Hunting in Colorado can make you feel boundless, with public lands covering 23 million acres of pristine pines, quaking aspens, open meadows, and pure-water ponds. It’s no wonder it’s home to the largest U.S. elk herd, and so many other species. That, in a nutshell, is what makes Colorado a must-apply state for all your favorite big-game animals. But, the April 5 deadline is coming quickly.
The best approach to hunting Colorado is to build the necessary preference points to draw a particular tag. Colorado operates on a true preference-point system for elk, deer, and antelope tags, meaning applicants with the most points will be awarded a tag, resulting in a very predictable draw each year.
The popularity of OTC (over-the-counter) elk hunting in Colorado often overshadows the great draw areas being offered. All muzzleloader, several archery, and all 1st and 4th season rifle hunts are offered via drawing. And some units have limited draws for all four rifle seasons. If you’re a trophy hunter, you must either have the necessary points to draw, an outfitter who has the rights to private ranches in easy-draw areas, or a combination of the two.
Your hunt options will be dictated by the number of preference points you have. If you currently possess points and wish to rifle hunt, I suggest trying to draw over the next two years. We had unseasonably warm weather in the 3rd and 4th seasons in 2021 which probably saved many mature bucks. With season dates in 2022 and 2023 being just as late as they were in 2021, there is a lot of optimism going into the next couple of years. For those just starting out or early in the preference-point journey and who cannot wait 13+ years to draw a tag in western Colorado, consider the eastern plains. The plains continue to be a consistent producer of older trophy bucks and rifle tags can typically be drawn with fewer than five points. Please remember, hunts with the best outfitters will be booked years in advance, so planning ahead is essential. Archery hunts on the plains are the real hidden gem…big bucks without the wait. Archery tags typically take minimal points to draw.
Yes, Colorado has whitetails! The rolling farm and ranchland that makes up the eastern side of the state is ideal whitetail habitat and shouldn’t be overlooked for trophy bucks. Spot-and-stalk is the primary hunting method for plains whitetails which adds to the overall experience. This area is comprised of 99% private land which makes using an outfitter nearly mandatory.
Don’t get hung up on having 15 points; if you’re curious about what hunts might be available to you right now, regardless of your point status, give WTA a call at 800-755-8247 or click here to email and speak to a consultant. We have a variety of options that require varying point totals.
The Big Three
Since it is home to the largest elk herd and it produces giant mule deer, Colorado is sometimes overlooked for moose, sheep, and mountain goats. Big mistake. Colorado offers more tags for these species than any other western state.
The Big Three in Colorado runs on a modified point system. For the first three years of applying, you are awarded a loyalty point. You must first build three loyalty points before you will be eligible to draw. If unsuccessful from then on, you will earn a weighted bonus point for each subsequent year you apply but don’t draw. Each weighted bonus point will increase your drawing odds for future drawings.
If you’re looking for a high-end Shiras moose hunt, Colorado should be at the top of your list. Reintroduced in 1978, Shiras moose have thrived. The population has expanded to nearly 3,000 animals across the state and trophy quality has followed suit. In 2021 the state issued 529 permits and 51 of those went to non-residents, 22 bulls and 29 cows. If drawn, applicants have the luxury of hunting all seasons: archery, muzzleloader, and rifle until successful or the season closes.
Sheep and Goats
Colorado’s rugged landscape is ideal sheep and goat country. The habitat ranges from jagged canyon walls at 5,000 feet to all the famous 14ers scattered throughout the state. The sheep population is healthy and continually growing, with the census at about 7,000. In 2022, the state will issue an estimated 337 permits (up from 307 in 2021) and 32 of those will go to non-residents. Of those, 25 will be rifle permits (split 17 rams and 8 ewes), and 6 archery-only ram permits and 1 archery ewe tag. Not a big change for you non-residents, but if you’re a resident you should definitely take advantage of the influx of tags this year.
And of course, for all the opportunists and gamblers out there we can’t forget about the 1 desert bighorn sheep tag in the lottery-style draw. There are no preference points for this permit and applicants must choose between the Rocky Mountain species and the desert bighorn. No, you cannot apply for both species.
A true conservation success story, the mountain goat population in Colorado is now about 2,000. Mature billies will typically top out in the 8- to 9-inch range. Eight-inch billies are a realistic expectation, but every year some lucky tag holders fill their tags with a 9-inch-plus billy. For the 2022 season, 274 permits will be issued (up from 230 in 2021) with non-residents being allotted a total of 25 of those permits, up from 21 the year prior. That being said, if you have 3 or more points I recommend putting in for the draw this year while the hunting is still good.
To sum it up, Colorado offers non-residents more opportunities than most western states when it comes to hunting the Big Three, which is why we believe it is a must for your application portfolio.
Managing your Colorado points in conjunction with personal expectations can be difficult when you factor in so many units, weapons, and hunting seasons. Therefore, consulting with an expert is critical and can help you plan an application strategy.
If you’re considering applying in Colorado, and you should, give WTA TAGS a call at 800-755-8247 or send us an email. We will help formulate an application strategy tailored to you. Again, April 5 is the deadline to apply in Colorado.