Utah has been and will continue to be one of the top “destination” states for hunters who want to hunt world class bull elk and mule deer. Recently, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources released the 2017 Big Game Application Guidebook. The actual hunting applications will be accepted from January 26-March 2, 2017 and draw results will be available before May 31st. Honestly, most hunters start checking their accounts for pending credit card charges around May 14th and most cards are charged before May 20th. Personally, I love that I get my draw results from Utah before the Wyoming applications close on May 31st.
Utah requires hunters to purchase a hunting license before they can apply ($34 for residents and $65 for non-residents). If you buy your 365-day hunting license late in the draw period one year it will still be good the following year when you go to apply again. Utah does not require hunters to pay the entire cost of the actual permit upfront, you just buy your hunting license and pay a $10 application fee for each application. As a non-resident, I dislike states that make you pay hundreds, or thousands, of dollars up front to apply for a tag with <1% draw odds.
You can get a general season deer tag almost anywhere in Utah in less than 3 years.
Lots of public land and almost every unit has trophy animals.
The worst thing about Utah is called “point creep.” If you are just now starting to apply for limited-entry or once-in-a-lifetime hunts in Utah you are going to be waiting a very long time to draw a permit. Frankly, you may never draw a quality hunt in your lifetime if you are over 50.
You will probably never draw a Henry Mountain or Paunsaugunt deer permit if you are just starting to apply in 2017. Those tags are a whole lot like winning the lottery, but in Utah where lotteries are illegal.
The new twist in Utah includes the late season muzzleloader tags that are considered a limited entry hunt even though they occur on general season units. Utah will adopt more of these hunts on more units in the coming years because they have been very successful.
When it comes to general season deer units in Utah most people will tell you that Pine Valley and Zion are the best hunts in the state, but that is not necessarily true. There are some absolute monsters on less reputable units.
The extended archery hunt on the Wasatch Mountains might be one of the hardest and most rewarding deer hunts in the country. I have hunted it on snowshoes in the past only to shoot underneath a buck because my string was frozen when I took the shot.
Even the Cache unit can be amazing if it snows during rifle season and the big boys come out of the nasty canyons and rocks.
Utah has some excellent bull elk units, but you need to wait a decade or more to get most of them unless you win a permit with a $5 ticket at the Hunt Expo in Salt Lake City. Utah gives half of the tags to applicants with the most bonus points, the rest go into a somewhat random draw where applicant get one chance for every bonus point they have +1 for your current application.
Most of the limited-entry bull elk units that you can draw with less than 10 points are either mostly private land or have very few elk on them. That does not mean there are not big bulls, it means you are going to have to work harder and spend more days hunting to find what you are looking for. The Paunsaugunt has some great bulls, but they can be tricky to find.
If you hunt muzzleloader, archery, or late season rifle you will be way ahead in the point game since most Utah hunters want to hunt elk in the rut with a rifle.
Utah has general any bull and spike elk tags, as well as cow elk tags. The success rates are low for general bulls but you can get an elk on a general unit. If you have horses, your odds will be higher than if you are road hunting with everyone else. I personally don’t know why anyone would buy a spike tag as a non-resident since they are barely a bull and a cow elk tag is a lot easier to obtain and fill, not to mention the cost difference. I would recommend looking at other western states for a general season elk tag long before I would look at Utah.
Utah also has antelope, bighorn sheep, moose, mountain goats, etc.
I have 16 limited entry elk points, 14 mountain goat points, and 4 limited entry deer points going into the 2017 draws.
Good luck in the draws and on your next adventure!