Mule and whitetail inhabit most of the eastern plains and there are always a few really good bucks harvested most years. The critical factor is finding a place to hunt. Most of eastern Colorado is private land and most of the public land is either tough to access or just doesn’t hold deer. If you can book a hunt with an outfitter or find some access, consider whitetail hunting in Colorado. If you are interested in hunting eastern plains deer or whitetail, utilize the tools within Filtering 2.0 and the Unit Profiles to find the best opportunity. Remember: a guide is your best bet in the plains for a good buck.
Note: The application deadline for all Colorado species is 8:00 p.m. MST on April 6, 2021. You can apply online here.
To view important information and an overview of Colorado’s rules/regulations, the draw system and preference points, tag and license fees and an interactive boundary line map, check out our State Profile. You can also view the Species Profiles to access historical and statistical data to help you find trophy units.
Applying for a state you've never hunted before can be daunting but we are here to make it easy. In the video above, Trail goes over some of the most commonly asked questions when applying in Colorado.
Colorado is a fairly easy state to apply in. You will have to create an online account if you have not previously done so. That can be done by going here. Or you can call 1-800-244-5613 for help getting an account.
*License cost will only be charged if you are successful in the draw.
Total cost for an adult nonresident to apply will be $104.36.
One of the biggest conversations happening among western big game hunters in 2021 is what is going to happen in Colorado’s 2021 mule deer season — both in terms of draw odds, point creep and the actual quality of the hunts themselves. All of the talk and speculation is due to the fact that this fall will mark the latest season dates ever offered.
Why do the late season dates have the potential to impact odds and hunts? The answer to that question is simple: the rut! Mule deer rut throughout Colorado primarily from mid-November through mid-December. Traditionally, third season rifle hunt dates occurred in early November; this year, they will run through the middle of the month and fourth season dates will occur over Thanksgiving! Provided Colorado gets some cold weather and snow, 2021 could be a great year for third and fourth season deer hunters. It’s worth noting that we do not think the overall quality is as good as it was five years or so ago, but it is lining up to still be a good fall hunt.
Be aware that some units may have slightly different dates. Review the CPW brochure for details of the hunts you plan to apply for.
For deer, nonresidents are limited to up to 35% of the total permit numbers for each hunt unless the hunt has taken residents six years or more to draw. In these instances, nonresidents will be allocated up to 20% of the licenses.
Colorado utilizes a true preference point system to allocate deer licenses. This means that the applicants with the most preference points who apply for any given hunt will draw the licenses. There is no random draw for licenses. There are also no OTC mule deer licenses in Colorado.
Applicants will gain one preference point for every year they apply for a hunt and are unsuccessful in drawing their first choice. If applicants want to build preference points only, they can use the preference point only code as their first choice. Applicants can draw a hunt as a second, third or fourth choice and still build a preference point for that year. You cannot build more than one preference point per year. If you draw your first hunt choice, your preference points will be purged. If you fail to apply for a species or have not purchased a license for ten consecutive years, then all accumulated preference points for that species will be purged.
Deer preference point only code: D-P-999-99-P
Colorado allows applicants to select up to four hunt choices for deer. Colorado considers every applicant's first choice before moving to subsequent choices. In essence, in order to draw a license as a second choice, there must be a surplus of permits after every applicant's first choice is considered and so on and so forth through the other choices. As previously stated, you may be able to draw some hunts as a second choice while using the preference point code as your first choice. This would allow you to build a point for future years and also draw the second choice hunt.
You can explore the odds of drawing as a second choice within your INSIDER account. Simply change the “choice” filter from first to second and you can see all hunt odds of drawing as a second choice.
Group applications of any number are accepted for deer. Residents and nonresidents can apply together. One person must be the group leader and all applications in that group are linked together with that group leader’s CID number. Every member of the group must apply for the same hunt at each choice. The group application will go into the draw with the lowest number of preference points of any single member of the group. This means that if a group of three apply and they have one, seven and 12 points, the application will go into the draw with one point. CPW will not over-allocate licenses to cover a group application if there are not enough licenses left. For example, if there were two licenses left and an application for a group of three was selected, they would reject that application and move to the next application.
Licenses remaining after the primary drawing will be available in the secondary drawing. The secondary drawing is open to anyone — whether they applied in the primary drawing or not. Applicants must have purchased a qualifying license to apply for the secondary draw. The secondary draw does not use preference points and you cannot apply for preference points.
The deadline to apply in the second drawing is June 30 at 8 p.m. MST. The payment deadline for applicants successful in the second drawing is July 16 at midnight.
Colorado allows applicants who have drawn a license to return it. As long as it’s done at least 30 days prior to the hunt, they can choose to receive a refund for the cost of the license or have their points reinstated. If you have your points reinstated, you will not receive a point for that year's application.
Any returned or leftover licenses after the secondary draw will be reissued via a brand new process in 2021. In prior years, any returned license(s) would be randomly placed onto a list and anyone could buy that on a first come, first served basis. This year, every Tuesday at 11:00 a.m. beginning Aug. 10, all reissued licenses will be placed on a list and published on the CPW website for customers to review. The following day, Wednesday at 11:00 a.m., those licenses will be sold on a first come, first served basis. Reissued licenses can be purchased online or in-person at CPW offices or other license agents.
Colorado has and will continue to be the go-to state for mule deer hunting. Hands down, it has the most expansive amount and quality of habitat. From lush high elevation summer basins to rolling sage, oak and juniper winter range, Colorado has seemingly endless amounts of mule deer habitat. Populations throughout the state may not be what they historically were, but there are still robust populations and ample opportunities to hunt. That’s the good news.
The flip side of the coin is that the quality and number of mature trophy caliber bucks is dwindling. The years when almost every unit offered a diverse age class and good numbers of mature bucks is slipping away. Sure, there will always be a handful of trophy bucks in most units, but, largely, a lot of units are missing that older age class of trophy bucks.
The later hunt dates — and 2021 is as late as it gets — increases the likelihood of mature deer slipping out of heavy cover in search of does. In addition, cold temperatures and snow is also more likely with the later dates, which moves more deer into lower, more open country. Overall, although our outlook for Colorado going into 2022, 2023 and beyond is somewhat bleak, we advise everyone even remotely interested in mule deer to try to hunt in Colorado in 2021. The dates will never be better for a rut late season mule deer hunt!
Simply explained, point creep occurs when the number of tags available doesn't meet the demand of applicants and, each year, the point value that it takes to pull the tag keeps creeping upward. Going into this draw, we anticipate that point creep will be magnified for most second and third rifle hunts, but the primary focus is going to be on the third rifle season.
Here’s an example: for a nonresident, the third rifle season in Unit 15 had 30% odds as a second choice. The fourth rifle hunt in Unit 15 required four to five points. With third season dates being what has historically been fourth season dates and third season running eight days instead of five days (like fourth season), we anticipate that what has been a guarantee draw with no points will very likely take two or three points in 2021.
Our best estimate is that there will be a significant amount of transition from fourth season applicants into third season. There is also probably going to be a good number of “point bankers” jumping into the draw this year. I believe that most third season hunts that have 200 to 300 licenses available could jump two to three points and possibly more. If you are set on a third season hunt, I would look for hunts where, at a minimum, you have two points more than required.
The second rifle seasons are also going to creep, but how much is more of a guess. A good number of applicants with one to three points who may have been looking at a third season hunt normally will now be applying for second season. In a similar manner, most second season rifle hunts are going to creep one to two points. The second season dates are still good and those hunters will get a chance at bucks earlier in the season.
The fourth rifle season hunts are intriguing. We anticipate a lot of movement from fourth season applicants to third season. It’s possible some hunts may not creep and odds actually could get slightly better. It’s very hard to say, applying for a fourth hunt is going to be more of a gamble this year and, the reality is, there are going to be a significant number of bucks killed already during the second and third season. Even still, fourth season will occur very late during what is the heart of the rut. Undoubtedly, there will be some true giants that slip out and slip up on fourth season hunts; however, it’s a gamble both in terms of odds and opportunity.
The muzzleloader and archery hunt odds are probably not going to be impacted and trends should be much more predictable. Archery and muzzleloader hunters tend to be more specialized in the experience they are looking for. If you are an archery or muzzleloader hunter, the detailed draw odds page for the hunts you are considering are still going to be really valuable for you.
Colorado’s deer population has been relatively stable over the past 14 years. The most recent data set from 2019 suggests that the population took a dip from 2018 to 2019, which is consistent with other western states.
The total statewide estimate is 418,310. For quick reference, we have included the 2019 estimated population and buck:doe ratios, which is the most recent published estimate to date.
DAU (Data Analysis Unit) is a combination of one or more Game Management Units that represent a relatively discrete herd.
Colorado snow water equivalent update as of March 05, 2021. Source: National Resources Conservation Service
Colorado snow water equivalent update as of March 11, 2019. Source: National Resources Conservation Service
As previously noted, Colorado is the land of mule deer hunting opportunity. The hit list above are the best hunts/areas to hunt and kill a trophy buck, but the reality is that most people do not have a couple decades worth of points. For that reason, your goHUNT INSIDER account covers every opportunity and there are hundreds of other hunts that can be drawn with very few points. We also include population estimates and buck to doe ratios within this article. Between those and Filtering 2.0, standalone Draw Odds and the Unit Profiles, you can put together a hunt that will work for the number of points you have.
As with previous years, the bulk of the hidden gems are tucked away in the muzzleloader and archery hunts. Those hunts give hunters the first opportunity at bucks when they are still in bachelor herds and on their summer range. The archery and muzzleloader hunts are not what they were several years ago. A good number of mature bucks will have been taken on the later rifle hunts and are not available in the high country the following fall. Even still, there are many hunts that can be drawn with very few points and, during that time of year, public land access is much less of an issue when compared to late rifle hunts.
For rifle hunters, we anticipate that there is going to be significant point creep in the third season hunts, which is understandable given the hunt dates. The third rifle season has the potential to be really good; however, if you are considering applying for one of those hunts, we would suggest you give yourself a couple points worth of cushioning. You might also look outside some of the more well known units.
We also believe that there will be a point creep into the second rifle season, but there does not seem to be quite as much attention for it as the third season. For that reason, we believe that there is great potential for hidden gems in the second rifle season. The hunt dates run into November, ending on Nov. 7. If snow hits the tail end of November, the second rifle season may be a very good hunt. If you have zero to three points and are looking for a rifle hunt, we highly suggest you take a good look at second season rifle hunts.
Utilize GOHUNT's standalone Draw Odds, trophy filters, unit profiles and the information in this article to find those tucked away hidden gems. There are going to be some in the next few years.
2021 maximum preference points for deer: 32
Keep in mind that most of the land east of I-25 is private. Obtaining landowner permission prior to applying is highly recommended.
Before you proceed, consider once again that the restructured second, third and fourth rifle season dates are going to increase point creep. It’s impossible to suggest how much, but you might consider hunts that could have been drawn at a couple of points less than what has been available at your current level.
Applicants applying with few points have a few options. We will explore several of those below. We advise anyone interested to try to hunt Colorado mule deer in 2021.
If you fall within this point range, we are strongly urging applicants to draw a license in 2021. Given the late dates and trends continuing for the next four years at least, we do not see the quality getting better. Rather, we see the quality of bucks getting worse for possibly the next eight years.
We advise INSIDERs to use Filtering 2.0 to help them explore the hunts. For example, go to Colorado > Mule deer > 180”+ trophy potential > draw odds > first choice > 4 points > 100% draw odds. To narrow that down even further, you can select the weapon you’re looking for in the “select your season” dropdown menu. Manipulate the trophy potential, harvest success and public land percentage to find the best option. You can then click on each unit and research the unit profiles for more information.
The third season rifle hunts will require more points to draw this year, specifically those with 200 to 300 licenses. They may require two more points or more to draw this year. We suggest giving yourself at least two points for cushion. Consider hunts that require one or two points.
Moving towards the second rifle season, it’s tough to predict what could occur. The best hunts available have been in Unit 6, 21, 40, 44, 55, 66, 67, 80/81 and 161. Those may or may not be available this year. Applying for one of these may be a gamble that could pay off. The more likely options worth considering are in Unit 17, 22, 30, 50/500/501, 53 and 68/681/682.
The third rifle season odds are going to be much less predictable. The best options have been Unit 22, 50/500/501, 53, 59/511, 63, 68/681/682, 76 and 161. The best options for applicants looking for a better opportunity to guarantee a hunt are 49/57/58/581, 51, 52/411/521, 62 and 80/81.
Applicants considering a fourth rifle season hunt might research Unit 3/301, 11/121, 15, 18/28/37/371, 43/47/471, 51, 60, 64/65, 69/84/86/691/861, 71/711, 72/73, 82 and 511. You might also consider Unit 27/181, 33, and 591.
With three to four points, most archery hunts should not creep much. Some of the better options for those weapons are Unit 21/30, 40, 54, 63 or 67. Muzzleloader hunters should consider Unit 3/4/5/14/214/301/44, 52/411/521, 62, 63, 71/711, 67 and 85/851.
The second rifle season options that have been good for three to four points are Unit 6, 30, 40, 53, 55, 67, 79/791, 80/81, 161 and 551. Once again, there should be less point creep at this level; however, if you want to make sure you get a license, you might also research Unit 5, 11/211, 50/500/501, 51, 59/511, 63 and 68/681/682.
Moving to the third rifle hunt, it may be a gamble, but the best options with three to four points were Unit 52/511/521, 59/511, 62, 63, 70 and 79/791. In 2021, it’s tough to predict, but we suggest that many of the units that have taken one point to draw could require three or four. Some of those options might be 4/14/214/441, 16, 31/32, 41/42/421, 43/47/471, 49/57/58/581, 51, 71/711, 77/78/771 and 80/8.
Every archery hunt could have been drawn with seven to eight points in the last draw including Unit 10 and 201. With six points, the best archery hunts were in Unit 2 and 61. At five points, Unit 55, 66 and 76 are all intriguing options for a bowhunter. Muzzleloader hunters should take a look at Unit 201 at the seven- to eight-point level. With six points, you might consider Unit 2 and 10. Muzzleloader applicants with five points should research Unit 61 and 76.
With eight points, during a normal year, there are better third and fourth season options than anything available in the second season. This year could be a different story. Applicants within the five- to eight-point range might consider second rifle seasons in Unit 1, 61 and 76.
The third rifle season hunt options have been good. At the seven- to eight-point level, applicants should look at Unit 6, 40, 55, 61 and 67. With five to six points, you should likely look at hunts that were available with three or four points last year. You might also consider Unit 551.
The fourth rifle season could bring out a few giants this year and applicants with eight points might consider Unit 5, 35/36/45/361, 79/191 and 551. Applicants with six or seven points should consider Unit 4/14/214/441, 52/411/521, 80/81 and 501. Once again, this draw may see more point creep so applicants might also consider Unit 64/65, 70, 71/711, or 511.
The best hunts for those considering a second rifle season with eight points was in Unit 44. Unit 21 was available with seven points. Unit 22 with six points is an intriguing option. Applicants within this range might also consider second rifle season in Unit 55, 67 and 161 if they want to secure a license.
The third rifle season has real potential this year. Applicants with eight points might review Unit 6, 68/681/682. With seven points, consider Unit 5. Unit 17 and 161 are worth considerations with five and six points. Since we are anticipating more point creep in third season hunts this year, if you are within this range, you might also look at Unit 50/500/501, 52/411/521, 59/511, 62, 63 and 79/791 if you want in increase your chances of drawing a third season rifle license.
Every archery, muzzleloader and early rifle hunt could have been drawn within the nine to twelve point range.
Unit 10, 201 and 851 second rifle seasons are the most interesting hunts within this range. Moving to the third rifle season, Unit 1, 21 and 66 should be considered. You might also take a look at hunts in Unit 40, 55, 61 and 67 if you are towards the bottom end of the point range and want to maximize your chances.
Applicants near the bottom of the point range looking for a fourth rifle season should consider Unit 5, 6/16/17/161/171, 63, 79/791 and 551. Applicants with 11 or 12 points should review Unit 54, 55, 63 and 68/681/682.
The third rifle seasons in Unit 22, 30 and 61 have been great hunts at the eleven to twelve point range. Those may not be available this year at those same levels. You should also consider Unit 6, 40, 68/681/682 and 551. At the lower end of the range, with nine to ten points, applicants should look at Unit 6, 68/681/682, and 161.
The fourth rifle season hunts worth researching with 11 to 12 points are in Unit 6/16/17/161/171, 11/121, 70, 71/711 and 501. Applicants with nine to ten points should consider Unit 4/14/214/441, 43/47/471, 52/411/521 and 64/65.
Unit 2, 10, 44 and 201 third rifle seasons were drawn last year with 16 points. It’s doubtful that it will be available again this year, but, if it is, could be a great hunt if you have 16 or 17 points and are willing to gamble. third season is probably the better bet for a third season hunt if you have 14 to 18 points. At the bottom end of the point range, applicants with 13 to 14 points might want to research Unit 21 and 66.
The archery hunt is a great option with 16 points as is the Unit 201 archery and muzzleloader hunt with 15 to 16 points. Unit 55 muzzleloader is another great hunt available for applicants at the bottom end of the point range.
Early high country rifle applicants should look into and possibly . Both of those could be very good this year.
second rifle season and the third rifle seasons in , 54, 55 and 61 are all excellent options. It’s worth looking into the detailed draw odds pages for those hunts if you are within this range to further evaluate your chances.
For those that have waited this long to draw a deer tag in Colorado, you can draw most hunts; however, you are likely only considering a few. Unit 44 and 66 fourth rifle season required 19 points and Unit 201 fourth rifle required 20 points. All other hunts were available to residents.
Unit 201 second rifle required 20 points while Unit 10 second rifle season required 19 points. The best third season rifle hunts within this range are Unit 21 and 66 with 20 points, with 18 points and with 17 points.
Over-the-counter (OTC) big game licenses will now be available for purchase by all methods — even after the start of a season. Hunters can now purchase those at Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) offices, online, by phone or at other sales agents.
New license reissue process: Instead of returned licenses being randomly placed on the leftover list Tuesday through Friday each week as in the past, a new reissue preview list will be posted online every Tuesday at 11 a.m. Those hunt codes will be moved to the leftover list and made available for purchase on a first come, first served basis every Wednesday starting at 11 a.m. The first reissue preview list will be released on Aug. 10.
New Colorado deer hunts
Season date changes:
There is mandatory chronic wasting disease testing for all deer and elk harvested during the rifle seasons from select units (see pg 22-32 of the CPW guidebook for more details).
The deadline to apply for all species in Colorado is 8:00 p.m. MST on April 6, 2021.
You can only apply online here or by calling 1-800-244-5613.
Draw results will be available May 24 to 28, 2021.
All applicants, including youth, must purchase a qualifying license before applying for the big game draw(s).
A qualifying license is one of the following:
Applicants do not have to front the cost of the licenses that they are applying for.
Applicants born after Jan. 1, 1949 must have completed an approved hunter’s education course before applying and you must carry your hunter’s education card with you while you hunt.
Hunters over the age of 50 or military personnel who have not completed hunter’s education can take a one-time online test to test out. The cost is $24.50 and you must pass with 90%.
Colorado is a true preference point state for deer. The applicants with the most points that apply for any given hunt will draw the permit
If you draw a permit and CPW is unable to charge the credit card on file, you must pay for the license online or by phone or at a CPW office by June 11. If you do not, your license is surrendered and you lose both the license and any preference points you used to draw it.
If you drew a license you would like to return, payment for the license is still required first. You can then return it for a refund or preference point restoration. You must relinquish your license and carcass tag at least 30 days before the opening day of the season for which the license is valid.
There are ample hunts for every season/weapon that could have been drawn with zero to two points. The most likely options are going to be muzzleloader, archery and, perhaps, second season rifle hunts. A quick odds filtering exercise showed that there were 99 hunts for residents west of the front range that could have been drawn with no points. That same filter for nonresidents yielded 89 hunts. Use Draw Odds and Filtering 2.0 to find the hunt that meets your objectives. Once again, consider the second rifle seasons or possibly third rifle seasons for hunts that have been drawn with no points in the past — even if you have two going into this draw.
Apply for a point only as your first choice with the code D-P-999-99-P and use the standalone Draw Odds in your INSIDER account to explore options of drawing a hunt as a second choice. This will grant you a point for this application and possibly get you a permit to go hunting. There are many archery, muzzleloader and, potentially, some second season rifle hunts available as a second choice.
Apply with the preference point only code as your first choice: D-P-999-99-P. This will allow you to gain a preference point and set you up for potentially a better hunt in the future. Although, as we previously noted, the season structure for the next five years is going to negatively impact the buck:doe ratios and the likelihood of killing a trophy buck.
New fourth season rifle buck deer hunt in Unit 40
Archery: Sept. 2 to 30
Muzzleloader: Sept. 11 to 19
Early rifle high country: Sept. 11 to 19
Second rifle season: Oct. 30 to Nov. 7
Third rifle season: Nov. 13 to 19
Fourth rifle season: Nov. 24 to 28
Residents or nonresidents
2021 annual resident or nonresident spring turkey
2021 annual small game license
2021 annual youth small game license
2021 annual resident combination small game/fishing license
Veteran's lifetime resident combination small game/fishing license
2021 annual resident senior combo small game/fishing
2021 disabled resident first responder lifetime combo small game/fishing