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APPLICATION STRATEGY 2021: Washington Deer and Elk

Main writer: Jordan Christensen of The Draw



Washington is a western state that, above all, is simply an opportunity to hunt deer and elk over-the-counter (OTC). There are four species of deer that reside here and all are huntable except for the Columbian whitetail deer that live in the southwest corner of the state. There are also two species of elk: the Roosevelt and Rocky Mountain elk. Each of these species have OTC options to consider as well as special permits that allow hunters to hunt either more desirable dates or units that are managed more rigidly for higher age class and an overall better hunting experience. Regardless, Washington is not likely on many hunters’ radar or annual application plan for the year because you must purchase a permit to hunt deer or elk in a general area prior to applying. The point system is a bonus point system that squares your points in order to give you more presence in the draw for each year you are unsuccessful and, yet, with an application system that is over 30 years old, even hunters who have near-maximum points are now swallowed up by hunters with fewer points. The odds of drawing start very low and stay very low if you are looking to hunt one of the best units in the state. 

The total cost of applying for an elk in a special permit area is $607.50. If you are unsuccessful in drawing a special permit, there is no refund and you will have your general elk permit to hunt wherever you have selected. 

If you are looking for a place to hunt each year and are not worried about the quality of the hunt, then Washington’s OTC hunts are a good option to consider. However, if you are going to purchase a general permit, you might as well roll the dice on a special permit while you are at it. Keep in mind that some areas of Washington have antler restrictions for deer and, with some of the elk general tags, you cannot take a branch-antlered bull.

Note: The all species application deadline for Washington is May 26 by 11:59 p.m. PST. You can apply online here.

State information

Washington is home to a wide variety of deer and elk species. The Evergreen State is home to mule deer, Columbian blacktail deer, whitetail deer and Columbian whitetail deer in small numbers (Columbian whitetail deer are not legal to hunt). It also has Rocky Mountain and Roosevelt elk.

Note: There are no huntable populations of antelope in Washington at this time.

To view important information and an overview of Washington’s rules/regulations, the draw system, tag and license fees and an interactive boundary line map, check out our State Profile. You can also view the Species Profiles to access historical and statistical data to help you identify trophy areas.


Important dates and information

  • The application deadline is May 26, 2021 11:59 p.m. PST. You can apply online here.
  • Results for deer, elk, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, moose and turkey will be available by the end of June.
    • It is your responsibility to check your draw results.
  • Certain units have antler restrictions in place.
  • Washington does not refund any license or permit if the season has been scheduled and the hunter could have participated in the season or hunt regardless of whether the hunter did in fact participate or not. 
  • Hunter orange and/or fluorescent hunter pink is required for anyone hunting in an area open to modern firearm general deer or elk seasons.
  • Columbian whitetail deer are found in southwest Washington, are a protected species and are not legal to hunt.

Information for first-time applicants in Washington

First-time applicants in Washington will need to get things set up well before the actual deadline to apply. The first step is to build a user profile on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFD) website. Once this is complete, you will be issued a WILD ID account number. Next, you will need to submit a photo of your hunter’s education card to the state and have it verified in order to be eligible to apply for any hunts. This can take some time and is not as streamlined as other states so you should do this as early as possible if you want to ensure you are able to apply in this year's draw. 

There are three ways to add your Hunter’s Education certificate to your profile:

  • Send a photocopy of your certificate to with your WILD ID or name and date of birth
  • Fax a photocopy of your certificate to 360-902-2466 with your WILD ID or name and date of birth
  • Visit any DFW dealer location with your certificate and the dealer can enter the certificate into your WILD account.

Cost to apply

You must front the entire cost of the application fee and the cost of a tag when applying. 

Resident big game annual license cost



Deer, elk, bear, mountain lion with discounted small game$119.50
Deer plus elk license$85.50
Deer plus elk with discounted small game$107.50
Deer license$45.50
Deer with discounted small game$67.40
Deer, elk, bear, mountain lion$97.50
Elk license$50.90
Elk license with a discounted small game license$72.90

Big game special hunt permit applications

Multi-season deer or elk permit application$7.10
Special hunt permit application
(price per application)
Special hunt permit application — quality*$13.70

Big game special hunt licenses and tags

Multi-season deer tag$139.10
Multi-season elk tag$182.00
Second deer tag$43.40
Second elk tag$22.50
Incentive elk tag
(see harvest reporting requirements)
*Special hunt applications that are in the categories quality elk, quality deer, any moose, any ram and goat.


Nonresident big game annual license cost



Deer, elk, bear, mountain lion with discounted small game$958.80
Deer plus elk license$740.00
Deer plus elk with discounted small game$836.80
Deer license$434.80
Deer with discounted small game$531.60
Deer, elk, bear, mountain lion$862.00
Elk license$497.50
Elk license with a discounted small game license$594.30

Big game special hunt permit applications

Multi-season deer or elk permit application$110.50
Special hunt permit application
(price per application)
Special hunt permit application — quality*$110.50

Big game special hunt licenses and tags

Multi-season deer tag$139.10
Multi-season elk tag$182.00
Second deer tag$252.40
Second elk tag$341.50
Incentive elk tag
(see harvest reporting requirements)

Mandatory hunt reporting

Harvest reports are required for any successful applicant in Washington. If you fail to submit your harvest report before the deadline you will incur a $10 charge that you will be required to pay along with your harvest report in order to purchase a hunting license or submit an application the following year. Washington does have an incentive program in place for hunters who submit their harvest reports early. For more information on this see the section below. 

By Jan. 31, 2022, at 11:59 p.m., hunters must report their hunting activity for each special permit acquired and each deer, elk, bear, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and/or turkey tag purchased in 2021 even if you did not hunt. For each transport tag, you will owe a general season hunting activity report and you will also owe a hunting activity report for each big game special permit awarded. You cannot submit this information by mail or email.

If your season extends beyond Jan. 31, the hunter report is due within 10 days of the close of that season.

Incentive permit drawing for early reporting

Any hunter who is successful in drawing or purchases a permit to hunt and submits their harvest report by Jan. 10, 2022, will be entered to win an incentive permit. These nine permits are drawn in April before the state draw deadline and the hunts are for the following fall. There are two any elk permits for western Washington, two any elk for eastern Washington and five statewide deer permits. If you have a hunt that is not complete by the deadline to submit your reports you have 10 days after your hunt concludes to submit your report without incurring a penalty and you will still be entered into the drawing. 

Incentive permit season

These incentive permit hunts are valid in all open areas for the general season or special permit areas. The hunt dates are scheduled for Sept. 1 through Dec. 31 each year. Hunters are required to hunt with the designated weapon that is open in any given unit at any given time. If there is not an established hunt going on then the hunters are allowed to hunt with any weapon.

Paying for incentive permits

Hunters who win the special incentive permit must send the appropriate license fee to the WDFW headquarters office in Olympia. WDFW will mail the license and transport tag to the permit winners.

Washington snowpack


Washington NRCS 2021

Washington snow water equivalent update as of April 28, 2021. Source: National Resources Conservation Service

Current drought status


Washington Drought Monitor 2021

Source: US Drought Monitor

The Washington draw system

An interesting part about the draw system in Washington is that both residents and nonresidents are drawn from the same pool and, thus, have the same odds of drawing a tag.

In order to apply for special permits in Washington, you have a few steps to follow. First, you will need to purchase your hunting license and transport tag.

For deer and elk, the transport tag must match the tag specified for the hunt listed in the special permit tables. You must select your transport tag, including weapon type and location, before you can purchase a special permit application.

Next, you will purchase your special permit application.

Unlocking Washington's system

The points system

The point system in Washington is more of a pure bonus point system meaning that it will take some level of luck to draw no matter how many years you have applied. There is no maximum point draw, but your points are squared, which gives you more presence in the draw each year you are unsuccessful. Essentially, it gives you a slightly better chance of drawing. You will be awarded a point when you purchase your application. So, as you enter the draw, you will have one point; if it is your 10th year applying, you will go into the buckets with 10 points squared. All applicants have a chance to draw even if it is year one with this system. It may take a large amount of luck in order to win, but there is a chance.

Points are accumulated in each species category. 

When a hunter is selected, the hunter's point total for that category drops to zero.

Multiple hunt choices

You can apply for a maximum of four hunt choices per application, except for the quality deer and elk categories. For quality deer and elk hunts, only two hunt choices are allowed. You do not have to apply for more than one hunt. If more than one hunt choice is requested, each hunt will be considered in the drawing in order of the priority you chose.

Hunters will be required to purchase a hunting license as well as the appropriate transport tag(s), which will need to match the tag specified for the hunt listed in the special permit table. Hunters are required to select a transport tag that includes which weapon type and the location before you are allowed to purchase a special permit application. 

If a youth is awarded a youth permit and turns 16 before purchasing the hunting license and tag, the full resident or nonresident price will be charged. Permit price is determined by the youth's age at the date of the special permit purchase. No refunds or exchanges will be made for those purchasing a hunting license for mountain goat, moose or bighorn sheep.

Party applications

When applying as a group, there is no way to attach the other members of the group after the application has been submitted so be sure to talk amongst your party and decide who is going to be the group leader and who is going to be a group member. Once this is decided, the group leader will need to submit everyone’s applications at the same time under one transaction. Any points that have been accrued by any party member are considered and averaged across the application. If one member of the group draws, then all members of the group draw. Be sure to apply only for hunt selections that have enough permits available to suffice the group. 

The maximum group sizes for each species category are as follows:

  • 8 - Deer and elk
  • 2 - Bear and mountain lion
  • 2 - Mountain goat, moose and bighorn sheep
  • 4 - Turkey
  • 2 - Multi-season deer and elk

Points only option

There is not a way of building points in Washington without having to submit all of the same fees. This is not so painful for residents, but is a hard pill to swallow for a nonresident who simply wants to build points because you will still be charged the full price of the elk permit or deer permit when submitting your point only application. If you are choosing to invest in this state, you should just let the cards fall where they fall as a point only application in a state that doesn’t have a maximum point draw is rarely a good decision and is typically just a waste of money. 

Check stations

An interesting part about Washington is that they provide the information for check stations around the state. Note that the times and locations of check stations are subject to change.

Special deer permits

You may purchase and submit up to seven deer special permit applications — one permit application per hunt category that you qualify for as listed in the following tables.

  • You may only hunt with the hunting method in compliance with your tag.
  • Only one deer may be taken per hunter during the hunting season, except for successful second deer permit applicants.

Quality deer

What does quality deer mean in Washington? Hunters can expect lower than average hunter densities, a greater potential for success and/or good hunt timing during these hunts.

Up to two hunt choices may be selected for quality deer.

Buck deer

Up to four hunt choices may be selected for buck deer.

Second deer

You must purchase a second deer tag to participate in this hunt and only the second tag can be used in the second deer permit hunt. The second tag must be the same weapon choice as your first tag.

Youth deer

Only hunters possessing the required license/transport tag under 16 years of age when they purchase their special permit application may apply. You may hunt only with the hunting method in compliance with your tag.

Note: Hunters must be accompanied by an adult during the hunt.

Deer — 65 Years or over

Only hunters possessing the required license/transport tag who are 65 years and older at some point during the license year. You may hunt only with the hunting method in compliance with your tag.

Deer — hunters with disabilities

Only hunters possessing the required license/transport tag registered with WDFW as a hunter with a disability designation may apply. You may hunt only with the hunting method in compliance with your tag.

Exception: If you have been issued a specific WDFW Special Use Permit for Accommodation.

Deer - Master Hunter

Only hunters possessing the required license/transport tag with a current WDFW Master Hunter card may apply.

Washington 2021 mule deer breakdown

Washington’s overall management strategy is more based around creating more opportunities to hunt than the overall experience hunters are having on any given hunt that they draw. As a general rule, a big deer could come out of just about any of the 75 different units available to hunt. However, if you are going to be looking towards the Evergreen State to fill in different gaps in your annual hunt planning, then using Filtering 2.0 and study up on success rates, overall public land and things of this nature so you can get started in the right direction. Plan on having some sort of learning curve wherever you land and plan on it taking more than a few days in any given unit to get consistent in producing the top end of what that unit has to offer.

The goHUNT hit list units for Washington mule deer

The top producing units in the state are typically going to take an excessive number of years to draw. Because you are on the hook for a deer permit whether you draw these top units or not, your best bet is to make a plan around which general unit you are going to hunt, swing for the fence on your application and get good at hunting the general unit as it’s more than likely where you will be hunting most of the time.

Top hit list units to consider for 170” or better mule deer

% 4pt or

How to uncover hidden gems

Quality bucks have been taken in just about every general unit in the state at one point or the other. However, there are a few tips to finding some more consistent success. The first is to look towards some of the more primitive weapon hunt offerings that seem to get less pressure each year. The other is to look for areas of the state as well as areas of the unit you select that are more difficult to access. If it takes a few more hours of driving through areas you could be hunting to get to the more remote areas, then the likelihood that you drove past lots of hunters is high. The same goes for when you get on your boots and start hunting. Look for the more obscure areas of the unit that are harder to access. It's likely that you will find a better age class of animals and, at a minimum, less hunting pressure, which will make for a more enjoyable hunt and, often, more success. 

High buck hunts

A unique opportunity in Washington is the early high buck hunts. These hunts open up Sept. 15 and go until Sept. 25. They are found in Units 203, 215, 218, 244, 245 and 249.

Modern firearm general mule deer

Top units to consider for mule deer based on 150"+ trophy potential and at least 25%+ public land
(rifle quality deer season)

Bucks 4
Public land

Another great way to find a hidden gem in Washington is utilizing Filtering 2.0 and sorting the units by season, harvest stats, trophy potential, buck:doe ratios and percentage of 4 point or better bucks. There are a plethora of general season weapon options in Washington.

Managing points and expectations

Unfortunately, there isn’t much to say in this section of the article. The truth is that the special permits in Washington are very hard to draw, and, with a point system that is now 31 years old, the exponential value you are receiving because your points are being squared still doesn’t give you much presence in the bucket of raffle tickets. For example, if you have been applying for 10 years and now have 100 raffle tickets in the bucket compared to 100 applicants who have been applying for five years, there is a grand total of 2,500 tickets in the bucket. Couple this with the applicants with more than five and less than five points and you can see how quickly you get swallowed up and have very little presence in the bucket, making your drawing odds quite low and actually getting worse as the years progress and new applicants get into the game. If you have been in the game for a long time and are a resident, you may still find a little luck at some point, but luck is what you need and, to date, it has obviously evaded you. 



Washington's 2021 Columbian blacktail deer breakdown

There are 74 units to consider when looking to hunt Columbian blacktail deer in Washington. These units are up and down the West Coast and include 11 different units that are islands primarily in the Puget Sound as well as one in the southwest corner of the state. As you move across the state to the east, you will reach the farthest extent of their range on the top of the Cascade Mountains. Washington classifies a deer as a blacktail if they are found west of a line drawn from the Canadian border south on the Pacific Crest Trail and along the Yakama Indian Reservation boundary in Yakima County to the Klickitat River and south down Klickitat River to the Columbia River. Although Washington is not in the running for top destinations for hunters looking to take an exceptional representation of the species, it is a great choice for hunters looking to check the box on this amazing deer. Quality deer are taken in just about every unit in the state.

How to uncover hidden gems

A hidden gem in Washington for Columbian blacktail deer is tough to find and will likely come as the result of multiple years of knowledge gained in one OTC unit or the other. Use Filtering 2.0 to look at success rates, the amount of public land and buck:doe ratios to get you started in the right direction. At least you can get started on your learning curve in a unit that has a slightly better than average track record than another. 

Modern firearm general season blacktail deer hunts

Any buck

Any deer

3 point minimum

Late general season modern firearm blacktail deer hunts

Any buck

Any deer

Top units to consider for Columbian blacktail deer based on harvest success and at least 25% public land
(modern firearm general)

Bucks 4 point+Public land

Managing blacktail deer expectations

Out of the 30 different quality rifle blacktail deer hunts in Washington, if you have 10 points, there are only three that have higher than 50% odds of drawing (418, 426, 437). However, if you want to plan a blacktail deer hunt in Washington and you can stomach the expense of the deer permit each year you apply, then swing for the fence and pray for some luck.



Washington's 2021 whitetail deer breakdown

The odds that Washington is on your short list for whitetail destinations is minimal at best and, yet, there is a great population of deer in the state and it seems to be getting better all the time. There are some particularly big deer coming out of the northeast corner of the state near Idaho and British Columbia, but whitetails can be found in just about every unit in Regions 1, 2 and 3, which cover the entire eastern side of the state. The truth is that if you are just looking to hunt deer, this may be the best choice out of the three types available in Washington. Every year, above average deer are harvested and, overall, this is a species that doesn’t seem to be targeted by nearly as many hunters each year compared to mule deer or Columbian blacktail deer. Using Filtering 2.0 so you can narrow down your search and find a great starting point for whitetails in the Evergreen State.

Washington's 2021 Rocky Mountain elk breakdown

Just like the deer, getting started building points in Washington for elk is a tough pill to swallow. Because you are required to purchase an elk permit in order to apply and build points, this is the most expensive elk application in the country. Couple this with very low odds on drawing a top producing unit in the state and it really is hard to imagine why someone would do this when there are so many other glaring choices across the western United States. However, if you are a resident and you are going to be purchasing your elk permit regardless, then it would be a shame not to apply and pray for some of the harder to draw areas of the state. There are currently 21 units with a trophy potential of 300” or better. The bulk of the best hunting in the state is found in the south center portion of the state as well as the southeast corner around Walla Walla, WA. 

There are a total of 75 units in Washington that have hunts for Rocky Mountain elk and 21 of them have the potential to produce 300”+ bulls.

Keep in mind that most Rocky Mountain elk hunts are highly regulated and very few units offer the opportunity at a branch-antlered bull. Most units are open to spike or antlerless elk. However, this can change depending on the unit and weapon type.

Rocky Mountain elk units are the 100, 200 and 300 series Game Management Units (GMU).

How to pick up a tag to hunt in Washington

To hunt elk in Washington:

  1. Purchase a big game hunting license with elk as a species option.
  2. Choose the elk tag for the area (eastern or western Washington) you will hunt in and the hunting method you will use. You must select one hunting method: modern firearm, archery or muzzleloader.
  3. Check the general season dates for the hunting method you have chosen.
  4. You may apply for hunts that are open to hunters by special permit only.
  5. When you are finished hunting, you must report your hunting activity online ( or by calling 1-877-945-3492. See page 10 for more information.

Hidden gems

With the best units in the state only boasting 340”+ caliber bulls, a hidden gem is a real relative term in this state. The truth is a successful elk hunt in Washington is tough to come by when looking at the percentage of harvests versus hunters. The real hidden gem would be anywhere you can build a track record of success and will likely be a general unit since the other units are hard to draw. 

Archery general elk

Top units to consider for Rocky Mountain elk based on harvest success
(archery general elk)

Bulls 6 point+Public land

Only units open to branch-antlered bulls are listed. Units open to spike or antlerless elk only may have higher success rates.

Modern firearm general elk

Top units to consider for Rocky Mountain elk based on harvest success
(modern firearm general elk)

Bulls 6 point+Public land

Muzzleloader general elk — early

Muzzleloader general elk — late

Hit list units for Rocky mountain elk in Washington

Top units to consider for 315” or better Rocky Mountain elk
(quality elk)

Bulls 6 point+Public land

Managing Rocky Mountain elk points and expectations

There really isn’t much to expect when it comes to drawing a quality elk permit in Washington. With 10 years worth of applying you are still going to be in the single digits for odds of drawing any of the muzzleloader or rifle hunts across the state.



Washington's 2021 Roosevelt elk breakdown

If you are looking to hunt elk in the Evergreen State, a Roosevelt elk is actually a much better choice in my opinion simply for the fact that at least when hunting you have fewer restrictions and are able to harvest the best bull you can find. Although this state does not have a reputation for producing as big of bulls as California or Oregon, there are still some quality bulls harvested each year in many different units for hunters willing to get in and hunt hard. Roosevelt elk are found on the western side of the state in the 400, 500, and 600 Series units.

Special information in regards to antlers

Certain units in Washington have antler restrictions.

3 point minimum: A 3 point minimum elk means that a legal elk in those units must have at least 3 antler points on one side. Eye guards are antler points when they are at least 1” long. A 1x3 and a 2x3 are legal elk in a 3 point minimum unit. Antler restrictions apply to all hunters during any open season.

Antler points: To qualify as a point, an antler point must be at least 1” long, measured on the longest side. 

Hidden gems

Archery general Roosevelt elk units in Washington

Any elk: 407, 448, 454, 564, 666, 684, Elk Area 6014

3 point minimum: 460, 466, 506, 510, 513, 516, 524 (except closed in Elk Area 5066), 530, 601 through 618, 624 (except for Elk Area 6071), 627, 633, 638 (except Master Hunters only in Elk Area 6064), 642 through 651 and 658

3 point minimum or antlerless: 501 through 505, 520, 550, 554, 560, 568, 572, 574, 578, Elk Area 6061, 652 (Except Elk Area 6013 closed to antlerless), 654, 660, 663, 667 through 673, 681, and 699

Top units to consider for Roosevelt elk based on harvest success
(general archery)

Bulls 6 point+Public land %

Some units listed have 3 point minimum antler restrictions.

Modern firearm general Roosevelt elk units in Washington

Any elk: 407, 448, 564, 666

Any bull: 454

3 point minimum: 460, 466, 503, 505, 506, 510 through 520, 524 (except closed in Elk Area 5066), 530, 550, 560, 568, 572, 574, 578, 601 through 618, 624 (except for Elk Area 6071), 627, 633, 638 (except Master Hunters Only in Elk Area 6064 portion of GMU 638), 642 through 651, 652 (except for Elk Area 6014), 654, 658, 660, 667 through 681, 684

3 point minimum or antlerless: 501, 504, 663, Elk Area 6014

Top units to consider for Roosevelt elk based on harvest success and at least 10% public land
(modern firearm general season)

Bulls 6 point+Public
land %

Hit list units for Roosevelt elk in Washington

Top hit list units to consider for 290” or better Roosevelt elk
(quality elk)
Not in order of quality

Bulls 6 point+Public land

Managing Roosevelt elk points and expectations

Like other species, there are so many OTC opportunities and very few quality options. It congregates the applicants into only a few options to choose from and, therefore, makes the odds that much worse. As it sets, there are not any quality hunts that have higher than a 10% drawing odds with 10 or less points and things are not much better if you are willing to apply for an archery permit in these areas. The truth is that if you plan on hunting one of these above average areas it will be a lightning strike when the day comes. The best plan is to get very familiar with the general unit you prefer to hunt and get good at taking elk in this area as you may never get to hunt your dream unit.




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