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Colorado Mule Deer

Colorado Mule Deer Hunting 2024


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Now that we are four years into the current five-year season structure, one thing is clear – mature bucks in Colorado are a lot fewer and farther between. As was predicted when they shifted season dates more than a week later than they had been, mature bucks started hitting the ground at an escalated rate. Thus, the mature bucks have been weeded out to the point where most hunters are dipping into the reserve of bucks that consist mostly of 3-year-olds with the occasional 4-year-old buck. Just to be clear, this is for units/hunts that require 10-25 points. These high point hunts nowadays resemble 1-2 point hunts from 15-20 years ago. The saddest part of this whole state of affairs is this is exactly how CDOW wants it. They want fewer older age class bucks on the landscape in hopes that it helps prevent the spread of CWD into other areas of the state. There is no evidence to this point that this type of management will prevent or even slow the spread of this disease, but it is what they wanted, so hunters just have to basically settle for lower age class bucks on average.

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According to CDOW population estimates, the current population is down 47% from the 2006 population estimates which was the year prior to the big winter that decimated areas like the Gunnison Basin of which they have never recovered. The most recent estimates have the population at sub 400,000, which is as low as they have been since recording started in 2004. Despite this low population number, hunters have been reporting seeing more deer on the landscape over the last few years than in prior years. As stated above, mature buck sightings are trending in the opposite direction. Currently, Colorado is going over options for the 2025-2029 season structure, and with any luck, the season dates will get bumped back to their pre-2020 season structure and we may start to see mature bucks make a comeback.

Colorado Mule Deer Draw

For now, depending on where you sit with points, you may want to think about sitting out if you are expecting good opportunities at bucks north of 180". If you are in the 1-3 point range, holding on and banking points for the next five years probably won’t improve your options much, so burning them on the best available hunt for your points and going hunting would be the best move. Since all units will benefit from moving the season dates earlier, you will be able to hunt two to three times in the next five to seven years and quality should just get better and better. If they decide to keep the status quo on season date structure in the next five years, everyone should plan on burning any and all points they have accumulated as mature bucks will be extremely rare the further along it gets toward 2029, regardless of the unit or how many points it takes to draw.

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Now for the good news, Western Colorado has some of the best mule deer habitat in the world. With its diverse summer/fall range, deer can be found from the high rocky basins above 10,000 to the lower more mild rolling sage foothills throughout the state. This makes Colorado a must for any mule deer hunter regardless of your weapon preference or physical ability. September offers some great opportunities for archery, muzzleloader, and in some units, early rifle hunts where hunters can pursue mule deer on their summer range and chase velvet bucks before they rub and begin to timber up. The late season rifle hunts of second, third, and fourth season give a hunter the chance to go after rutting bucks in late October through November, depending on which season is drawn. Weather conditions will most likely determine where the deer are located. If the fall is warm and dry, bucks will likely remain in the higher to midrange areas of the unit, making them harder to find. However, if the snow flies and temperatures drop, mule deer will migrate to their wintering ranges early where hunters have easier access and deer are more concentrated. One thing we cannot predict is what Mother Nature is going to do this fall, especially during application time. Hunters have to roll the dice and hope that the stars will align for them the fall they choose to have a tag in hand.

Colorado has ample hunts to select from with a few early September rifle hunts as well as three more rifle hunts that take place the last part of October into late November. They also have an early season archery and muzzleloader season in September that on average takes far fewer points to draw than the rifle hunts for that unit. Regardless of the points you have or don’t have, there are plenty of options for everyone to obtain a tag and go hunting.

The same philosophy that has always applied still applies today. There is potential for a trophy buck in any unit in the state. The difference today is that with technology, rut rifle hunts, and better equipment than ever before, there are far less mature bucks on the landscape to luck into. Colorado is still a good place to hunt big mule deer bucks on a regular basis and will most likely always be given the amount of habitat and lush alpine basins, but mule deer hunting is starting to resemble Colorado elk hunting more and more. There are always going to be a lot of opportunities to hunt bucks, they just might be young bucks with the occasional mature bucks that slipped through the cracks for four to five years.



Eastern Plains hunting continues to be a consistent producer of older age class trophy bucks. This part of Colorado is less susceptible to winterkill, and in most of the regions, it has an abundance of agriculture crops that are high in protein quality feed. Add this to great genetics and you are going to grow trophy quality bucks. This side of the state is also primarily private land, and deer harvest is regulated more by landowners than CPW. It has become more difficult to access land on the Plains simply due to supply and demand. The demand for hunting older age class bucks has outfitters tying up any piece of private land that has the potential to hold big, mature bucks. The cost of Plains deer hunts continues to go up every year, and the availability of booking a hunt is a bigger deterrent than the price. Most outfitters are one to two years out, with some being booked indefinitely for the foreseeable future. The only brightside is that if you can get a spot booked with one of the reputable outfitters, it typically only takes a few points to draw in their area, and the harder to draw areas are only around 4-6 points.

The Plains is a totally different style of hunting than the high mountains of Western Colorado. Most of it consists of flat farmland with adjacent sandhill desert country. The best ranches will have both types of terrain on them as once the crops are harvested later in the year, the deer need some place to take refuge. If the ranch doesn’t have this type of country to pursue them in, you’re only left with about an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening to hunt. For spot and stalk archery hunters, there is usually enough wind, and it is typically a steady wind that allows hunters to sneak in very close, especially if the ranch has some topography. The archery season dates encompass the bulk of November, which allows hunters to see the best the area has to offer for mature bucks.

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Plains hunting boils down to “pay to play.” If you want a trophy mule deer, the Plains has them, it’s just a matter of getting booked with an outfitter or having an unlimited amount of time to drive around and knocking on doors until you find the right landowner with good enough ground to hunt.

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Colorado Deer Hunting Application Deadline

Applications must be submitted by 8 p.m. (MDT) on April 2, 2024.

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!



2024 Colorado Deer Non-Resident Hunting Fees  
Fee Cost
Annual Small Game Hunting License (required to apply) $98.92
Youth Annual Small Game Hunt License (under age 18, required to apply) $1.46
Habitat Stamp (required for adults to apply) $12.15
Draw Application (per species) $10.00
Post Draw Fees (if successful)  
Deer $481.52
Youth Big Game (Elk, Deer, or Antelope) $122.91


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