7 Reliable Spots to Hunt Elk in Idaho

I lived in Idaho for most of my life, and hunting has always been a big part of my life there.  I recently moved to St George, Utah, and miss the ample over-the-counter elk hunting opportunities the abound in the Gem State, but I will certainly be back to hunt many times.  

This isn’t going to be one of those posts where I say “Oh, the animals are everywhere. Just gotta go find ’em”. No, I’m going to give you the goods–even GPS coordinates.  Better than that, I’ll even give you a download of my ONX Maps coordinates for Idaho so you can also see my favorite places to camp and fish in southern Idaho.  Backfire has your back 🙂

I’m certainly very sensitive to not ruining our wild areas. If I only shared one spot to hunt, I could cause too much hunting pressure in one area. I am going to entirely avoid that problem by sharing dozens of spots all in one post.

I’m tired of hunters not helping new people get started. We say we want to recruit new hunters, but very few people are willing to actually help new hunters get an idea of where they may see these animals. I’m going to show you where you can hunt elk in Idaho.

Unit 39 (Borders Boise to the Northeast)

Tags: Over-the-counter

Unit 39 is one of the most popular elk hunting units in the state of Idaho.  Tags can be purchased over-the-counter for a very low cost if you’re a resident, and its proximity to Boise makes it easy to access for scouting trips during the summer and fall.  Unit 39 sits bordering the Treasure Valley (boise area) to its northeast.  However, because some areas of Unit 39 are very remote and require long drives on dirt roads, recognize that it can take over 3 hours to access some areas of the Unit from Boise.

This unit is also odd because the archery elk season happens after the any weapon season for elk.  The trouble with hunting unit 39 is that the season is very short, and it immediately follows the any weapon deer season, so guns have already been going off for a week before elk season begins.  Also, the compressed season means many hunters pack in for a tight window.  If you have dreams of hiking in deeper and further than anyone else, you’ll likely receive a rude awakening when you realize that there are many hunters even in the deep backcountry of Unit 39 each year.

In 2020, I hunted Unit 39 during elk season.  I had scouted the area out, and my game camera caught a decent bull just 2 days before the rifle deer season.  However, the guns started going off during rifle season and that game camera never again caught a bull on camera except for a little spike.

This is a map of Unit 39 in Idaho. You’ll see Boise on the left side of the map. The top-left of the un-darkened area is Garden Valley.

During the 2020 elk season, I spotted 42 cow elk in a single day, and on other days spotted several others.  However, I only saw one bull in range, and it was a little spike that I passed on.  However, there are absolutely elk in this unit—lots of them.  You’ll have to be in the right place at the right time and deal with many hunters in the area, but if you want to see elk and have a decent chance, unit 39 is a great option.  You’ll definitely see elk.

Most of Unit 39 is extremely steep.  There are flatter areas in the southern region, and right around Idaho City, but the rest of the Unit is mostly vertical.  If you want to hunt the backcountry in Unit 39, get yourself some boots and a backpack and train hard all summer.  It’s rough country.

Explaining my Unit 39 map: Everything blacked out is outside of unit 39.  Next, look at the black pins on the map to see the rural cities near 39.  You’ll see a black pin for Idaho City right in the center of the unit.  Then you’ll see a brown pin for Hawley Mountain, and directly above that is Garden City, Idaho.  Right at the very top edge of the map on the right, is Stanley.  The area marked off in red is closed to elk hunting (at least at the time of writing).  The elk often winter in that area.  The areas I marked in light blue are the real “elky” spots in the unit.  There are certainly elk in some of the non-blue areas as well, but they have roads, private property, and other issues.

Spot 1 – A lot of hunters will pass right by this area because it’s still in the sage and mixed trees, before the more dense timber line up higher.  However, elk can certainly be found in this area.  You’ll have to park along the river and head straight up the steep mountains into the sage brush.  Because the elk are generally moving from north down to south in the fall in this unit, this could be a good area for finding some of the bulls that get out of town when the deer season guns start going off.

Spot 2 – This is the region I hunted during the elk season of 2020. As mentioned previously, I saw dozens of elk and even had a chance at a spike that I passed up on.  Even though it was a brutal 4 hour vertical hike to get to the area where I hunted, there were still hunters on every ridge around me, which really made hunting tough.  However, that’s likely to be the case no matter where you hunt these days.  Fortunately, in 2021, Idaho raised its rates substantially for elk tags, so hopefully it will turn away some out-of-state hunters.  In 2020, I saw 70% out-of-state license plates at the trailhead. 

Don’t be turned off when you open this spot on OnX and see tons of roads and trails going through this area.  Almost all of them have seasonal closures starting September 15 and going through the end of elk season.  So there are no active roads spidering through this spot during season.

Here’s a look at what the terrain looks like in much of Unit 39. Much of the unit is sparse timber and extremely steep mountains.

Virtually every mountain top in the blue areas on the map will be great spots to see elk. One example of a mountain top where you can do some good glassing is 43.835639, -115.411492. I saw plenty of elk there.

Spot 3 – This area isn’t as remote as the rest of the unit, but there definitely are elk up this spot.  If you get the early season draw-only cow tag, this is a good area to go, along with spot 4.  

Spot 4 – The road mostly follows the river and then forks off to the northwest which allows access to this area.  Similar to spot 3, there are many hunters in this area and it’s quite steep if you get far away from the road.  However, I spotted many elk in this area during the off season.  There is thick scrub brush in the northern area of this spot which makes the going tough, but much of the rest of the spot is moderate timber.  If I had the early season cow tag, this is where I’d go. 

There are also two major elk sanctuary areas that I spotted at the tops of mountains in this area, which at one point I saw many dozens of elk congregating in during the rifle season, but it was two ridges away from where I was looking with binoculars. The GPS coordinates for one of the sanctuaries is 43.8561,-115.3990887

Spot 5 – This is the most remote area of the unit, and receives the least hunting pressure.  If there is early snowfall during the hunt, this area would be difficult to access, but if there isn’t any snow yet then the most dedicated elk hunters (and the fittest) will likely find this portion of the unit to be their best bet.  However, study the maps closely and you’ll see that almost all of this area is roadless and in some of this region, you’d have a very long and very tough pack-out if you were successful.  

Spot 6 – This is the most common area that I see guides setting up horse camps. Spot 6 has a deep roadless area.  It’d be a long pack in with no animals (similar to spot 5 which is also very roadless).  They usually park along the river right as the road crosses the river.  On opening day you’ll see that parking spot filled to the brim with horse trailers.  I don’ think I spotted even one truck without a horse trailer.

Unit 19 (Selway Zone – Northeast of Riggins)

Tags: Over-the-counter but capped. A “capped” zone means that there are only a set number of tags available, but the tags can be purchased over-the-counter until the limit is met. This can happen quick, so you have to act fast.

First, we gotta understand my horrible map. The small town of Riggins is at the lower-left corner of the unit. There are major roads bordering the unit. On the south, you’ll find the Salmon river. Those are the boundaries. So what about roads in the center of the unit? There basically aren’t any. Access is tough unless you hike in from the sides or float in from the bottom. But if you can get in, you’re going to be hunting alone.

If you’re familiar with the tiny town of Burgdorf, Idaho, you’ve spent plenty of time in the Idaho wilderness. Burgdorf is about 45 minutes north of McCall, or 3 hours north of Boise. Burgdorf itself sits on the southwest corner of Unit 19A, but in my experience, that area has a lot of hunters and not a lot of great hunting. Riggins is closer than Burgdorf and sits at the southwest corner of the unit.

Unit 19 is very remote. In 2017, there was a fire that took out most of the trees in the southwest tip of the unit, and the northeast tip of the unit had a fire in 2012. I think a lot of hunters stay out of this area because thy assume it all got burned recently in the 2019 fire season, but most of Unit 19 is still fine.

The hunter success rate in this unit has been over 20% for several years in a row.

The #1 problem with hunting Unit 19 is how remote it is. It’s almost all public lands, but it’s hard to access because of a lack of roads. Worse than that, even the roads that do exist in large part don’t allow vehicles. This unit would be a haven for people with horses, llamas, goats, or a very sturdy spouse whose hobby is carrying heavy bags long distances.

The best part about hunting in Unit 19 is how many early season opportunities exist for hunting with either a bow or a rifle. To me, the lack of hunting pressure in this unit combined with the early season rifle hunt makes it a BIG winner.

I would begin my scouting on Unit 19 in the Elk Butte area–looking for mountaintops where you can look into fingers with moderate tree cover so the elk feel secluded but still giving you a chance to spot them.

This photo was taken just slightly south of Unit 19. Early snowfall can definitely happen in this area of Idaho.

North Butte looking down into Porcupine creek can also be a productive area, and access from Highway 95 near Lucille at least makes the trip possible, though still very steep and remote.

There really are elk in nearly every drainage of this unit as long as you can avoid the wolves and as long as you can access the spot.

Much like this entire region of Idaho that used to be incredible for elk hunting, it has changed because of wolf predation. However, keep in mind that hunters in this unit have consistently had a 20+% success rate for the last five years. That’s nothing to sniff at.


Idaho Any Weapon Elk Hunt Stats with OTC Tags

Elk Hunting UnitHunting PressureAvg. Hunting Days Per HarvestAvg. Hunting Days Per BULL HarvestedPercent of Elk Harvested with 6+ Points
60 ALow15.015.00
21 AMedium21.123.711.6
11 ALow21.932.144.3
20 AMedium33.633.654.1
36 BMedium37.147.020.4
10 AHigh48.449.510.5
8 AHigh38.751.018.2
4 AMedium42.952.215.6
19 AMedium49.954.645.4
62 ALow61.261.20
32 AHigh35.891.023.8
16 ALow95.495.470.7
29Medium21.0No bulls harvested0
37Low20.1No bulls harvested0
43Low32.6No bulls harvested0
44Low17.6No bulls harvested0
49High21.8No bulls harvested0
51Low92.0No bulls harvested0
52Medium13.2No bulls harvested0
36 AMedium9.0No bulls harvested0
37 ALow26.1No bulls harvested0
52 AMedium22.1No bulls harvested0
63 ALow9.0No bulls harvested0
73 ALow32.3No bulls harvested0

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  1. Steven T. CECIL says:

    Im planning a wolf trapping trim in idaho this winter. Im a 50 year old trapper with 40 years experience trapping the Midwest. I need a professional like you to get some information on places to set up a wolf trapline in idaho this winter.
    Could you call me at 812-972-6373
    My name is Steven Cecil owner of blur river fur & root.
    [email protected]
    Ps. I can pay you if need to.
    God bless

    1. Very informative Jim. We’ve killed some bulls in 19..accurate info. I can share some pictures if you would like.

        1. My brother and I with a few different friends through the years have taken 7 bulls from Lolo zone, though haven’t been there since 2013. Been hitting the montana little belts. But I’m itching to go back

    2. 44.49392194339011, -115.06167530498672

      You are welcome.

  2. Lewis Stanio says:


    Really appreciate your time & effort for this article. I’m a hunter from FL and looking to elk hunt with 2 other buddies in Idaho in the 2022-2023 season. Have no idea where to hunt and found your article which is a tremendous help to me. This is what I was looking for. If you have any other resources to help my search, would be much appreciated.

    Thanks again,

  3. Frank Martin says:

    I’ve lived in Idaho my entire life and been hunting since 10-years old. One of the first things I was taught was that if you worked your butt off, putting in the time, the miles on your feet, up and down canyons and mountain tops and effort year after year, to finally locate where the animal are that you never share that info with people that are not willing to work that hard and put in the time and effort themselves! Now, more hunters than ever have luxury campers, motor homes, ATV’s, long range radios, GPS, OnX maps and long range rifles that easily shoot 800-yds. Private land once open to the public is a thing of the pass and that is pushing more and more hunters into smaller public land areas. Our elk herds have never been at such a disadvantage… tracking & radio technology, wolves and out-of-staters swarming to Idaho to live, is wiping out Idaho hunting. And now we get a jack-ass like you that says … hey everyone…here are maps where the elk are living and now you don’t have to put in time, hard work or perseverance to find them.
    What you are providing to people that have no idea whatsoever what elk hunting in Idaho really is or what it’s standards and ethics are…. is absolutely pathetic. You have just provided the last thing that Idaho hunting needs. You say you grew up on Idaho? I don’t think so.

    1. Jim Harmer says:

      Hey Frank! You said I’m a “jackass” despite never having met me. We can disagree on our opinions of whether it’s good to share spots with others. I understand that people have different opinions on that.

      However, I do find it a little funny that the only POSSIBLE way you found this article is by googling “elk hunting spots in Idaho”… soo…. maybe you’re part of the problem you’re complaining about? You said you should only earn spots by hiking endless miles in the mountains, so why are you looking online?

      You also accused me of something that is not at all a matter of opinion. You said I didn’t grow up in Idaho. There, you’d be dead wrong. Went to middle school at Lake Hazel, Meridian High and Mountain View for high school, and BYU-Idaho for college. I lived in Meridian, Star, Caldwell, and Rexburg.

      Merry Christmas!

      1. 😆 Jim,

        I didn’t know you could stand your ground like this,

        You even wished him a merry Christmas

      2. Good answer, wonder how much our out of state $700 elk tags does for hunting and conservation in Idaho? Just saying Mr Frank. Don’t worry be happy!

      3. Jim,
        I think your willingness to share hunting areas is awesome! I grew up in Arizona spent a few years in Idaho in the 90s and currently live in Idaho Falls. I’ve hunted New Mexico, Arizona(Love Cues deer hunting), Utah, Iowa where there’s some great Whitetail and gone to Canada for moose. And I am more than willing to share information but I can help anybody with a successful as a hunter an outdoorsman and always appreciate the same reciprocated. I went to Northern Idaho and through a friend that reached out to fellow hunters was able to successfully bag a 10 point Whitetail with the help of some pointers through onx locations and plenty of effort on my part and commitment and I appreciate everything they did to help me make that trip Successful
        Thanks to some great neighbors that I have in the South east endIdahoFalls area and People like yourself willing to share areas I’ve been able to maximize some of my own time and effort towards some successful Idaho hunts I think your willingness to share speaks to your confidence in your own hunting abilities and your genuine goodness as an outdoorsman. thank you for the article hope I run into you sometime I would share my campfire with good people like you any day.
        Warm regards happy hunting,

      4. One big problem we have in Idaho is the outfitters, They Over hunt areas and kill a lot of our elk and are taken by out of staters .I learned this year that the outfitters in Idaho are not under control of our fish and game but and outfitters board,not to good on my opinion,I have hunted hear for 50 years and just learned about this ,my area was over hunted by outfitters and wolfs. In the 12years I have hunted it we went from 30 to 40 cows and 4to 5 bulls in a heard to three to four cows to 1 bill in a heard, poor management by the fish and game , Very sad deal but the fish and game doesn’t really care , we need more management so there will be good hunting for our children.

    2. Frank,
      You are 100% correct. I quit telling people where to go long ago. We spend to many days, miles, and blisters to learn how and where to hunt elk for other people to read an article and show up. They still have no idea how to actually kill an elk. Hunting has gotten to commercialized and too hard, then someone goes on the internet and tells the entire world about your hunting spot and 300 out of staters are there messing you up.
      Jim gets paid to write this stuff. If he really is an elk hunter I guarantee this is not where he hunts.

      1. Jim Harmer says:

        …and yet the only way you found this article is by googling spots to go hunting elk in Idaho.

    3. Hey Frank, I’ve never met you or Jim and you sound like a complete ass brother!

      I live in Pennsylvania, I’ve been bum rushes and pushed out of my life long areas here too. But apparently that’s only in Idaho. New York has run ones the east coast and all we true outdoorsmen back east want is to hunt like we know how, and put some meat it out freezer.

      You sir are greedy. I’ve been hunting well over 20 years (sorry not as long as you) bc we know that comment just upset you! And I’ve never held secrets from someone that was looking to learn. Clearly the people on this page are looking to learn. Including yourself. It’s not like Jim is taking these people out into the bush, carrying their packs, and then letting them shoot his trophy. You still have to put in the work “jackass”.

      Thank you Jim for the insite. I would love to pick your brain more, esp for unit 20a. That is if you have info lol. Myself and my friend Micheal will be making our first Idaho Muley hunt and looking all around for tips tricks and trades.
      If you’re ever looking for a Pa hunt or fish, would be happy to set you up on something!

      Happy holidays to you and yours
      Be nice it goes along way!

  4. I’m a lifelong elk hunter from WA, moved to Idaho last year. I’ve been wanting to do an elk camp with my dad since we have not gone since my Grandpa passed. It was always our thing with the three generations. My son is 4 and in a few years I want to have that same tradition back. I notice a lot of people being new to Idaho just need some general advice on where to get started and then we can scout and hike our way into our own family traditions. Thanks for the great article. I’ve never used gps or technology so will have to look at your Onx stuff. Thanks brother.

  5. Thanks, Jim! Great info. We appreciate your selfless, giving nature. Even with the details you provided and technology within our grasp, it requires a ton of hard work and effort to be successful.

    In Christ,

  6. John Thompson says:

    Thanks for the info Jim. I’m sure that finding, and harvesting elk in the units and areas you mentioned will now be super easy. 😉 The guy that called you a jackass probably never gets out of his truck during season and is pissed when he sees antlers in the back of an ‘out of stater’s’ truck. I love your YouTube channel. Keep up the good work.