At an estimated population of just shy of 300,000, Colorado is the king when it comes to elk hunting possibilities. Colorado is about the last state that has over-the-counter rifle elk tags available to non-residents on an unlimited basis. The biggest question is for how long. It is no secret that Colorado is also known for crowded elk hunting experiences, and with other states restricting this type of hunting for non-residents, it is pushing most of them directly to Colorado to get their elk hunting fix. This will not last forever, and most residents want restrictions put in place for the amount of non-resident hunters that can participate in OTC elk hunts. Our advice is enjoy the freedom to pick up an elk tag and go hunting while it lasts.
With all the popularity and sometimes negativity over-the-counter elk hunting gets in Colorado, it often overshadows the great draw areas and/or draw hunts that it has to offer. All of the muzzleloader, 1st, and 4th rifle hunts are on a draw basis only, so a lot of the easier to draw hunts come in the form of one of these three, types of hunts that have over-the-counter archery, 2nd rifle, and/or 3rd rifle seasons on them. In addition, there are also units that have limited draw hunts for every season that have similar trophy size. Even though we list more quality hunts than any other publication, there are still that many more out there that can be found with a little research and optimism.
Not all elk tags in Colorado are sold over-the-counter. All of the muzzleloader, first, and fourth rifle hunts are on a draw basis only, so a lot of the easier to draw hunts come in the form of one of these three types of hunts that have over-the-counter archery, second rifle, and/or third rifle seasons on them. In addition, there are also units that have limited draw hunts for every season that have similar trophy size. There are hunts that are managed for better trophy quality and are often the ones referenced that currently take 25-30 years of applying to draw. Buyer beware on these hunts, though, as even these hunts are not guaranteed trophy hunts and oftentimes do not have any larger bulls than OTC units, just less hunting pressure. Even though we list more quality hunts than any other publication, there are many more hunts out there that can be found with a little research and optimism.
Archery OTC units are becoming fewer and fewer every year and will continue to do so as the overflow of hunters who have to find new units to go to will increase the hunting pressure in other parts of the state and continue the cycle. With the 2020 closure of most of the OTC archery hunts in the southwest corner, it was only a matter of time before the last remaining units down there in 80 and 81 were also moved to a draw. These units bore the brunt of most of the hunters who were displaced from the adjoining units’ conversions to draw, and as such, they have been moved into the draw for archery in 2022. The silver lining is that this increases the draw potential for archery units, which realistically will require 0 points to draw, and hunters who choose to apply in these units will have a more enjoyable experience. There are some really good units out there for archery elk that are OTC for second and third rifle that take very little to no points to draw. The key is hunters need to enjoy archery elk hunting more than trophy bull killing to make these hunts a success.
Typically, you can use the amount of points required to draw as a good rule of thumb for trophy quality for that unit. There is not a big difference in trophy quality in hunts requiring 0-5 points regardless of weapon. The biggest difference is going to be in the amount of public/private land, amount of wilderness, population of elk, etc. Once you get to hunts that are taking 10-20+ points to draw, there is usually a better chance at harvesting a mature bull, but be careful as some of these hunts could take higher points because of popularity or season dates and might not necessarily hold bigger, more mature bulls.
Colorado is not a state to try and chase down the best units for trophy elk hunts if you haven’t been playing the game for close to 30 years. It is one of the best opportunity states for putting good elk tags in your pocket every few years and hunting more often. Only time will tell how the elk population will be 10 years from now with all the uncertainty surrounding the wolf introduction, but for now, we can say that Colorado is one of the best states to hunt elk in. If your hunting experience isn’t defined by inches, then Colorado is among the top states to apply for elk.
|Colorado Archery Elk Hunt||September 2-30|
|Colorado Muzzleloader Elk Hunt||September 10-18|
|Colorado Early Rifle Elk Hunt||October 1-11|
|Colorado First Rifle Elk Hunt||October 15-19|
|Colorado Second Rifle Elk Hunt||October 29-November 6|
|Colorado Third Rifle Elk Hunt||November 12-18|
|Colorado Fourth Rifle Hunt||November 23-27|
|Colorado Late Rifle Hunt||December 10-21 (January7-18, 2023)|
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|2022 Colorado Non-Resident 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)|
|Elk - Bull or Either-Sex||$700.98|
|Elk - Cow||$526.17|
|Youth Big Game (Elk, Deer, or Antelope)||$107.43|