WESTERN COLORADO DEER
2021 marked the first year of the latest second, third, and fourth season rifle hunts on record. For everyone who did not get a tag in 2021, you can breathe a small sigh of relief. Those late season hunts were fairly hot and dry, and although more mature bucks hit the ground than would have under normal season dates, it was not the widespread slaughter of adult bucks that could have taken place during a normal November. This is just another reminder that the amount of points required to draw a late season buck tag in Colorado will always take a backseat to Mother Nature. Right now, mule deer bucks are in a dangerous game of Russian Roulette, and sooner or later, winter is going to come early and they will have no choice but to come out in the open while hunting seasons are still underway
Given the landscape of Western Colorado and the vast amount of summer range in comparison to winter range, it only makes sense that when heavy snowfall and cold temps descend onto the mountains that deer become congregated into whatever winter range valleys they can find. When this doesn’t happen, they often stay up in the middle transition range as long as possible, hiding from hunting pressure and preserving what winter range they have when they are forced upon it. 2021 found most of the mature bucks and a fair amount of does and small bucks sticking to thick cover provided in this middle transition range. Even those late rifle hunts that took 15-20+ points to draw were almost as difficult to find mature bucks as those hunts that took 0-5 points to draw. Basically, what we are telling you is buyer beware. Points do not equal inches of antler or quality of hunt.
Most unsuccessful applicants from last year are hoping things reverse for point creep this year with so many high point applicants burning points in 2021, but not so fast. Although we won’t see the same jump in points required to draw certain units from 2021, we are not likely to see hunts get easier to draw unless quality is not there. There were a lot of applicants who did not draw that will have their names in there this year plus one more point from last year, so a lot of units will either stay the same or fall back into the normal point creep situation of requiring one more point than last year. One note for Colorado is that point creep isn’t nearly as bad in this state as others because of the wide array of options. Most hunts that take 10 points or less tend to hover around the same amount of points to draw for a number of years without increasing.
99% of all archery and muzzleloader hunts on the western side are earlier in the year during September. This allows these hunters to capitalize on having first crack at the deer before they realize hunting season is upon them. One thing to remember about units that have large portions of high elevation roadless or wilderness type country is this can make for an extremely physically demanding hunt. As stated above, second, third, and fourth rifle seasons are all mostly in November. The second season takes place during the last three days of October and ends on November 6th. The good news is that 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 the best 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.
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 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 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.
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.
Search our database of Colorado for mule deer opportunities.
Applications must be submitted by 8 p.m. (MDT) on April 5, 2022.
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!
|2022 Colorado Deer Non-Resident Hunting Fees|
|Annual Small Game Hunting License (required to apply)||$86.56|
|Youth Annual Small Game Hunt License (under age 18, required to apply)||$1.31|
|Habitat Stamp (required for adults to apply)||$10.59|
|Draw Application (per species)||$9.17|
|Post Draw Fees (if successful)|
|Youth Big Game (Elk, Deer, or Antelope)||$107.43|