Utah DWR seeks to test new elk hunt lottery as permits become harder to get

An undated image of a bull elk in Utah. A new plan proposed for 2022 would create a lottery for hunters to snag a bull elk permit.

An undated image of a bull elk in Utah. A new plan proposed for 2022 would create a lottery for hunters to snag a bull elk permit. (Jim Shuler via Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah wildlife officials increased the number of elk hunting permits earlier this year to meet the growing demand. The state's elk population also remains healthy and is mostly unaffected by the drought, unlike deer and other animals.

Despite that increase, the state sold all of its 17,500 permits within the first day they went on sale. It was the second time in as many years that has happened. As it plans ahead for the 2022 hunt, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources officials now want to move elk permits from first-come-first-serve to a big game drawing format — in a new "one-year trial period."

"During this one-year trial period, we will assess the pros and cons of the current system, compared to including the permits in the big game drawing," Lindy Varney, the division's licensing coordinator, said in a statement Tuesday. "We will also work with the statewide elk committee to improve the permit process. Then, we will recommend a long-term solution in 2022 that we hope will alleviate the issues our customers have experienced in recent years."

The change is one of a few proposals up for public comment over the next month, before the Utah Wildlife Board votes on the plans at a Dec. 2 meeting.

The division has sold both bull elk and spike bull elk permits for over 30 years, Varney said in a video about the proposal posted Tuesday. Throughout that time, people have been able to purchase permits over the counter at various vendors across the state and, as of recently, online. But the demand for elk permits has increased so drastically that the thousands of available permits are now selling out in hours instead of weeks.

It took 36 days for the state to run out of any elk bull permits in 2018, according to statistics provided by the division. It then took just 11 days in 2019.

What officials have seen the last two years hasn't just surprised them, but has also led to widespread system issues. All 15,000 of Utah's bull elk permits in 2020 sold out in just eight hours, as a part of a record year for hunting and fishing permit sales in the state. When officials added 2,500 new elk permits for the 2021 hunt, it still only took 10 hours before every permit available was sold.

The increased demand, Varney explained, was heavily influenced by new people applying for permits in addition to people looking for outdoor activities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The competition for these permits has created a panic and that created an overload to the sale system. ... We have seen multiple people on multiple devices and browsers all hitting the system simultaneously, which leads to slow processing times and more frustration," she said.

A drawing pilot program might fix that. Under the plan, hunters would be able to apply for a bull elk or spike bull elk permit as a group of up to four people. The application fee would be $10 for Utah residents and $15 for those applying out of state.

Varney said groups will be asked to select up to two choices, such as an any bull multiseason elk permit and a spike bull multiseason elk.

"If you're unsuccessful for your first choice, you still have a chance for your second choice," she said.

Individual youth or youth groups who apply for a bull elk permit will automatically receive a permit that won't come out of the overall elk quota but that guarantee is lifted if they are in a group with adults, according to Varney. However, that rule doesn't apply for spike elk permits.

General season archery elk permits will still be sold over the counter and are not impacted by the proposal.

The Utah Wildlife Board has yet to set the number of permits that will be made available for the 2022 hunt. That will be determined after state wildlife biologists assess the elk population and the herd's health over the winter. They could recommend permit increases or a decrease, or just propose no changes to the 2021 total of 17,500 permits.

If approved, Varney said the division will assess the pros and cons of over-the-counter sales and drawing system over the next year before making a final decision on how the state's bull elk permits will be sold.

"It'll give us a year to investigate all options that work best for the public and for the DWR," she added.

A long-term proposal for elk permits would be recommended in November 2022.

The division is accepting public comments on the elk drawing proposal, which can be submitted online through its website or by attending any of the regional advisory council meetings slated this month. The Utah Wildlife Board is expected to vote on it during its meeting on Dec. 2 at the Eccles Wildlife Education Center, in Farmington.

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Carter Williams is a reporter who covers general news, local government, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com.


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