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Colorado Mule Deer
Colorado Mule Deer Hunting

WESTERN COLORADO DEER. Uncertainty. This is exactly what is surrounding Colorado as a premier mule deer hunting destination after the 2021 and 2022 rifle seasons. This year will mark the latest 3rd rifle season that Colorado has ever had, which for this year should provide some amazing hunting opportunities. The downside is that with the normal tag allocation in most units across the state, the amount of 3rd rifle season hunters will undoubtedly decrease the amount of mature bucks across the state, and with continued late hunts scheduled for the next 3 years after this year, it doesn't leave much room for optimism.

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2021 Colorado Deer Season

The 2020 season saw a slight reemergence of older age class bucks being harvested within the state, but it was a far cry from the early to mid 2000s when mature bucks were the norm and bucks from the 180-190’’ class were on every hunters radar. The later rifle dates in 2020 most likely played the biggest role in more older age class bucks hitting the dirt but some early snow storms during the 2nd and 3rd seasons helped jumpstart the migration to move bucks into lower, more accessible areas. For anyone who has been stockpiling points in Colorado for deer, you will want to consider trying to burn them this year or next to capitalize on the current population of older age class bucks before they are drastically reduced. Even if this is your first time applying there, look for what units you could potentially draw and try to get in on this year’s late rifle hunts.

Colorado Mule Deer Draw

Regardless of what weapon and season you plan to hunt, the next couple years will be your best bet for a chance at a mature buck. The archery and muzzleloader seasons overlap each other during September, and although these dates are not changing, the later rifle hunts that are creating a buzz right now will eventually impact the quality of bucks in their early fall areas. Western Colorado is primarily made up of high elevation summer range where they spread out in remote basins and timbered draws five months out of the year until winter forces them to retreat into a limited winter range and become much more congregated. Going forward, there will undoubtedly be some impact on older age class bucks failing to return to their high-country hideaways for the summer and early fall because of them being harvested during the rifle hunts. Point creep this year will be accelerated for most 2nd, 3rd, and 4th season rifle hunts. Those hunts with fewer tags will increase at a much higher rate as there are not enough tags being issued to handle the influx of applicants. For those applicants who are on the edge of drawing hunts based on their current points, with last year's number of points required to draw, they will most likely come up empty-handed. For most 3rd season hunts with fewer than 200 tags, expect a 2-3 point jump with some seeing more than that. Applicants who are trying to target certain units rather than seasons should look at 2nd season hunts this year for a better shot at drawing. Also, do not discount the 4th season hunts across the state as there are a few trophy class bucks in almost every unit, and with hunt dates overlapping Thanksgiving, any of these hunts can give hunters a puncher's chance to find the buck of their dreams.

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This is not meant to say Colorado will have no mule deer hunting opportunities left in the future, but it’s more of a disclaimer of sorts to inform current and potential applicants that Colorado is heading towards an opportunity type state more than the trophy state most mule deer hunters have come to know it by. There will always be the potential for pulling a giant out of the Rockies, but CPW has taken a different management approach to the future of mule deer hunting for now.

2021 Mule Deer Dates for Colorado

Colorado Archery Deer Dates
Deer/elk (west of I-25 and Unit 140) Sept. 2–30*
Plains deer (east of I-25, except Unit 140) Oct. 1–29
  Nov. 10–30
  Dec. 15–31
Whitetail-only (limited) Oct. 1 - 29
  Nov. 10-30
  Dec. 15-31
Colorado Deer Muzzleloader (by draw only) Dates
Deer/elk/moose Sept. 11–19*
Plains deer (east of I-25, except Unit 140) Oct. 9–17
Whitetail-only (limited) Oct. 9-17
Colorado Rifle Deer Dates
Combined deer/elk (2nd season) Oct. 30-Nov. 7
Combined deer/elk (3rd season) Nov. 13–19
Combined limited deer/elk (4th season) Nov. 24–28
Plains deer (east of I-25, except Unit 140) Oct. 30–Nov. 9
Late plains deer (east of I-25, except Unit 140) Dec. 1–14
Whitetail-only (limited) Oct. 30-Nov.9
Late Whitetail-only (limited) Dec. 1-14

COLORADO PLAINS DEER. 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 and gives bucks the quality feed they need to grow large antlers. 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 bright side 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 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 knock on doors until you find the right landowner with good enough ground to hunt. We work with the best outfitters on the Eastern Plains, so get in touch with us to help you figure out which outfitters have what you are looking for.

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Private Land, Semi-Guided, and Guided Deer Hunts in Colorado

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Application Dates for Mule Deer in Colorado

Online applications must be submitted by 8 p.m. (MT) on April 6, 2021. Visa, MasterCard, or Discover will be accepted. Corrections or modifications to applications are accepted in Colorado and can be made until the April 6th application deadline.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) has online applications only for all species. You will need to create an online account to apply in the 2021 draw or call CPW at 800-244-5613.

Our online/print magazine 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!


Colorado Non-Resident Mule Deer Hunting Fees

Fee Cost
Annual Small Game Hunting License (required to apply) $84.96
Youth Annual Small Game Hunt License (Under age 18, required to apply) $1.29
Habitat Stamp $10.40
Draw Application $9.00
Mule Deer $412.61
Youth Big Game $105.51
Colorado Mule Deer Hunting Articles from Huntin' Fool Magazine