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2018 Idaho deer application strategy article

Idaho's 2018 deer application overview

Jump to: New for 2018 State Information Draw System Mule Deer Breakdown Whitetail Deer Breakdown

Having a quality hunt out West often boils down to one thing: Whoever jumps through the most hoops and does more than the next guy typically gets the better experience. This can range from the number of miles you put in during the hunt to the amount of time you spend behind your optics. It can mean that you apply for many years to hunt a certain high demand area; it can also mean that you went a little more out of your way than the other hunters. With states like Oregon and Colorado offering so many over-the-counter (OTC) options it is no surprise that whether you live on the West Coast or back east, Idaho doesn’t hit your radar as often as the other states do since they are so much closer and easier to get to. However, the quality of experience you will find in Idaho whether you are looking to hunt a controlled hunt or OTC are tough to beat when comparing them head-to-head with these other states that offer so much opportunity.

Idaho limits the number of applicants each year by requiring them to commit to what is most important to them. If you choose to apply for a bighorn sheep, moose or a mountain goat hunt in Idaho then you are not allowed to apply for deer, elk or antelope except in a few specific areas. Additionally, if you choose to apply for deer, elk and antelope you can apply for all three of these species, but are not allowed to apply for bighorn sheep, moose or mountain goat. There is no point system in place for any species in Idaho, which is fantastic. This allows you to see if you have had any luck in many other draws before you commit to Idaho and, if you choose to sit out a year, then you can save your money and jump back in the following year without losing any ground. With the deer, elk and antelope deadline all the way into June, Idaho can become a very solid backup plan each year. With excellent OTC opportunities, you can swing for the fence during the application period, which will only cost you an additional $14.75 application fee for each species and still have a solid hunt lined up if you are unsuccessful. One last note: if you are successful drawing you are not required to pay for the permit at the time of the application or at the time the tag is drawn. This way you can continue to apply aggressively in the last few draws of the year like Wyoming deer and antelope as well as Arizona deer and bighorn sheep without worry because, if successful in Idaho, you are not on the hook for the cost of the permit until you have seen the results of these last few draws. Essentially, you have won the opportunity to purchase the controlled hunt tag if you would like to. You will be out the cost of the license and application fee, but, again, this is all about building a solid airtight backup plan to ensure you have a hunt lined up this fall no matter what.

With some of the best odds in the West and close to 60% of the state comprised of public land, Idaho should always be in your back pocket when building your yearly application strategy.

Note: The application deadline for Idaho deer, elk and antelope is June 5, 2018 by Midnight MST and can be completed online.

Why Idaho for deer in 2018

Time of year

With the deadline occurring after many of the other states have already posted their results, you can now add Idaho deer, elk, and antelope during the years you not been lucky in other state draws. If you are currently applying for hunts in New Mexico, but not Idaho, you are missing out on a very comparable system of drawing for nonresidents—maybe even a better one.

Trophy quality

Idaho has more Boone & Crockett (B&C) entries for mule deer than any other state except Colorado and, although the state may not be the premier location in the West for giant whitetails, there are many areas of the state that offer you a chance at an above average representation of the species.

Fantastic drawing odds

Because the draw system requires applicants to purchase an annual hunting license and access fee and commit to the species they want to hunt (along with other options to choose from), there is much less competition per hunt choice each year, which makes for some very good odds in many different units. Coupled with the fact that there is no point system, you have an equal chance at these hunts even the first year you apply.

Excellent opportunities for youth and military

Idaho offers a major price break for its youth, military and disabled veteran licenses for both residents and nonresidents. You can read more details here. This, along with hunt codes that are specific to youth, make for some fantastic draw odds for the kids. Apply carefully because many of these youth opportunities are for cow/doe hunts.

High costs of applying in Idaho

For those of you that are thinking this is too good to be true, here is a bit of a reality check: one of the reasons that the number of applicants in Idaho is so low is because of the cost to apply. Without a point system in place you are still required to purchase a hunting license each year as well as an access fee, which makes this one of the most expensive prerequisites out of all the states each year and, if unsuccessful in the draw, you have nothing to show for the money you have spent. This is why it is best to plan for an OTC hunt first and then take a swing for a controlled hunt during the application period. If you apply like this then you are going to be purchasing the hunting license regardless and now the cost to apply is so low it would be a shame not to have your name in the hat.

Costs for controlled hunts in Idaho

Access fee$5$10
Hunting license$33.50$154.75
Application fee per species$6.25$14.75
Auxiliary fees for permits and licenses (not required to apply)
Deer license$19.75$301.75
Elk license$30.75$416.75
Antelope license$31.25$311.75
Archery permit$18.25$20.00
Muzzleloader permit$18.25$20.00

Note: The cost of a nonresident youth and disabled vet license (DAV) is $31.75 and the cost of the deer, elk and antelope permits are the same as the resident fees. Read more about the requirements needed in order to qualify for the DAV permits here

Along with the above fees, applicants must also pay 3% of the total transaction in addition to a $3.50 fee for online processing. In a nutshell, if you choose to apply online, be prepared to spend a little extra money at the time you check out. This can become as much as $60+ when applying for bighorn sheep, moose or mountain goat as you are required to pay all of the money for the license and permit up front, but is considerably less for deer, elk and antelope as you do not have to front the money at the time of the application.

New for 2018

Unit 10A deer hunting changes

The general season whitetail deer tag season in Unit 10A will close on Nov. 20 in 2018 instead of Dec. 1 as it has in prior years. Unsold nonresident deer tags purchased as second resident-nonresident deer tags may not be used in Unit 10A.

Weiser River A tag quota

The quota on the Weiser River A tag has been removed for the 2018 season.

Nonresident unlimited controlled hunt tags

The number of tags available to nonresident hunters for controlled antlered deer hunts in Unit 26 (CH No. 1016) and Unit 27 (CH No. 1017) has been limited. See nonresident tag limits in the notes section on page 19 of the regulations book. Sawtooth elk tags: Sawtooth Zone elk tags will be sold separately from other elk tags. Nonresident Sawtooth tags will go on sale May 10 at 10 a.m. MST across all sales venues. Resident Sawtooth Zone A and B tags will go on sale July 12 (two days after other resident tags), with half of the tags sold only at license vendors starting at 10 a.m. MST. The remaining half of the resident tags will be sold only online starting at 1 p.m. MST

Depredation/access fee

  • The Idaho Legislature passed a resident fee increase starting with the sale of 2018 licenses and, along with it, two new features for hunters and anglers.
  • First, “Price Lock” allows resident hunters, anglers, and trappers to avoid the fee increase on license, tags, and permits for at least five years by purchasing an annual license every year starting in 2017. If you were unable to purchase a 2017 annual license, you can still buy a three-year license at 2017 prices and lock in all the benefits. Visit:
  • Second, an access/depredation fee is required to purchase an annual hunting, fishing and trapping license. The new fee is $5 for resident adults and $10 for nonresident adults. The fee only applies to your first annual license of the year. Money from the fees will pay for wildlife damage prevention and compensation on private lands and access programs for hunters and anglers. For more details, visit IDFG here.

2018 INSIDER enhancement — Female draw odds

For 2018, goHUNT offers antlerless draw odds for Idaho and many other states. If your ultimate goal is to fill the freezer, an antlerless permit may be just the ticket.

To review antlerless draw odds, log into your INSIDER account > hover over the INSIDER icon > select the “Draw Odds” link > select Idaho and then your residency > scroll to select the antlerless species you are interested in near the bottom right portion of the page.

Antlerless mule deer draw odds

Find your resident antlerless mule deer draw odds here

Find your nonresident antlerless mule deer draw odds here

Antlerless whitetail deer draw odds

Find your resident antlerless whitetail deer draw odds here

Find your nonresident antlerless whitetail deer draw odds here

State information

View important information and an overview of the Idaho 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 deer, elk or antelope species profiles to access historical and statistical data to help you find trophy areas.

Idaho State Profile Mule Deer Profile Whitetail Profile Draw Odds Filtering 2.0

Important dates and information

  • Applications for deer, elk and antelope must be submitted by Midnight MST on June 5, 2018.
  • Applications can be submitted by mail, phone, or online here.
  • Up to four hunters can apply together on a group application for deer, elk, and antelope.
  • Successful applicants will be notified by July 10, 2018.
  • Second choice application period for leftover tags will run from Aug. 5 to 15, 2018.
  • Leftover tags from the second drawing go on sale Aug. 25, 2018.
  • Idaho hunting licenses, access fee, and application fees are not refundable.
  • If an applicant is successful in drawing an antlered only permit for deer or elk 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 extra controlled hunt tag or depredation hunt or has purchased a leftover nonresident general season tag for that species at the nonresident price.

Moisture levels in 2018

Idaho snow water equivalent percent of normal May 2018
Image date: 5/10/2018 Source: NRCS National Water and Climate Center

Idaho May 2018 drought monitor status

Image date: 5/8/2018 Source: United States Drought Monitor

After the major effect, the winter of 2016/2017 had on the deer herd in Idaho, it is good to see that things aren’t as bad this year as they were last year. The southern half of the state has received good moisture, but not too much. The panhandle and some areas right along the Wyoming border are again getting some excess moisture; however, things will hopefully warm up quickly and stay that way. The dramatic swing in temperatures last spring played a major part in how devastating the winter kill was in many areas as the ground would thaw and then freeze solid again, making it nearly impossible for the deer to get to any new or old growth.

The impact of wolves and other predators

As of 2016, there are 81 different wolf packs that call Idaho home. The last population count took place in 2015 and it was determined that there was a population between 684 and 786 wolves. Since then, the state has decided that because of the difficulty in producing an accurate population count it would simply monitor the number of packs in Idaho moving forward. In 2017, 281 wolves were harvested, which was an increase of 14 wolves from the 2016 season. Both Units 1 and 4 had over 30 wolves taken and were the two highest units reported to the state. The bag limit for wolves is five per hunter as long as you have a carcass tag in hand. If you pass the wolf trapping course in Idaho you are eligible to also purchase five trapping tags, making it possible to take up to 10 wolves annually. Wolf management in Idaho is as strong as any current state and has definitely helped in stabilizing some of the areas that were hit the hardest. There are still many units that have not—and probably will not ever—recover from the damage that was done, but every little bit helps. If you have an adult deer or elk permit you are allowed to take a wolf with this tag. With the cost only $13.75 for residents and $31.75 for nonresidents you should strongly consider having a wolf tag in your pocket each year.

The Idaho draw system

Understanding the draw

On the surface, Idaho’s draw system is quite simple. There is not a point system in place and the draw is conducted on a 100% random basis. Picture a large bucket of raffle tickets; each year, you have the same odds of drawing as any other applicant—even your first year. Nonresidents are eligible for up to 10% of the tags in each hunt code, but are not guaranteed that number. This is different from the earlier application period for bighorn sheep, moose, and mountain goat where you are only allowed to apply for one species. If you have opted to wait for the deer, elk and antelope application period you are allowed to apply for all three of these species at the same time.

Here is where it gets a little confusing. If you were successful in drawing an antlered deer or elk permit you are not eligible to apply for a controlled hunt on the first drawing of the following year. For example, If you drew a controlled deer tag for an antlered deer in 2017, then you are not eligible to apply for that same hunt or any other controlled antler deer permit until 2019. This is the same for elk as well. The exception to this would be if you drew a controlled hunt that is listed as unlimited like the archery hunt in Unit 68A or the rifle hunt in Unit 20A. Unlimited controlled hunts like this can be applied for and drawn every year. You are also eligible to apply the following year for any permits available in the second drawing, which is held in August, or purchase a permit from the leftover list after both draws are complete.

If you applied for bighorn sheep, moose or mountain goat you are not eligible to apply for any controlled deer, elk or antelope permits in the same year during the first drawing except the unlimited controlled hunts. However, you are eligible to apply for any available permits in the second drawing and you may purchase a permit from the leftover list after both drawings have completed.

Idaho’s super hunts!

Idaho offers 34 super hunt tags each year that allow the successful applicant an incredible chance to hunt the best areas of the state for antelope, deer, elk, and moose. The cost to apply for these permits is only $6 for an individual species or $20 for a chance at hunting all four in the same year.

  • Tags are available for deer, elk, antelope, and moose.
  • There is no limit to the number of tickets you can purchase.
  • A hunting license is not required to apply for super hunts, but, if drawn, you will be required to purchase one.
  • There is no charge for the super hunt tags if you are drawn.
  • The entry deadline for the drawing is May 31, 2018.
  • Eight elk, eight deer, eight pronghorn and one moose will be drawn in the first drawing. One super hunt combo will also be drawn. This winner is entitled to hunt all four species.
  • The entry for the second drawing deadline is Aug. 10, 2018.
  • Two elk, two deer, two pronghorn and one moose hunt will be drawn in the second drawing along with one super hunt combo.
  • Apply here.

Unlocking Idaho’s system

There is not a bonus or preference point system in Idaho and the draw is conducted 100% random regardless of the number of years you have applied. This is great for two reasons. If it is your first year applying you are not behind a point curve and have the same chance to draw as any other applicant. It also means that if you are successful in another state and would like to sit out a year, you are out nothing and can jump back in the following year or even years later and you will not have lost any ground. The key to unlocking Idaho’s system lies in our Draw Odds calculator and looking at the harvest success information. More information on Idaho's draw system can be found on our Idaho State Profile.

Note: Idaho residents or nonresidents can buy one unsold nonresident general season deer and/or elk tag at the nonresident price starting August 1, 2018, which can be used as a second tag.

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

The “up to” are the important words when trying to understand Idaho’s drawing odds. Up to 10% of the tags can be drawn for nonresidents in each of the units. If the ratio of nonresident applicants is higher than nine residents for every one nonresident, or 9:1, then there is no way for the nonresident quota to be filled. This means that you will never be rejected because you are a nonresident. It does not mean that you will for sure draw the tag; instead, it means that you will have every chance available for your name to come out of the hat right down to the last tag drawn as there are not enough nonresidents for the quota to kick in. This is a major benefit for nonresidents. Because there are so many different options to choose from in Idaho there are a number of hunt selections that this takes place in each year.

Idaho's 2018 mule deer breakdown

Mule deer taken with Deadline Outfitters

Mule deer taken with Deadline Outfitters — A goHUNT Business Member

It really is amazing at how little attention Idaho gets when the conversation turns to the big mule deer. It is even more amazing when you learn that Idaho has more B&C entries for mule deer than any other state except Colorado and the availability to hunt is as good as any state in the country. With almost 60% of the state comprised of public land and 74 different units offering OTC rifle hunts for mule deer buck as big as you can find and other opportunities for unlimited or 100% drawing odds, there’s no problem hunting mule deer in Idaho. There are also many different controlled hunt options to consider in many of these units that offer hunters premiere dates to hunt each season. This means you could plan on hunting the same unit year in and year out while also applying to hunt that same unit each year during the rut. When the day comes that you pull that rut tag, you will have had plenty of boots-on-the-ground experience in that area and will be able to take full advantage of the tag you have drawn.

Idaho statewide 4 point or better harvest for mule deer

Year4 point or better %

Current mule deer herd condition

Idaho’s mule deer populations took a major hit last winter and the effects were very apparent in 2017. Fawn survival was at 30% across the state—the second lowest it has been in the last 19 years. This played a major role in the number of fork antlers there were on the mountain last fall, which also impacted the success rates across the state. The only adults that are collared and monitored are does and they seemed to fare much better with 90% of them surviving the winter. It is believed that adult bucks should have fared as well. Idaho has not released its official counts for the 2017 season at the time of this article, but if we take a look at the overall success rates from 2016 to 2017 we can get a bit of an idea on how things are looking across the state. There were 11,477 less deer taken when comparing the 2016 season to the 2017 season. Success rates on the general deer hunts dropped down to 23.9% in 2017, which is an 8.7% decrease from the year before, resulting in 10,638 deer tags going unfilled as well as a decrease of 3.1% in success rates for controlled hunts, bringing that average to 60.6%. This doesn’t give you any idea on the overall numbers of deer in Idaho, but since the last winter had a major impact on the number of deer taken in the state, this is more than likely due to the fact that there simply wasn’t as many deer to hunt that year. Looking forward, the number of 4 point deer should drop dramatically as prior fawn survival was low, meaning that those deer that would normally be coming of age don’t exist.

Note: Idaho does not differentiate between whitetails and mule deer in their harvest statistics. More information can be found regarding this on the state website.

The controlled seasons

There are many different options to consider when applying for a controlled hunt in Idaho. Apply with caution as the hunt code is a random four-digit code and has no hunt identifying method to it. Double check your unit and pay special attention to the notes next to each selection as there are antlerless and species-specific tags intermingled with the buck tags. Also, double check that the code you are applying for is for the weapon you would prefer to hunt with. It is listed in the header of each section.


There are many fantastic controlled archery hunts offered in Idaho each year. Some of these are listed as unlimited in the regulations, which means that there is no waiting period between years for these hunts and you are guaranteed to draw the permit. These units are 53, 54, 68A and 70.

Unit 72-1 is a late-season rut hunt that is also listed as unlimited, but you are required to apply for this permit with your first choice. The other units allow you to swing for the fence while still having a solid backup plan if you are unsuccessful with your first choice.

Top units to consider for archery only opportunities for mule deer in Idaho

4pt%Draw odds
Draw odds


Hunting in Idaho with a muzzleloader can be an excellent way to find yourself on a rut hunt sooner than later in some of the premier units in the state. Be prepared for a primitive hunt as Idaho has a long list of regulations when it comes to what is legal on a muzzleloader only hunt. In a nutshell, you will be required to hunt with an open breach, loose powder, open sights and either a musket cap or No. 11 primer. It is legal to shoot powerbelt style bullets, but no sabots. Click here for the full list of regulations.

Idaho offers 19 different controlled muzzleloader hunts for mule deer. You can quickly jump to them on Filtering 2.0 here. One of them, Unit 61, is listed as unlimited. This can be applied for as a second choice and would still allow you to swing for the fence with your first selection if you prefer. There are only three controlled muzzleloader hunts that are not considered rut hunts: Units 22, 43 and 45. The remaining hunts all have some or all of the available hunting days in November.

Top units to consider for muzzleloader opportunities for mule deer in Idaho

4pt%Draw odds
Draw odds


There are 61 different selections you can choose from when looking to hunt on an adult controlled rifle tag in Idaho. There are many different notes listed on the right-hand side of the hunt selections in the state regulations. These include vehicle restrictions, short range weapon restrictions in some or all areas associated with this tag and other regulations specific to this hunt. Read carefully when looking up your hunt code prior to applying. There are four unlimited rifle hunts available in Units 20A, 26, 27 and 73. If you applied for bighorn sheep, moose or mountain goat this year, these will be the only controlled rifle hunts available to you in the first drawing. Unit 27 and Unit 73 require the applicant to select this as their first choice even though they are unlimited. The season dates for these rifle hunts start as early as Aug. 15 in some units and extend all the way through November on others. While it is not the rule, most of these hunts have 20+ season dates, which is why it is important to apply carefully and pay close attention to hunts that allow you to hunt in the rut as well as some of the early season velvet rifle hunts in the high country. A giant buck can come from anywhere when you are hunting these prime season dates.

Top units to consider for rifle opportunities for mule deer in Idaho

4pt%Draw odds
Draw odds

How to uncover hidden gem deer units

Utilize Filtering 2.0 to locate the perfect hunt. This may be more important in Idaho than any other western state. With so many options is to consider, the tools this feature offers is second to none. With harvest success, buck: doe ratios, public land percentages and much more, it has never been easier to narrow down a selection based on your goals. Once you have a hunt in mind then dive into the unit description to get a better idea of what you are up against as far as logistics and physicality of the hunt. Remember that the success rates in the controlled hunts are often better than the general season tags. If you are going to purchase that hunting license and are planning a hunt one way or the other, it would be a shame not thrown your name in the hat for the best hunts in the state for only an extra $14.75.

Here is an example of how Filtering 2.0 can work for you.

We wanted to find:

  • A rifle controlled hunt for residents (then nonresidents)
  • A unit with 180”+ Trophy Potential
  • At least a 20% chance of drawing
  • At least a 50% success rate
  • At least 50% public land

Here are the results:

Filtering 2.0 results with filters listed above for residents

Number of
4pt or
better %
land %
Draw odds


Filtering 2.0 results with filters listed above for nonresidents

Number of
4pt or
better %
land %
Draw odds

Remember to keep in mind that there can be some real sleeper opportunities in units that don’t tend to get as much attention due to different season dates and migrations happening from other units as well as other states. If you are planning on hunting in Idaho as your backup plan, based upon the way the different state draws work, you may find yourself here more than you realize. If that is the case, it’s important to build a solid plan around a better than average OTC area and then apply to hunt there during the rut each year. When the day comes that you draw the controlled tag, you will be very well prepared and be able to make the most of your drawn tag.

Top goHUNT hit list controlled hunt units to consider for 180” or better mule deer
(not in order of quality)

ApplicationsSuccess %4pt or
better %
Public land

While not drawing your controlled hunt of choice is never a fun fact to face it is important to keep in mind that Idaho still offers some incredible OTC opportunities. Most of Idaho’s OTC opportunities are conducted during the month of October before the peak of the rut. This can allow some opportunistic hunters the chance at maximizing their season by looking for rut hunts in adjoining states to compliment their Idaho tag. Pay special attention to the regulations as several units contain both controlled and general seasons depending on weapon choice.

Another important fact to keep in mind that many of the controlled hunts are centered around rutting deer that may be migrating into the units from adjoining areas or even other states. While some units may maintain great trophy potentials and produce giant bucks it doesn’t necessarily mean they will be there during every season.

Top units for buck:doe ratios

Percent 4pt
or better
land %
OTC or
Unit 4356:100170"+43%96.8%Both
Unit 4456:100180"+69%51.5%Controlled
Unit 4556:100190"+71%64.7%Controlled
Unit 4856:100160"+44%83.6%Both
Unit 5256:100190"+52%68.4%Controlled
Unit 6435:100160"+33%30%Both
Unit 6535:100170"+38%28.5%Both
Unit 6735:100180"+57%83.9%Both
Unit 19A33:100170"+54%98.9%Both
Unit 2535:100170"+45%99.5%Both


B&C entry trends for Idaho mule deer

Beyond Filtering 2.0 another backdoor asset to carefully examine is B&C entry trends for different counties throughout the state. Look for units that may be adjacent to some of the top units in the state to find hidden gem areas that may hold better draw odds or OTC opportunities.

Units listed below may not have a current hunt for this species. Units in this table are included if any part of the unit is found within the county. Data provided below courtesy of Boone and Crockett Club.

Idaho's top B&C producing counties since 2010 for typical mule deer

CountyNo. of
Units found within county
Bonneville363, 63A, 66, 66A, 67, 68A, 69
Owyhee340, 41, 42, 46, 47
Adams318, 22, 23, 32, 32A
Elmore338, 39, 43, 44, 45, 46
Camas243, 44, 45, 52
Gooding245, 52, 53
Idaho210, 10A, 11, 11A, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16,
16A, 17, 18, 19, 19A, 20, 20A, 22, 26
Valley219A, 20A, 24, 25, 26, 27, 32, 32A, 33, 34
Washington222, 31, 32

Map of Idaho's typical mule deer B&C all time entries 2018

Idaho's top B&C producing counties since 2010 for nontypical mule deer

CountyNo. of
Units found within county
Cassia353, 54, 55, 56, 57
Bear Lake275, 76, 78
Boise132, 32A, 33, 34, 35, 39
Camas 43444552
Clark151, 58, 59, 59A, 60, 60A, 61, 63
Franklin173, 74, 75, 77, 78

Map of Idaho's nontypical mule deer B&C all time entries 2018

The lack of a points system

The application strategy deployed is largely dependent on the goals of the hunter. The most popular units with the best dates and highest trophy potential will have the lowest draw odds. There are several good hunts available with reasonable draw odds that also produce a quality experience. Applying for high demand units may require years of investment before receiving that desired tag.

Managing expectations for controlled hunts

As we have already discussed at length, Idaho does not have any sort of points system and the odds of drawing is entirely dependent upon the number of applications that are submitted during that year’s application period. Because you do not have to compete with any of the hunters who chose to apply for bighorn sheep, moose or mountain goat and because there is such a large number of selections to choose from, this, in turn, offers fantastic odds outside of the premier destinations in the state. With many controlled hunts offering rut hunt dates, be realistic with your goals and what you are trying to accomplish and apply accordingly. Idaho is truly the sleeper state for serious mule deer hunters. If you are still looking to put a hunt together for this coming fall, look no further as you have come to the right place.

Find your resident mule deer controlled draw odds here

Find your nonresident mule deer controlled draw odds here

Idaho's 2018 whitetail deer breakdown

Idaho has a fantastic population of whitetail deer and most are located in the northern panhandle of the state. There are few units that do not have pockets of whitetail scattered in them; however, the majority of the deer live in Units 1 through 21. There are two units, 63A and 68A, listed as high density in the southeastern portion of the state, but, with very limited public access, it is a much better option to set your sites towards the northern half of the state. There are nine different buck controlled hunt selections that only allow the hunter to harvest a mule deer and only two different selections for bucks that are listed as whitetail only. They are muzzleloader specific hunts and located in Unit 8A and Unit 10A. All other controlled buck deer tags can be used for either species. If you are looking to plan a whitetail hunt, the opportunities that OTC permits offer may be a better plan than drawing a controlled hunt. While there are some OTC that allow you to hunt either species during specific dates, many of them up in the panhandle are whitetail specific for all or large durations of the fall. However, there are some opportunities on the controlled hunts that allow you to hunt during some fantastic rut dates and, if you were to run into a world-class mule deer or the whitetail you have been dreaming of, you will have a tag in your pocket that you could use for either. Apply carefully. Pay special attention to the notes listed to the right of the unit and hunt code in the state regulations. If you choose to hunt OTC pay close attention to the different season dates and restrictions during each of these periods.

Current whitetail deer herd condition

Idaho’s whitetail populations are quite healthy; however, the panhandle and where the majority of the whitetails live in the state got hit as hard by last year’s winter. Although the state does not use the population counts they receive in management decisions as the methods used are believed to be inconclusive, the 2016/2017 winter definitely took its toll on whitetail populations. We can see from the harvest reports in Units 1 through 21, which are managed for whitetail deer, that the success rates in these units dipped by 2.5%, resulting in 934 fewer general deer tags being filled in these units.

Note: These success rates do not take into account or differentiate between whitetail and mule deer, but with multiple units reporting over 90% of the total harvest as whitetail we can get a decent picture of what the herd conditions are like in these areas.

The seasons

There are many different seasons offered in Idaho. If you purchase an OTC permit pay special attention as there are options to purchase a general deer tag with season dates that are specific to harvesting either a whitetail or a mule deer as well as whitetail specific general tags that typically have extended season dates attached to them. If you are planning on hunting the last week of October you should purchase the tag that will allow you to harvest either species if the opportunity arises. Likewise, if you are planning a whitetail specific hunt later in November then you would need the whitetail specific permit. There are notes listed on the right side of the unit selections in the state regulations that let you know whether your permit is valid for antlered deer or not during different times of the fall. If you choose to apply for a controlled hunt apply with caution as there are a few hunts—particularly up in the panhandle—that only allow the successful applicant an opportunity at a mule deer.

Top units to consider for 150” or better whitetail deer
(not in order of quality)

Percent 4pt
or better
OTC or
Total # controlled
apps. in 2017
land %
Unit 2160"+21%Both632*19%
Unit 3160"+20%Both632*20%
Unit 1150"+25%Both632*69.2%
Unit 15150"+18%OTCNA92.9%
Unit 16150"+13%OTCNA80%
Unit 20150"+12%OTCNA99.6%
Unit 20A150"+18%Both62**99.7%
Unit 25150"+94%Both191***99.5%
Unit 5150"+28%Both632*6.8%
Unit 8150"+26%OTCNA4.7%
Unit 8A150"+25%Both10****40.7%

*The controlled hunt offered in these units encompasses Units 1, 2, 3, 4, 4A, 5, 6, 7 and 9 and offers the successful applicants an opportunity to hunt with a rifle from Aug. 30 to Dec. 1, 2018.
** This is a controlled rifle hunt that allows the successful applicants the opportunity to hunt with a rifle from Nov.1 to 18, 2018.
***This is a controlled rifle hunt that allows the successful applicant the opportunity to hunt with a rifle from Oct. 10 to Nov. 24, 2018.
****This is a controlled muzzleloader hunt that allows the successful applicants the opportunity to hunt with a muzzleloader from Oct. 10 to Dec. 14, 2018.

How to uncover hidden gem units

Whitetails tend to live where people live. Most of the time, the biggest whitetails in the state are taken on or close to some sort of agricultural or private land. Whether you choose to work with an outfitter or you happen to have a knack for gaining access by knocking on doors, getting permission to hunt private property could make a big difference in simply going home with a whitetail or going home with a big whitetail. Here is a map showing the population densities of whitetails across the state. It is definitely a good idea to at least start your research in areas that show a high or medium density of whitetails. From there, check out success rates and buck:doe ratios to help narrow down a good fit for the type of hunt you are after.

Idaho whitetail deer density map

Source: Idaho Fish and Game

Focus on units listed in the Idaho regulations as “high density” and “medium density” and try to gain permission to private agricultural lands or lands adjacent to agriculture. Agriculture is not a necessity for harvesting whitetails in Idaho but the largest bucks are consistently harvested near agriculture crops. Idaho is also known for having good mountain whitetail hunting on public land.

Whitetail deer population densities in Idaho

Low density19A, 20A, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 30A,
31, 32, 32A, 33, 34, 35, 36A, 36B, 37, 37A
38, 39, 40, 41, 45, 46, 50, 51, 58, 59, 59A,
60, 60A, 61, 62, 62A, 63, 64, 65, 6667
Medium density7, 9, 10, 12, 16A, 17, 19, 20, 2121A,
23, 2429
High density1, 2, 3, 4, 4A, 5, 68, 8A, 9, 10A, 11,
11A, 13, 14, 15, 1618, 63A, 68A

For this type of hunting look at the harvest statistics on Filtering 2.0 and filtering the units that have OTC hunt. Then find areas with low numbers of hunter reports, but high harvest success. This type of information can often clue you into little known areas that only a few capitalize on but with good success.

B&C entry trends for Idaho whitetail deer

Units listed below may not have a current hunt for this species. Units in this table are included if any part of the unit is found within the county. Data provided below courtesy of Boone and Crockett Club.

Idaho's top B&C producing counties since 2010 for typical whitetail deer

CountyNo. of
Units found within county
Nez Perce28, 8A, 11, 11A
Benewah13, 4, 5, 6, 8A
Bonner11, 2, 4, 4A

Map of Idaho's typical whitetail deer B&C all time entries 2018

Idaho's top B&C producing counties since 2010 for nontypical whitetail deer

CountyNo. of
Units found within county
Benewah13, 4, 5, 6, 8A
Latah16, 8, 8A
Shoshone13, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10, 10A

Map of Idaho's nontypical whitetail deer B&C all time entries 2018

Managing expectations for controlled hunts

If you are applying for a controlled hunt when planning a whitetail hunt in Idaho, pay special attention to any restrictions that may apply to that hunt. There are only two selections for controlled hunts that are whitetail specific: Units 8A and Unit 10A. Both are for late season muzzleloader hunts. It may be more productive to look towards opportunities that would allow you to harvest either species of buck when the opportunity arises. If your goal is centered around hunting whitetails, you will find better options if you simply purchase a general tag. However, this can also create a stress-free opportunity at applying for some of the hardest to draw permits in the state for mule deer. The chances may be slim, but, for only $14.75, you will at least have your name in the hat.

Find your resident whitetail deer controlled draw odds here

Find your nonresident whitetail deer controlled draw odds here

OTC opportunities

The good news with whitetails is that there are plenty of OTC opportunities that are as good or better than the controlled hunt draw. A person does not need to invest many years and several thousand dollars to harvest a great whitetail in Idaho. For an in-depth breakdown of hunting the OTC units in Idaho for whitetail, check out this recent INSIDER article.


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