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APPLICATION STRATEGY 2021: Idaho Elk, Deer and Antelope

IDAHO'S 2021 ELK, MULE DEER, AND ANTELOPE APPLICATION OVERVIEW

Jump to: NEW FOR 2021 Draw SystemState Information Elk Breakdown MULE DEER BREAKDOWN WHITETAIL DEER BREAKDOWNANTELOPE BREAKDOWN 

The deadline to apply for Idaho deer, elk and antelope is June 5, 2021 at 11:59 p.m MST. You can apply online here, in person at any Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) office or license vendor, or by phone by calling 1-800-554-8685. Fees do apply to online and phone purchases.


New for 2021

Along with changes to the nonresident licensing structure for 2021, Idaho also enacted some changes to controlled and general hunts for both deer and antelope. You can read more about the prior changes here.

Mule deer

Antlerless seasons have changed in west-central and eastern Idaho, particularly for youth only general seasons.

Antelope

All unlimited controlled archery antelope hunts are now first choice only. Hunters may only apply for these controlled hunts as their first choice and will no longer be able to draw this tag as a second choice.

Beginning July 1, 2021, any person drawn for a controlled antelope hunt (including either sex and doe and fawn) is not eligible to apply the following year for any controlled antelope hunt.


State information

View important information and an overview of Idaho’s rules/regulations, the draw system, tag and license fees and an interactive boundary line map on our State Profile. You can also view the Idaho species profiles to access historical and statistical data to help you locate trophy areas.

Idaho State Profile Elk Profile MULE DEER PROFILE ANTELOPE PROFILEDraw Odds Filtering 2.0 gohunt maps

Important dates and information

  • Applications for deer, elk and antelope must be submitted by 11:59 p.m MST on June 5, 2021.
  • Applications can be submitted online here.
  • Mailed applications are no longer accepted.
  • Up to four hunters can apply together on a group application for deer, elk and antelope.
  • There is new protocol for picking up returned tags in Idaho. Read more here.
  • The second drawing application period for leftover tags will run from Aug. 5 to 15, 2021.
  • Idaho hunting licenses, access fees and application fees are nonrefundable.
  • If an applicant is successful in drawing an antlered only permit for deer, elk or antelope, they may not reapply for a controlled hunt for a period of one year.
  • Any person whose name is drawn in a controlled hunt for deer or elk is prohibited from hunting in any other hunt for the same species except when the hunter has drawn an unlimited controlled hunt tag or depredation hunt or has purchased a leftover nonresident general season tag for that species at the nonresident price.

Snowpack in Idaho

2021

Idaho NRCS 2021

Idaho snow water equivalent from May 10, 2021. Source: National Resources Conservation Service

2020

Idaho moisture levels 2020

Idaho snow water equivalent from April 20, 2020. Source: National Resources Conservation Service

Idaho's current drought status

2021

Idaho Drought Monitor

Source: US Drought Monitor

2020

Idaho drought monitor 2020

Source: US Drought Monitor

The Idaho draw system

Idaho is one of the few unique states that does not use a formal system of preference or bonus points for the distribution of controlled hunt permits. A simple lottery system is used, which puts every applicant—regardless of time spent applying—on a level playing field. In Idaho, nonresidents are eligible to draw up to 10% of any given species controlled hunt tags (bighorn sheep raffle and Super Hunt tags do not affect this 10% allotment) although this number is not guaranteed. In hunts with fewer than 10 available tags, only one shall be issued to nonresidents.

As a nonresident, how can my draw odds be the same as resident draw odds?

Idaho’s draw odds can be a little complicated with the way that they cap the nonresidents at up to 10% of the tags. However, the way that they run the drawing process can be a benefit to nonresidents. Any time that the ratio between resident to nonresident applicants is higher than 9:1, meaning nine residents to one nonresident, the nonresident applicant has basically the same odds as a resident. With this ratio, there are not enough nonresident applicants to fill the 10% of the total permits offered for that unit, so the cap or quota doesn’t come into play.


Idaho's 2021 elk breakdown

Not typically known for giant bulls, Idaho does offer great opportunities for hunters on either over-the-counter (OTC) tags or controlled hunts. Opportunity is widely available throughout the state for anyone willing to work for it; however, the best conditions, trophy potentials and even the dates are found within the controlled hunting opportunities. Some units feature both controlled and OTC hunt options — a fact that needs to be watched closely to stay legal, but can also play big into your favor when it comes to backdooring some mature bulls.

Idaho elk harvest trends for the past ten years

Year General tag elk harvested Controlled tag elk harvested Total harvested
2011 9,866 4,898 14,764
2012 10,241 5,784 16,025
2013 9,853 6,373 16,226
2014 12,886 7,190 20,076
2015 15,048 8,799 23,847
2016 13,172 7,493 20,665
2017 13,282 8,559 21,841
2018 13,473 7,898 21,371
2019 13,804 5,831 19,635
2020 15,050 6,994 22,044

Current elk herd condition

As stated earlier, Idaho does not typically offer the trophy potentials for bulls that are found in some of the surrounding states, but it does have a ton of opportunity for those willing to work for it. Herds found in the northern half of the state are continuing to struggle, primarily due to predation;however, the rest of the herds remain strong. The 2020/2021 winter did see some snow storms, but the effects of these were fairly short lived and will not make an impact on calf recruitment. With the current drought situation in the West, many of us are anxiously watching precipitation charts and are hopeful that most of the northern states will not see any major effects.

The controlled hunt seasons

While Idaho offers some great OTC hunting, the primary objective of this article is to take a solid look at the limited entry opportunities available for hunters. As previously mentioned, the best hunting dates and areas are generally reserved for controlled hunts. Coincidentally, these hunts generally see the highest success rates and highest rates of mature elk harvested. Idaho offers a large number of controlled hunts—most of which are season specific—and it will be important for hunters to pay close attention to their hunt codes when applying. In the below section, we take an indepth look at the best controlled hunts for Idaho elk.

Archery

Because the archery seasons traditionally fall in line with the September rut, these seasons will generally experience the toughest draw odds in the state. Drawing these tags can be a long shot, but the hunting experience can create lasting memories for life. There are only a handful of archery only controlled hunt areas in Idaho and most of these are centered around the southwestern corner of the state. Here, hunting pressure is regulated enough that bulls can grow to great size.

Breakdown of Idaho’s controlled archery only elk tags
(not in order of quality)

Units Trophy
Potential
Harvest
success
2020 resident
odds
2020 nonresident
odds
Controlled
hunt area
18 320”+ 30% 21% 4.1% --
39 310”+ 33% 9.7% 4.4% --
40, 41, 42 350”+ 78% 3.1% 1.2% 40-1
44 330”+ 56% 8.8% 1.4% --
45, 52 320”+ 31% 22% 2.8% 45-1
41, 46, 47 340”+ 55% 16% 4.4% 46-1
54 350”+ 66% 2.8% 0.63% --

Muzzleloader

Idaho is very strict with their muzzleloader laws and really restricts hunters with any type of modern technology on their firearm. Because of this, many hunters tend to shy away from these tags even though season dates can be prime for harvesting mature bulls. Great odds can be found across the board for these. This can be an excellent option for someone to consider if they are willing to put in the extra effort required.

Breakdown of Idaho’s top controlled muzzleloader hunts for elk based on 6 point % in 2020
(not in order of quality)

Units Trophy
Potential
Harvest
success
2020 resident
odds
2020 nonresident
odds
Controlled
hunt area
6 point %
41, 46, 47 340”+ 35% 12% 2.8% 46-1 100%
39 310”+ 42% 6.3% 5.3% -- 89%
54 350”+ 79% 3.5% 0.93% -- 87%
50 300”+ 32% 32% 22% 50-1 61%
64, 65, 67 310”+ 17% 100% 56% 64-1 59%
66, 69 330”+ 32% 40% 22% 66-1 47%
49 300”+ 21% 100% 67% -- 46%

Rifle

As the most popular weapon of choice, the rifle seasons for Idaho elk will see some steep odds, but also have the widest variety of opportunities. Idaho offers both early and late rifle hunting opportunities with the early hunts generally occurring around the tail end of the rut while the late hunts are more primarily focusing on migratory elk. Good opportunities can be found with both tags although hunting conditions can be tough during the late hunts.

Breakdown of Idaho’s top controlled rifle hunts for elk based on 6 point % in 2020
(not in order of quality)

Units Trophy
Potential
Harvest
success
2020 resident
odds
2020 nonresidents
odds
Controlled
hunt area
6 point %
19A 300”+ 26% 10% 4.6% -- 100%
40, 41, 42 340”+ 100% 0.63% 0.36% 40-1 100%
70, 71, 72, 73, 73A, 74 320”+ 76% 3.2% 2.2% 70-1 100%
63 300”+ 32% 100% 100% -- 100%
11 320”+ 25% 6.7% 3.7% -- 100%
29 310”+ 36% 18% 7.4% -- 100%
37 310”+ 100% 20% 5.1% -- 100%
43 310”+ 75% 7.1% 4.7% -- 100%
44 330”+ 100% 3.3% 2.0% -- 100%
45 320”+ 100% 8% 5.1% -- 100%
49 300”+ 48% 8.3% 3.8% -- 100%
50 300”+ 100% 4.6% 2.7% 50-1 100%
58, 59, 59A 310”+ 50% 3.5% 2.2% 58-1 100%

Managing expectations

With the lack of any formal bonus or preference point system, applicants in Idaho will never be rewarded for their length of application for any given unit; however, the playing field is level for everyone. Under this system, your name could be drawn for the tag of a lifetime during any application. Establishing your goals and aspirations for Idaho early in your strategy will be key to ensuring that you draw your most desired tag. With the sheer amount of controlled tags available, most hunters can likely find a hunt with decent odds to suit their needs.

Find your resident controlled elk draw odds here

Find your nonresident controlled elk draw odds here


Idaho's 2021 mule deer breakdown

While quietly slipping under the radar of most, Idaho has been producing giant mule deer bucks for years. Recently, herds have struggled to maintain healthy levels, particularly after severe winter storms in the past few years; however, good, solid hunting can still produce some incredible bucks. Most of the OTC hunts take place in October — before the rut — with the best hunting dates saved for those with controlled tags.

Idaho statewide 4 point or better harvest in the last five years

Year

4 point or better %

General tag

Controlled tag

2016 42% 68%
2017 45% 70%
2018 37% 68%
2019 39% 67%
2020 35% 66%

Current mule deer herd condition

Overall, the deer populations have been holding somewhat steady although those found in the north have experienced some struggles. The central and eastern portions of the state experienced large winter kill during the 2016/217 winter, but reports have been coming in over the last year that the numbers of mature bucks have been returning and fawn numbers have been looking great. This could be a great year to have a deer tag in Idaho.

The controlled hunt seasons

Some incredible opportunities can be had through hard work on the OTC tags; however, it’s not a surprise that the best dates and largest bucks are routinely found during controlled hunts. A huge array of hunts are offered in Idaho with weapon selection being the biggest limiting factor that applicants will need to first consider. In the following tables, we are going to look at some of the best hunts to consider based upon each weapon type for 2021.

Archery

Out of the controlled hunts, the archery hunts generally carry the best odds of drawing, but at the cost of typically less desirable dates and lower hunter success levels. Still, with the cost of admission, the archery hunts can be a great opportunity for anyone to consider.

Breakdown of Idaho’s top controlled archery hunts for mule deer
based on 4 point % in 2020
(not in order of quality)

Units Trophy
potential
Harvest
success
2020 resident
odds
2020 nonresident
odds
Controlled
hunt area
4 point %
45 190”+ 50% 14% 1.9% -- 100%
68A 160”+ 17% 100% 100% 68AX 100%
78 170”+ 57% 17% 5.8% -- 100%
40 190”+ 26% 26% 8.2% -- 90%
72, 76 180”+ 10% 100% 100% 72-1 60%
53 170”+ 23% 100% 100% 53-1 55%

Muzzleloader

While muzzleloaders are extremely regulated in Idaho, hunters can find great opportunities if they are willing to put up with the limitations. Most of the muzzleloader controlled hunts take place during the mule deer rut and will provide hunters excellent opportunities to look over a number of bucks.

Breakdown of Idaho’s top controlled muzzleloader hunts for mule deer
based on 4 point % in 2020
(not in order of quality)

Units Trophy
potential
Harvest
success
2020 resident
odds
2020 nonresident
odds
Controlled
hunt area
4 point %
45 190”+ 43% 9.1% 6.8% -- 93%
52 190”+ 33% 18% 2.8% -- 87%
74 160”+ 53% 26% 10% -- 87%
68 160”+ 54% 15% NA* -- 83%
57 170”+ 26% 41% 9.5% -- 83%
29, 37A 160”+ 35% 90% 19% 29-1 80%
50, 51 170”+ 53% 24% 13% 51-1 77%
*Zero nonresident applicants for this hunt in 2020.

Rifle

As the most popular weapon choice, the controlled rifle season hunts will generally carry the lowest odds for applicants. Most of the rifle hunts take place in or around the rut with many extending throughout the duration of the rut. The draw odds are steep, but these seasons will generally provide the best opportunity for trophy bucks in Idaho.

Breakdown of Idaho’s top controlled rifle hunts for mule deer based on 4 point % in 2020
(not in order of quality)

Units Trophy
potential
Harvest
success
2020 resident
odds
2020 nonresident
odds
Controlled
hunt area
4 point %
11 180”+ 59% 5.8% 2.2% -- 100%
18 170”+ 58% 12% 3.3% -- 100%
21 180”+ 80% 2.1% 1.5% -- 100%
25 170“+ 69% 3.8% 2.9% -- 100%
28 170“+ 100% 2% 1.6% -- 100%
30 170“+ 100% 1.8% 1.5% -- 100%
55 170“+ 65% 4.8% 1.4% -- 100%
62 170“+ 100% 3.6% 2.5% -- 100%
70 180“+ 100% 1.2% 1% -- 100%
73 170“+ 100% 1.3% 1.1% -- 100%
36B 180“+ 100% 0.98% 0.70% -- 100%
38 170“+ 54% 12% 12% 38-1 100%
46, 47 180“+ 49% 4.9% 1.9% 47-1 100%

Whitetail deer in Idaho

Along with mule deer, hunters will also have the opportunity to hunt whitetail deer nearly statewide. Most of the whitetail hunting is conducted through general tags and hunters can find some exceptional bucks — particularly in the panhandle. Additionally, many of the general tag options allow hunters to hunt whitetail during the rut with rifles. You can find more information about whitetail options on Filtering 2.0.


Managing expectations 

With the lack of any formal bonus or preference point system, applicants in Idaho will never be rewarded for their length of application for any given unit and the playing field is level for everyone. Under this system, your name could be drawn for the tag of a lifetime during any application. Establishing your goals and aspirations for Idaho early in your strategy will be key to ensuring that you draw your most desired tag. With the sheer amount of controlled tags available, most hunters can likely find a hunt with decent odds to suit their needs. Additionally, the OTC hunts in Idaho can be great options to look at!

FIND YOUR RESIDENT CONTROLLED MULE DEER DRAW ODDS HERE

FIND YOUR NONRESIDENT CONTROLLED MULE DEER DRAW ODDS HERE


Idaho's 2021 antelope breakdown

Idaho has a smaller, but healthy population of antelope. Out of the three species covered in this article, antelope in Idaho saw the biggest number of changes to controlled hunts in 2021. The most notable of these changes included a new ruling that any and all unlimited archery licenses must be applied for as a first choice only — a move that should increase the draw odds for other weapon types. Additionally, many new unlimited archery only seasons have been created — a change that should additionally drop applicant numbers in other controlled hunts and should provide more balanced hunting pressure across the landscape.

Harvest trends for Idaho antelope for the last five years

Year Total harvest Success %
(all seasons)
Average horn length
2016 1,789 67% 11.6”
2017 1,675 60% 11.6”
2018* 1,845 65% 9.6”
2019 1,520 54% 11.5”
2020 1,723 58% 11.2”
*2018 horn length data seemed to have incorrect values from the state. IDFG reported three 0" buckhorn lengths and one buck had 1” horns. We removed those data points as those are most likely errors on the state end.

Current antelope herd condition

Antelope populations continue to do well in the state despite the smaller population sizes. The winter of 2020/21 has proven to be fairly light but some of the existing drought conditions could cause horn growth issues for antelope. Still, hunting conditions for the 2021 season should be fairly par for the course.

The controlled hunt seasons

Idaho has a good number of controlled hunt options for antelope for applicants to consider. These can be primarily broken down into categories based on weapon type. The best success rates will be found with the rifle hunts; however, draw odds for these are often steep. Archery hunts carry the best odds, but the hunting is obviously more challenging

Archery

The best draw odds will almost always be found with the archery seasons. In addition, several of the hunts have an unlimited tag quota. Most of the hunts begin a few weeks ahead of the general big game archery seasons and can provide a great opportunity to shake off the cobwebs for your fall. As a bonus, some of the season dates extend through the antelope rut, which can be an incredibly exciting hunt.

As noted earlier, it will be important this year to remember that all unlimited archery hunts must be applied for as a first and only choice.

Breakdown of Idaho’s unlimited controlled archery hunts for antelope in 2021
(not in order of quality)

Unit(s) Controlled
hunt area
Trophy
potential
2021
season dates
28, 36B, 37, 37A 28-1 75”+ Aug. 15 to Sept. 15, 2021
21A, 29, 30, 30A 30A-1 70”+ Aug. 15 to Sept. 15, 2021
36, 36A 36-1 70”+ Aug. 15 to Sept. 15, 2021
40, 41, 42 40-1 70”+ Sept. 1 to 15, 2021
46, 47 46-1 70”+ Aug. 15 to 30, 2021
49, 50 49-1 70”+ Aug. 15 to Sept. 15, 2021
51, 63 51-2 70”+ Aug. 15 to Sept. 15, 2021
52A, 53 52A-1 75”+ Aug. 15 to Sept. 15, 2021
58, 59, 59A 59A-1 70”+ Aug. 15 to Sept. 15, 2021

Muzzleloader

Idaho only offers a handful of opportunities for muzzleloader antelope, but some great opportunities can be had. Most of the seasons begin towards the tail end of the rut, but some do afford hunters the opportunity to chase bucks during the peak of the rut. 

Breakdown of Idaho’s controlled muzzleloader hunts for antelope
(not in order of quality)

Units Trophy
potential
Harvest
success
2020 resident
odds
2020 nonresident
odds
Controlled
hunt area
Average
horn length
30A 70”+ 54% 19% 15% -- 11.6”
41 70”+ 42% 15% 14% 41-2 12.2”
47 70”+ 35% 36% 36% -- 12”
63 65”+ 70% 36% 35% 63-2* 10.9”
63 65”+ 54% 19% 18% 63-2** 9.2”
*Early hunt
**Late hunt

Rifle

By far, the best odds for success at a mature buck will be found with the rifle season. As stated, draw odds are steeper with these hunts than those found during the archery or muzzleloader seasons. For the most part, these hunts take place during the dead period between the end of general archery and the beginning of general rifle for most species. This can be a great time to get out with a bonus tag in your pocket while not detracting from any other hunts.

Breakdown of Idaho’s top controlled rifle hunts for antelope based on
average horn length in 2020
(not in order of quality)

Units Trophy
potential
Harvest
success
2020 resident
odds
2020 nonresident
odds
Controlled 
hunt area
Average
horn length
54 80”+ 72% 2.2% 0.75% -- 13.4”
37, 37A 75”+ 87% 2.9% 2.4% 37-1 13.2”
52A, 53 75”+ 74% 3.8% 3.6% 52A-1 13.1”
46 70”+ 86% 2.5% 2.4% -- 13”
21A, 30 70”+ 91% 5.9% 4.2% 30-1 12.8”
50 70”+ 93% 3.9% 3.8% -- 12.6”
40 70”+ 59% 3.2% 3% -- 12.5”
51, 63 70”+ 93% 3.8% 3.5% 51-1 12.3”
39 75”+ 78% 2.5% 2.3% -- 12.2”
59, 59A 70”+ 68% 3.8% 3.8% 59-1 12.2”
41, 42 70”+ 43% 5.1% 4.3% 41-1 12.1
58 70”+ 88% 3.8% 3.6% -- 12”
63 65”+ 82% 5.2% 5.1% 63-1 12”

Managing expectations 

With the lack of any formal bonus or preference point system, applicants in Idaho will never be rewarded for their length of application for any given unit; however, the playing field is level for everyone. Under this system, your name could be drawn for the tag of a lifetime during any application. Establishing your goals and aspirations for Idaho early in your strategy will be key to ensuring that you draw your most desired tag. With the sheer amount of controlled tags available, most hunters can likely find a hunt with decent odds to suit their needs. Archery hunters might consider the units with unlimited quotas for a guaranteed hunt every fall while rifle hunters may need to settle in for a long wait on their desired tag.

FIND YOUR RESIDENT ANTELOPE DRAW ODDS HERE

FIND YOUR NONRESIDENT ANTELOPE DRAW ODDS HERE

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