results for several other western states including Colorado, Utah, Nevada and New Mexico. You should also know if you are lucky enough to be hunting elk or antelope in Arizona or elk, sheep or mountain goat in Wyoming. If you have a calendar that is looking bleak this fall then your strategy should be to take advantage of Idaho’s tremendous opportunities to go afield this fall.
 
Deer
The main question here is what dates are available in your calendar? The great thing about Idaho is that there are deer hunting opportunities for both species of deer from August all the way into December. Some of these are controlled hunt choices, while others are offered OTC.

Some of the most attractive and popular choices are the rifle seasons offered in Units 40, 44 and 45. The controlled rifle season in Unit 40 will give you a great chance to chase bucks in the rut in November. Unit 45 is better for late October hunters. Unit 44 opens in mid-September for any rifle hunter lucky enough to draw. These three options are not a simple draw (historic drawing odds are around 3% to 8%), but you have the same chance as everyone else.

Remember that if you are not successful in the draw that you can always purchase an OTC deer tag and hunt one of numerous units across the state for mule deer or whitetail.
 
Elk
The obvious standouts for elk are Units 40 and 54. These two units are some of the best that Idaho has to offer and the draw odds support that. Unit 54 has two options for hunting the rut: a great archery hunt and an incredible muzzleloader hunt. There are also some great rifle options that include seasons that catch some rut activity and migration hunts with later dates. 

Other good choices include Unit 44, Unit 45 and Unit 46. If you do not draw an elk tag in a controlled season, do not overlook the great OTC opportunities in Idaho. Remember that some of the best units offer OTC archery hunting. Be aware that you may need to get physical to hunt some of these units.
 
Antelope
Look to Units 39, 52A and 54 for some of the better antelope hunting that Idaho has to offer. Odds of drawing are slim for the rifle hunters, but the archery hunters can draw tags regularly with draw odds ranging from 20% to 100%, depending on the unit. There is also a large unit group that has unlimited archery tags offered through the drawing. If you have the time to commit to archery antelope hunting, you will see that it is one of the most enjoyable hunts around!
 
Idaho is clearly a great state with opportunities for each of these three species. Pick a season that fits your calendar and has the criteria that you are after and apply.

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