APPLICATION STRATEGY 2015: Colorado deer, elk, antelope


Heavy rainfall will equal great antler potential for Colorado in 2015
Photo credit: Getty Images


The various terrain, public land and abundance of big game puts Colorado at the top of the list as a premium state for Western big game hunters. Colorado encourages all hunters to apply online using the state website. You can apply now here. Elk, antelope, and deer permits are awarded to the applicants with the highest number of preference points. The state of colorado awards nonresident hunters up to 35% of the total tag allotment unless the permit has taken resident hunters 6 or more points to draw over an averaged three year period in which case nonresidents are allocated 20% of the total tags. 

Colorado is a great destination for mule deer. With mild winters over the last three years many of the units in and around the Gunnison Basin (Units 44, 52, 53, 54, 56 and 57) are recovering from the severe winter of 07/08. Many hunters harvested older age class animals in 2014. Biologist are very optimistic about the future of mule deer in Colorado. Very high elk numbers allow hunters to hunt a variety of seasons with some of the later rifle seasons coinciding with the mule deer hunt giving hunters the opportunity to hunt elk and deer at the same time. There are very few states that have a combo hunt for hunters all while delivering a quality experience. Apply soon before the April 7 deadline.

Why Colorado for deer in 2015

Brett Ross with his Colorado mule deer
Photo credit: Brett Ross

Brett Ross' giant 300" mule deer! There is hope for all of us crazy mule deer hunters. Colorado has the habitat and terrain to produce a 180" to 200” Boone and Crockett buck in any of its units. Sound management programs and the courage to cut tags in units that are struggling have produced a resource that all other Western states are hoping to duplicate. 

Colorado offers a number of seasons that cater to all types of hunters. Archery, muzzleloader and a number of rifle seasons allow hunters to choose what weapon and time frame in which they want to hunt mule deer. Many of the early season hunts are easy to draw and offer hunters a high country experience. Top early season destinations include units 54, 55, 67, and 74 to name a few.

Very few points are needed to draw some second and third season rifle tags. These tags provide opportunities for both meat hunters and trophy hunters. Units like 43, 18, 71, 34 and 42 typically take 0 to 1 point to draw and allow hunters a good opportunity to harvest a mule deer.

Colorado Eastern Plains deer
The plains deer of Colorado are considered by many as the hidden gem of Colorado. Trophy class mule deer and whitetail are found on the Eastern Plains. Much of the premiere deer habitat is private property, but in recent years some areas have been designated as state wildlife areas that are open to the public. Although these areas receive a lot of hunting pressure, some great bucks are harvested on State Wildlife areas every year. The truth is that the best hunting on the plains takes place on the private land, and hunters should secure access prior to applying for a tag on the eastern plains. Hunters looking to get serious in the eastern plains of Colorado will need to look at leasing private land or booking with an outfitter to gain access. Units 92, 102, 103 and 107 are just a few of the units that have traditionally produced trophy caliber mule deer and whitetails. 

Colorado's top Boone and Crockett mule deer entries: Typical



Units within county

Eagle7015, 25, 26, 34, 35, 36, 43, 44, 45, 47, 361, 444
Mesa4930, 31, 40, 41, 42, 60, 61, 62, 411, 421
Garfield4612, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 42, 43, 231, 421, 444
Gunnison4143, 53, 54, 55, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 521, 551
Montrose3760, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 70


Colorado's top Boone and Crockett mule deer entries: Nontypical



Units within county

Eagle2715, 25, 26, 34, 35, 36, 43, 44, 45, 47, 361, 444
Mesa2130, 31, 40, 41, 42, 60, 61, 62, 411, 421
Garfield2012, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 42, 43, 231, 421, 444
Rio Blanco1210, 11, 12, 21, 22, 23, 24, 31, 211, 231
Montrose1060, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 70
Yuma1098, 101, 102, 103, 109


Why Colorado for elk in 2015?

Colorado bull elk with Big Country Outfitters
Photo credit: Big Country Outfitters

The high population of elk in Colorado make this a great state for elk hunters. Although not known for trophy class animals, Colorado offers hunters liberal hunt dates with ample opportunity. There are a couple of trophy class areas in the northwest corner of the state — Units 1, 2, 10 and 201 that give hunters an opportunity at 330 to 350 class bulls with a few 370 class bulls harvested every year. Most elk units in Colorado are managed for hunter opportunity. The over-the-counter archery tag provides great season dates to be in the field and allows archers to hunt elk during prime rut dates. Colorado offers many remote areas that allows hunters to get away from people. Several late-season rifle mule deer hunters will purchase an elk tag to create a combo opportunity.

When hunters strike out in other states, but are still looking to hunt elk they should turn to Colorado to fill the void. 

Colorado's top Boone and Crockett elk entries: Typical



Units within county

Moffat91, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 13, 201, 211, 301, 441
Las Animas885, 128, 133, 134, 135, 136, 137, 140, 141, 142, 143, 147, 851
Routt74, 5, 12, 13, 14, 15, 26, 131, 231, 441
Larimer67, 8, 9, 19, 20, 87, 94, 191
Douglas551, 104


Colorado's top Boone and Crockett elk entries: Nontypical



Units within county

Fremont357, 58, 59, 69, 84, 86, 581, 691
Las Animas385, 128, 133, 134, 135, 136, 137, 140, 141, 142, 143, 147, 851
Mesa230, 31, 40, 41, 42, 60, 61, 62, 411, 421

*8 counties with one entry

Why Colorado for antelope in 2015? 

Colorado antelope buck
Photo credit: Loco Mountain Outfitters

Colorado is not a top tier state for antelope. With very few tags and a limited amount of trophy units many hunters look to other states for antelope opportunities. There are some 80” antelope harvested every year, but mainly from private land. Hunters that are serious about hunting antelope in the state should secure permission from a landowner or guide prior to applying. Moffat County has the most B&C entries. 

Colorado's top Boone and Crockett antelope entries



Units within county

Moffat451, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 13, 201, 211, 301
Jackson216, 16, 17, 161, 171
Las Animas1385, 128, 133, 134, 135, 136, 137, 140, 141, 142, 143, 147, 851
Weld139, 20, 87, 88, 89, 94, 95, 99, 951
Rio Grande876, 78, 79, 80, 81, 791


General herd conditions:


The mule deer in Colorado are recovering from the severe winter of 2007/2008. Many units across the western slope are showing slow but steady growth in deer herd numbers. Some deer herds like the Middle Park herd had very high fawn survival rates in 2013 and 2014. Mild winters combined with warm falls have allowed above average survival rates for both young and older age class deer. This year looks very promising for mule deer hunters in Colorado.

Colorado is also one of the western states that offers a legitimate chance to harvest a whitetail buck that would make any hunter proud. The eastern plains hold nearly all of Colorado’s whitetail deer and most of the ground they call home is deeded private land. Permission to hunt is key to the access and it is surprising just how many whitetail live on the eastern plains of Colorado. Agricultural ground ensures everything a whitetail needs to grow old and also keep overall numbers stable. 


You can count on three things in life: taxes, death and elk in Colorado. With a higher elk population than any other state, Colorado continues to have a healthy elk herd with no signs of change in the future. With the perfect recipe — habitat, terrain and good management, Colorado continues to be a premier destination for hunters looking to harvest 320-330 class bulls. Hunters should not overlook the primitive weapon hunts on limited draw units with many quality bulls being harvested every year. 

The OTC elk opportunity in Colorado is second to none giving hunters the ability to harvest elk without drawing a tag.


Colorado continues to have a healthy number of antelope. Although Colorado does not have a lot of trophy areas, they do provide hunters with a good number of quality hunt units that provide hunters with opportunities to harvest animals in the 65-75” range.

2015 winter precipitation

With a mild winter and record precipitation levels, Colorado is on track for a phenomenal antler growth year in 2015.

Colorado February weather precipitation 2015
Utah, Colorado and Wyoming February 2015 precipitation as a percentage of normal. Photo credit: Colorado State

What’s new in 2015?

  • 4th season permits in the Gunnison Basin Units. This is the first time these tags have been issued since the severe die off in 2008.
  • Landowner vouchers. The biggest change in 2015 is the way hunters will secure landowner vouchers. Hunters will need to secure their vouchers directly from the landowner and may not use any brokers or 3rd parties. The main objective is to make it easier for hunters to get access to private land for the voucher they buy. Read more about the changes here, or look on pg. 4 of the big game regulations.
  • New hunt in Unit 65. Early season rifle hunt above 11,000 feet. This hunt was created to hunt bucks before they begin to migrate. Hunt dates are Sept. 12-20, 2015.
  • Antler collection. New regulations have been put into place for outdoorsman that want to gather sheds. Please review pg. 14 of the big game regulations.
  • Staggered license sales. New this year, over the counter and over the counter with cap go on sale at 9:00 a.m. on July 21. Leftover licenses go on sale August 4, at 9:00 a.m.
  • Lighted nocks and recording devices approved for bowhunters. Bowhunters may now use lighted nocks and recording devices mounted on a bow. See pg. 16 of the big game regulations.

The draw system: An overview

  • Tag or license: license fee plus a non refundable $10 habitat stamp.
  • Point system: Yes.
  • Youth: License price breaks are given to youth hunters between the age of 12-18.
  • Draw type: Preference point.
  • Resident perk: License price. Colorado DOW does a great job of keeping low prices for its resident hunters.

Brandon Evans' 2014 Colorado mule deer

Application types and deadlines


Online application
(by 11:59 p.m. MT)




Habitat stampMust have prior
to applying
Adult deer/fish comboApril 7June 26May 29$374
Youth deer/fish comboApril 7June 26May 29$103.75
Adult bull elk/fishing comboApril 7June 26May 29$619
Youth bull elk/fishing comboApril 7June 26May 29$103.75
Over-the-counter adult elk   $616
Over-the-counter youth elk   $100.75
Adult antelope/fish comboApril 7June 26May 29$374
Youth antelope/fish comboApril 7June 26May 29$103.75
Preference point onlyApril 7June 26May 29$40



Online application
(by 11:59 p.m. MT)




Habitat stampMust have prior
to applying
Adult deerApril 7June 26May 29$34
Youth deerApril 7June 26May 29$13.75
Adult bull elkApril 7June 26May 29$49
Youth bull elkApril 7June 26May 29$13.75
Over-the-counter adult elk   $46
Over-the-counter youth elk   $10.75
Adult antelopeApril 7June 26May 29$34
Youth antelopeApril 7June 26May 29$13.75
Preference point onlyApril 7June 26May 29$40


The draw: Unlocking Colorado’s system

The draw system in Colorado is set up to reward the hunter with the most preference points. Deer, elk and antelope permits are awarded to the applicant with the most preference points. This applies for most units except for the hunt codes identified as Hybrid Drawing. The hybrid system allows additional opportunity to hunters in some of the hard-to-draw hunt units. The hybrid system is set up for a select amount of hunt units. In short, 20% of the available licenses are distributed through random draw. For more information see pg. 7 of the big game regulations.

The point system

The maximum bonus points for 2015 are:


Resident points

Nonresident points

Mule deer2628



There are no specific youth hunts in Colorado. However, there is a steep price reduction for youth hunters with nonresident youth tags. Nonresident tags are priced at $103.75 and resident youth tags priced at $13.75.

Group applications

Group applications are accepted for deer, elk and antelope. Nonresidents and residents can apply together, but the permits will be pulled from the nonresident allocation. Preference points will be weighted from the member with the lowest point total in the group. Preference points are not averaged in Colorado. This is a common mistake with group applications and hunters should be aware of this.

Kody Smith with his Colorado mule deer buck

Colorado big game draw FAQs

Where and how do I apply?

Applicants are encouraged to apply online, but can also apply by paper applications. The paper applications can be found in the regulation booklets. Colorado does not have a process to receive phone applications. 

Is Colorado good for building points? 

Colorado is a great state for building points and we encourage all hunters to build points for both elk and deer in Colorado. If you are just looking to build points in Colorado, please reference the preference point codes below which are good for applying for points only. Preference point only applications cost $40. 

  • Deer: D-P-999-99-P
  • Elk: E-P-999-99-P
  • Antelope: A-P-999-99-P

Can I turn my tag in if I decide not to hunt?

Colorado allows you to turn in your tag prior to the hunt start date. Hunters that choose to turn in will need to send a refund application along with their license, prior to opening day. Hunters can choose to either get a refund or a preference point reinstated but cannot receive both.  

The seasons

Colorado clearly identifies each hunt code with the appropriate weapon type. The legal methods to harvest an animal can be found on pg. 16 of the Big Game Regulation book.

Archery: Compound bow, recurve bow and long bow are all legal in Colorado. The minimum draw weight on a compound bow is 35 pounds and must use a broadhead with ⅞ -inch outside diameter or width, and use a minimum of two steel cutting edges.

Scopes or battery powered devices cannot be incorporated into or attached to bow or arrow. 

Muzzleloader: Inline muzzleloaders are legal. To hunt deer or pronghorn, hunters cannot use anything lower that a .40 caliber. To hunt elk, the muzzleloader must be a minimum of .50 caliber.

Colorado has very specific instructions on what muzzleloader equipment can be used. Please reference the Muzzleloader and Smoothbore Musket section of the 2015 Big Game Regulation book. 

Centerfire rifles: Must be a minimum of .24 caliber, with a minimum of 16” barrel, with a minimum total length of 26”. If semiautomatic, a maximum of six rounds are allowed in the magazine and chamber combined. 

Hunter opportunity

General information, tips and our insights for hunting deer, elk and antelope in Colorado.

Draw odds and tag availability

Historically, Colorado is known for hunter opportunity. With many different season dates for both deer and elk, hunters can draw permits for the most popular with limited points. To do this, applicants need to choose an early season rifle or primitive weapon hunt. Colorado is very generous to nonresidents with many deer and elk units allocating up to 35% of the total tag amount for nonresidents. 

Colorado bull elk near wallow
Photo credit:

Special features for deer, elk and antelope in Colorado

  • Many of the early season deer hunts are drawn with 0-1 points.
  • Colorado has a number of quality over-the-counter opportunities for elk.
  • Archery and muzzleloader hunters can draw some of the better elk units with 5-7 points.  

Managing points and expectations

I have 0 points. What can I expect?

Look at archery or muzzleloader hunts. Bowhunters can hunt some of the best units in the state with 0 points. Many of these units have some high country that allows hunters to get away from crowds. Hunters that like to hunt with a rifle should apply for second-season rifle hunts or a third-season tag on an unpopular unit. 

We suggest that you purchase a point and if you have a strong desire to hunt elk, look at the over-the-counter options. There are a number of over-the-counter permits available for bowhunters and rifle hunters. 

There are a limited amount of units that can be drawn with 0 points. Most of these are archery-only tags and draw success varies from year to year. The best strategy is to build points to be used in the future. 

What can I do with 3 or 4 points?

Apply for hard-to-draw high country muzzleloader hunts, or third-season rifle tags on good units. With 3-4 points you can look at units that have fair numbers of 160-180” B&C class deer. Mule deer hunters in this point range have a number of units to choose from. 

Hunters should look at archery and muzzleloader tags. Some of the more remote wilderness units can be drawn with 4 points and will give hunters an opportunity at 300-320” class bulls. The season dates are favorable for archery and muzzleloader hunters giving you the opportunity to hunt during the rut. Great time to be in the field in Colorado elk hunting. 

If you want to hunt now, look to apply for units that have a high number of nonresident tags. Archery-only tags can be drawn in some units with 3-4 points. If you are looking to harvest a book-class goat we suggest building points to use in the future.

What can I expect with 10 or more points?

Rifle hunters should be looking at 4th season tags. The fourth-season rifle hunt starts in early-mid November and allows hunters the opportunity to chase deer in the early stages of the rut. A few units in the very southern end of the state may not see rut activity, but the majority of the units in Colorado will. A hunter that has a fourth-season deer tag can anticipate chasing bucks that will score in the 180-200” class. 

Applicants with 10 or more points should be looking at the top units in the state. Choose the weapon that you want to hunt with and look at units that have high success rates. With a number of season dates on each unit hunters should look at when they want to be in the field and what time of the year works best for them. Colorado offers multiple season dates and weapon types for the top units in the state.

330 plus class animals can be harvested on nearly every draw unit in the state with a few of the top end units producing bulls in the 350-370 inch class every year. Keep in mind that the number of nonresident tags available for the very best hunt choices is minimal, and the points needed to draw continues to climb for these few choices. The point creep can climb as much as one point per year for some of the highest demand seasons.

With 10 or more points, hunters can begin to hunt some of the better units in the state. Many of the better units in Colorado contain a large quantity of private land and hunters will want to obtain access prior to applying for a permit. Hunters may want to look at some of the primitive weapon hunts that are available on the top tier units.


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