Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep are the dominant species of bighorn sheep in Colorado. The population of bighorn sheep has risen 7% over the course of the last 10 years, but the bigger change is that the number of sheep permits (ewe and ram) has risen by 16%. This stat alone should tell you that the state has taken a more aggressive approach to sheep hunting in Colorado. Don’t get this increase in tags confused with better drawing odds now vs. 2013 because the amount of applicants has grown by 64% in that same time. It’s clear that despite the increase in population, the demand still far outweighs the supply, but anytime we have an increase in sheep population, it should be celebrated.
Most of the units are managed for a 6 to 8-year-old ram harvest objective. Colorado takes a more aggressive approach to harvesting rams once they are mature as we touched on. Colorado high country and winter are not very forgiving, and once rams hit 6 to 8-years-old, they are on borrowed time. Since most non-resident ram tags are issued in units west of the Front Range throughout the Rocky Mountains, rams have a harder life and typically max out at 165-170" with the occasional 180" ram. Once you reach bighorn populations that live most of their lives at the low elevations of the Eastern Plains, you start to see bigger rams with more mass. Hunters must remember that Colorado’s high country is no joke, and with an aggressive hunting approach, most of these hunts are not going to be easy.
As Colorado continues to be a top destination for peak baggers and recreational outdoor activities, sheep are consistently looking for a reprieve. This ever-increasing encroachment into historic bighorn sheep habitat is pushing sheep into new and oftentimes rough, steep country that is non-traditional habitat. The constant change in sheep feeding and bedding patterns is making harvest success a lot tougher even with all the advancements in technology. It used to be said that drawing a sheep tag was the hardest part of the sheep hunting in the lower 48, but now that is only half of the battle. Hunters must expect to put in a considerable amount of time scouting and relocating sheep throughout the fall and into the season if they want a good chance at success, or they must be willing to hire a great outfitter that will put all that work in for his clients prior to their hunt.
Please check the regulations for the specific dates you're looking for.
In 2023, Colorado will issue an estimated total of 331 bighorn permits, the exact same as 2022. Of those permits, 33 are set aside for non-residents, with 25 being rifle permits split between 17 rams and 8 ewes, rounded out with 7 archery-only ram permits and 1 archery-only ewe permit. Colorado and Utah are the only states in the West that have archery specific Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep hunts. Archery hunts are difficult with lower success, but they provide better draw odds than rifle hunts. Of those archery hunts, S34 and S69 have the best potential for higher success and bigger rams.
Changes for non-residents in 2023 include the addition of S49 for an archery ram hunt. Additionally, S69 and S74 were switched out for units S44 and S54 rifle hunts, which was a step back in trophy potential for the most part. For ewe hunts, S3 was switched out for S33 for rifle hunts. The units that remained from last year didn’t change around between seasons with the exception of adding an additional ram in unit S3. Rocky Mountain bighorn can be expensive to build points for at $100 for a preference/weighted point fee. If you already have the required 3 preference points, remember that building points is optional and you can apply and are eligible in the draw without building points going forward.
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 2023, Colorado will issue 15 permits. Once again, there will only be a single non-resident permit, and it will be in unit S62 for the sixth year in a row. A 160" class ram is a realistic expectation for the unit. If hunters put in the 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 1,858 chance in 2022. 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 $10.
Over the last 20+ years, we've collected hunting research and data, so join Huntin' Fool today and access the best research tools for hunting bighorn sheep in colorado, including 3D Maps, Draw Odds, Consultations, and much more. Go on more hunts with better information!
The Colorado big game application period deadline is April 4, 2023 at 8 p.m. MDT.
Our magazine, which is available in print and online, has everything in one location application info, draw details and odds, fees, hunter requirements, point structure, age restrictions, youth information, weapon restrictions, other tag opportunities, hunt planning, and much more. If you would like access to all of our research, join today!2023 Colorado Bighorn Sheep Non-Resident Hunting Fees
|Annual Small Game Hunt License (required to apply)||$93.78|
|Youth Annual Small Game Hunt License (under age 18, required to apply)||$1.4|
|Habitat Stamp (required for adults to apply)||$11.5|
|Draw Application (per species)||$10|
|Youth Point Fee (all species)||$NONE|
|Desert Bighorn Sheep||$2544.04|
|Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep||$2544.04|
CO Bighorn Sheep Hunting Articles from Huntin' Fool Magazine