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Colorado Bighorn Sheep Hunting


Colorado Bighorn Sheep Hunting

Colorado Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep

When people think about Colorado, mountains, ski resorts, and elk hunting are a few things that come to mind. However, bighorn sheep have roamed here for eons and call a large part of this state home. Colorado is famous for its high country and its portion of the Continental Divide. It has the largest collection of peaks higher than 14,000 feet above sea level in North America. The state’s varying sheep habitat ranges from jagged canyon walls at 5,000 feet to giant “14’ers'' scattered along the Continental Divide and elsewhere in the state. With all of this bighorn country, it is no wonder that Colorado made the Rocky Mountain bighorn its state animal. There are remote wilderness areas to hunt or easier to access units via road and trail systems. Colorado has some amazing sheep hunting units that offer mostly public land.

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The bighorn sheep population as a whole is looked at as being healthy and in good numbers. Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists have conducted 20 or so separate sheep surveys each season over the past few years, and the overall population census continues to remain stable at around 7,000 sheep statewide. Even though the state record ram is over 200”, most units in the state are at higher altitudes and produce 160-175” sheep. Some units, however, may have superior genetics or be at a lower elevation, so shooting a 175”+ ram is very realistic.

Colorado Bighorn Draw

In 2021, Colorado will issue an estimated total of 307 bighorn permits, which is up 7 permits from the 300 in 2020. Of those permits, 30 are set aside for non-residents, with 24 being rifle permits split between 16 rams and 8 ewes, rounded out with 6 archery-only ram permits. Colorado and Utah are the only states in the West that have archery specific bighorn sheep hunts. The number of non-resident permits for archery in 2021 is the same as 2020, but it still provides a better draw opportunity than rifle seasons for those looking to chase bighorns with a stick and string. Although overall the archery permits are statistically easier to draw than rifle permits, these hunts can be tough, and historically, over half of the hunters go home eating tag soup. There will also be six resident sheep permits reissued in 2021 due to lack of huntability in 2020 during wildfire closures in the National Forest.

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Changes for 2021 include an added rifle non-resident ram permit in S22. Ewe rifle tags will be available for S41, S51, and S69. Non-resident archery ram permits have been added to S2, S33, S34, S49. There are a few non-resident permits that have been replaced by other new non-resident permits for 2021. Permits that were offered in 2020 that are not available for non-residents in 2021 are S13 rifle ram, S49 archery ram, S44 archery ram, S73 ewe rifle, one of the two S21 ewe rifle, and one of the two S9 rifle and archery permits that were available in 2020. S69 moved its non-resident archery tag to the second season and added non-resident tags for both ewe and ram rifle hunts. It will cost you between $109 and $200.75 of out-of-pocket expenses to apply for bighorns, based on whether or not you’re applying for additional animals.

Colorado Desert Bighorn Sheep

Colorado is home to a second species of bighorn – Desert bighorn sheep. They call the western border of the state home, and total estimates are around 550 sheep according to current CPW surveys. The population is thriving with their numbers more than doubling in the last 15 years. In 2021, Colorado will issue 14 permits, the same as last year. Once again, there will only be a single non-resident permit, and it will be in unit S62 for the fourth year in a row. A 160” class ram is a realistic expectation for the unit. If hunters put in their time and pick through the available sheep, they should turn up a mature ram.

There is no point system for Desert bighorn sheep in Colorado, which puts everyone on an even playing field in the draw. However, you must choose between applying for Rocky Mountain or Desert sheep as you can’t do both. Like all sheep permits in the lower 48, odds are dismal at best, but you can’t draw if you don’t apply. Applicants had a 1 in 414 chance in 2017, but with the price structure change to the draws, odds skyrocketed to 1 in 1,697 for 2018. Ever since, the odds might not have improved much, but it is a low risk/luck only system. The good news is that if you’re not building points and you are already applying for other species in the state or have already killed a Rocky and need a Desert sheep, it’s a great add-on species at an out-of-pocket cost of only $9.

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Private Land, Semi-Guided, and Guided Bighorn Sheep Hunts in Colorado

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Colorado Bighorn Season & Dates

Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep archery season (2021): August 1 – December 31

Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep rifle season (2021): August 9 – December 17

Desert bighorn sheep rifle season (2021): November 1-30

Application Dates for Bighorn Sheep in Colorado

The Colorado big game application period deadline is April 6, 2021 at 8 p.m. MDT.

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Colorado Non-Resident Bighorn Sheep Hunting Fees

Up-Front Fees
Annual Small Game Hunt License (required to apply) $84.96
Youth Annual Small Game Hunt License (under age 18, required to apply) $1.29
Habitat Stamp (required for adults to apply) $10.40
Draw Application (per species) $9
Point Fee (per species for Sheep, Moose, and Mtn Goat) $100
Youth Point Fee (all species) None
Post Draw Fees (if successful)
Desert Bighorn Sheep $2,300.51
Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep $2,300.51


Colorado Bighorn Sheep Hunting Articles from Huntin' Fool Magazine