When the talk is about elk hunting, most people automatically think about one of the American Western states – Colorado, Montana, Idaho, Arizona, Wyoming or New Mexico. But the opportunities to pursue the mountain monarchs also exist in Canada. British Columbia and Alberta offer not only healthy herds and decent trophy quality, but also lots of backcountry wilderness and OTC tag options. In fact, for a hunter looking for an opportunity outside their home state, the Maple Leaf Country may appear even more attractive than the US. Here’s what you need to know to start planning your first elk hunt in Canada.
Special licenses for registered guide-outfitters
Elk hunting licenses in Canada are distributed through limited draw. However, registered guides and outfitters can obtain licenses for the clients according to a quota. This is a big advantage for non-resident hunters, who are required by law to hire a guide-outfitter to hunt big game in Canada in any case. It’s not that OTC elk tag options are non-existent in the USA (our blog here gives you a general overview of the issue), but they are mostly limited to archery seasons, seasons out of prime time, or locations where chances to harvest an elk are slim. Canadian outfitters can supply you with a rifle tag for the peak of the rut time.
Where to hunt elk in Canada?
British Columbia arguably is the go-to destination for elk hunting in Canada. Alberta runs a very close second, with opportunities to pursue elk in the boreal forests, or in the northern slopes of the Rockies. Some elk hunting opportunities exist also in Saskatchewan. As for provinces further East, such as Quebec, elk hunting is only possible on high-fence game farms. This could be an option for a hunter whose health conditions prevent them from facing the challenge of the regular hardcore elk hunts.
In a class of its own is elk hunting on the Vancouver Island. It holds an independent population of Roosevelt elk, that has been blue-listed because of their genetic isolation from the mainland population. Those elk are big, weighing up to 1,000 lbs, and their massive antlers are described as “gnarled, often crowned on top, unlike those found on any other North American elk”.
The valley between the Rockies and the Caribou ranges is also a good choice. Elk hunting in that area was only open since the early 2000s, but the population is strong and with the minimum 5×6 point antler limit, some trophies are impressive. Areas near the Glacier National Park and the Bugaboo Provincial Park offer not only great elk populations, but also spectacular glacier scenery.
When to hunt elk in Canada
Depending on the area, elk hunting season in British Columbia may start as early as August 15, and close as late as October 31. Typically, the first ten days or two weeks in September are bow only, from then on until mid to late October it’s any weapon. The season in Alberta is similar, but typically runs a little longer, into November or in some cases even into January of the next year. The dates may vary significantly, so consult your outfitter regarding the information for the unit they hunt.
Elk trophy quality in Canada
Canada may not be as famous for monster elk trophies as, say, Arizona. However, one of the biggest elk antlers of all times, which scored almost 420 points, was harvested in British Columbia. According to our outfitters, the minimum limit of 6-points for bulls that exists in many areas of the province had a great positive impact on trophy quality. However, even in Alberta, with its 3-point antler limit, you can realistically expect to get a 5×5 or 6×6 bull with 250-350 score.
How to hunt elk in Canada?
The hunting methods for hunting elk in Canada do not differ dramatically from the USA. However, the hunting pressure in most areas is significantly lower than on public lands in the States, and the bulls and cows would typically be less spooky. Although the peak of the rut usually coincides with the archery season, in most parts of Canada you can still expect significant rutting and post-rutting activity even during the first weeks of the rifle season, with harem bulls fighting for dominance, dropping their guard, and responding well to both bugling, chickling, and cow calls.
Here’s how one of outfitters describe the way they hunt elk:
“We’ll start out at about 5 a.m and travel to your hunting spot where we will hike and call for that 6 point or better bull elk. If not successful during the morning hunt, we might find a watering hole or a vantage point to glass for the afternoon where we can relax and enjoy our lunch. We might catch a traveling bull looking for a lonely cow. We may also head back to camp and enjoy a hot lunch and a shower while we wait for the evening hunt. The evening hunt might have us glassing hill sides looking for elk coming out of the heavy timber to feed in the open clearcuts or grassy meadows. If we find a bull the decision has to be made either to go after them right away or watch them till dark and plan to go after them in the morning.”
The season on Vancouver Island opens later, in October, after the peak of the rut is off. However, some harem bulls will still be guarding their does. The most popular way to hunt these elk is glassing for them on about the timber line, between wooded lower areas and alpine meadows, and then stalking them.
The longer rifle season in many units in Alberta, that runs until the end of November, gives you an opportunity for a post-rut hunt. On the northern slopes of the Rockies, the guides can customize the hunt, offering you the choice not only to call or stalk, but also to hunt from tree stands. In Saskatchewan, elk hunting season takes place in the middle of September, and the guides focus on calling, which is followed by a stalk, or waiting until the bull comes to you, as the case might be.
While options to hunt near more settled areas, staying in comfortable lodges, or use local motels and restaurants for catering, also exist, a typical Canadian elk hunt is a backcountry adventure, that requires you to travel far into the wilderness, sometimes with the help of horses, ATVs, boats, or bush planes. In this case, you’ll hunt out of spike camps and live in tents. Some outfitters offer hunting by floating down the rivers. If you choose a backcountry hunting adventure, be warned that you may place yourself at the mercy of the weather. Bad conditions can make bush planes too dangerous to fly, or rivers impassible. Nothing is guaranteed – but that’s why it’s called hunting, not shopping.
Most Canadian hunting destinations are located further to the North, and the hunting may take place at high elevations as well – usually between 2,000 and 10,000 feet. Be prepared for relatively colder weather conditions. When planning the hunt, make allowances for travel to the base camp. Usually, the first and the last days of your trip will be dedicated to getting in and out, respectively. Most outfitters recommend bringing a relatively heavy rifle, chambered for one of the .300 Magnum calibers or bigger, and, given that a conflict with a grizzly bear is not improbable, this seems to be a good bit of advice.
How much does it cost?
On the average, elk hunts in Canada that appear on BookYourHunt.com are priced at about $7,000. Shorter (5-7 day) hunts and hunts during the bow season are at the lower part of the spectrum, and can be as affordable as $ 4,500. 10-days backcountry hunts may push the price tag closer to $10,000. The most expensive elk hunts in Canada are for the Vancouver Island Roosevelt Elk, they can be priced as high as $25,000. Pay attention to what is included in the price and what isn’t, especially when comparing hunts from different outfitters. Some prices may not include such items as the hunting license, and sometimes even the trophy fee.
At first glance, the prices may seem significantly higher than elk hunting in the USA. But if you compare oranges to oranges – prime time bull elk hunts with guaranteed tags – you will discover that Canadian outfitters’ offers are perfectly competitive. And if you limit your search to a rifle hunt during the rut with an OTC tag, you may find that Canada is the only alternative.
If you think that hunting only one animal does not justify a long trip to another country or province, most Canadian outfitters offer combination hunts for a number of species in advance. You can combine your elk hunt with a white-tailed or mule deer, black bear, and even Shiras moose or a mountain goat hunt. Some animals can be added to your hunt simply for the price of the license, others will also carry a trophy fee. Dedicated combination elk + moose or elk + mountain goat hunts will be priced between $11,000 and $20,000.
Traveling to Canada to hunt
One of the obvious disadvantages of elk hunting in Canada, from the point of view of a US resident, is that it’s a different country. Americans don’t need a visa to enter Canada, but may run into a problem when traveling with guns. You can do it, but you’ll have to declare the gun(s) at the border, if they fall to “non-restricted” category according to Canadian gun laws, or obtain a permit to enter with them, if they are “restricted”. Guns listed as “prohibited”, including many popular AR-15 and AR-10 types, can’t be imported at all.
Double-check which category the guns you intend to bring fall into, and make sure you’re 100% legal; otherwise, you may be denied entry, and/or will lose your gun and have to pay a fine. If you want to rent a gun to hunt with, you will also have to apply for a permit; ask your outfitter about it, as some don’t offer this service at all. One can perfectly understand why some American hunters decide the game isn’t worth the candles when you can simply drive to Colorado with whatever thunder-sticks you want. And, of course, for a hunter from any of the other countries of the world his does not matter, as they would have to face similar red tape whether they travel to Canada or the USA. Some even say that the firearm import procedure in Canada is easier to handle.
The good news is that you can bring back the meat of the animal you’ve harvested from Canada to the USA. Keep your hunting license as proof of origin and mind the 50 lb. limit per vehicle. It’s also possible to ship processed meat and hunting trophies, but that would require obtaining a permit. All licensed outfitters are familiar with the procedures and will help you handle the formalities.
Great article. Tiny bit of correction though. There is also an elk draw in Ontario with a growing population along the boreal as well. Including some small but growing population in central Ontario. We’re trying really hard to grow this population.
You live, you learn. Thank you, and best wishes to the Ontario elk herd!