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APPLICATION STRATEGY 2016: Colorado Elk & Antelope


Large bedded bull elk
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Colorado's elk and antelope application overview

Jump to: New for 2016 State Information Draw System Elk Breakdown Elk Hidden Gem Units Points System Antelope Breakdown Antelope Hidden Gem Units

Colorado is king for high elk numbers in the West. While the state is not known for producing the biggest of bulls, there are a few units that can certainly hold their own. If you plan to draw one of the premium elk units, then you will need to earn preference points for at least a couple of decades. The amount of prime elk habitat in Colorado is virtually endless. The Flat Top Wilderness Area is just one of the many legendary areas within Colorado to hunt elk and there are also many backpacking and horseback style elk hunt options waiting for you.

Colorado is not much of a contender state regarding trophy antelope. While there are a surprising number of antelope harvested across Colorado every year, only a handful are high scoring bucks. Yet, Colorado is home to some incredible antelope hunting opportunities — especially if you're a bowhunter!

Note: The application deadline for Colorado is midnight on April 5, 2016 MT. You can apply online here or on paper.

Why Colorado for elk and antelope

Over-the-counter (OTC) opportunities galore!

•  Colorado is the elk hunter’s dream destination.
•  There is OTC archery elk hunting in the peak of the rut.
•  There are different rifle elk opportunities that you can take advantage of every year.

Make it a combo.

•  If you're lucky enough to draw a rifle deer tag, then the odds are that you can purchase an OTC elk tag in that same unit and hunt for bulls at the same time!

Wilderness experience.        

•  Whether you plan to do it yourself or go guided, you can experience a backcountry wilderness hunt like no other in Colorado.

No nonresident tag quota for antelope.    

•  Nonresidents have the same chances of drawing an antelope tag as a resident at the same preference point level.

Hunt the peak of the elk rut.

•  The archery and muzzleloader seasons offer a chance to hunt during the absolute peak of the elk rut.

New for 2016

•  If you elect to forfeit your tag with the plan of redeeming your pre-draw preference points, you must now return your tag at least 30 days prior to the first day of the season, unlike the previous 48 hour requirement.
•  There will be a $15 refund processing fee to cover administrative costs.
•  The application to turn your tag in for a license refund or points restoration can be found here.
•  Beginning in April, there is a test-out option available for hunters over 50 years old or U.S. military personnel for the hunter education certificate requirement.
•  Unit 61 will now offer an early rifle hunt for elk that will take place Oct. 1 to 7, 2016.
•  There is a new later season, Nov. 16 to 20 hunt, offered for elk in Unit 851 on the Bosque Del Oso State Wildlife Area for 2016.
•  Unit 48 is now open for rifle antelope hunting thanks to a healthy number of antelope.

The impact of wolves on Colorado’s herds

Luckily, Colorado does not have any established wolf numbers, which means that predation is not an issue. Although a few wolves have roamed into Colorado recently, luckily the state has a hard stance on wolves. Hopefully, this continues for the foreseeable future.

State information

Colorado has a simple draw system in place for handling elk and antelope tags. The main thing to understand is that your first choice on the application is everything. The only way that a second choice is even drawn is if that particular hunt choice had tags available after everybody’s first choices were considered (undersubscribed). Make sure that you look at our draw odds and find only hunt choices that have 100% second choice draw odds during prior years when you are looking for a second choice hunt. There are very few elk and antelope options for second choice so don’t spend a lot of time searching for that. OTC opportunities are abundant for elk and antelope should you not find success in the draw.

To view important information and an overview of Colorado’s rules/regulations, the draw system and bonus 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.

State Profile Elk Profile Antelope Profile

Important dates and information

•  The deadline to apply for Colorado elk and antelope is midnight on April 5, 2016 MT.
•  Apply online here or by paper.
•  If you apply by paper, then your application must be postmarked by midnight on April 5, 2016 MT.
•  You can return your license (tag) for a refund or reinstatement of preference points, but must submit your application at least 30 days prior to opening day.
•  The application to turn your license in can be found here.
•  When you draw a nonresident license it also includes an annual fishing license that is valid through March 31 of the following year.
•  Application corrections and amendments are due April 11, 2016 MT.
•  You can apply for a elk preference point only by submitting the code E-P-999-99-P or antelope by using code A-P-999-99-P.
•  Preference points are usable on the first choice only.
•  Any choice drawn as a second choice will not impact preference points and an additional preference point will be awarded should you draw a second choice.
•  You are required to submit the entire license fee at the time of application.
•  You will be refunded the entire amount less the application fee and preference point fee.
•  If you check the box on the application for leftover licenses, then you will be sent a list of all leftover licenses after the draw in June.

The draw system

Understanding the draw

Your first choice is the most important choice on the application. This is the choice that will use your accumulated preference points and is the choice that nearly all tags are drawn. Every application will be drawn and the first choices will be considered prior to any application’s second choice. Every year that you are unsuccessful drawing your first choice for elk or antelope, you are awarded an additional preference point. Preference points are like money in the bank and are needed to draw the given tag you desire. Our Draw Odds will help you filter out hunt choices based on your personal preference point level. This will help you see only those hunt choices that are within reach for you. You may also want to set the filter so you can see hunt choices that are a point level or two higher than your current level. This will allow you to see what may be in reach should you decide to continue building points for additional years.

Here’s why that matters

The most sought after hunt choices for elk always carry a higher preference point price tag. Hunters often apply for elk in Colorado for a hunt choice that they have heard is the best option for a trophy bull. They do this without ever truly understanding how many points are needed to draw that particular hunt choice. If applicants apply with the knowledge that they are doing this for an additional point and understand that they have no choice of drawing that tag randomly, then this is not an issue. However, it is common for an applicant with only two preference points to apply with a false hope that s/he can draw a hunt choice that requires at least 15 preference points the prior year. The sad truth is that many of these high point hunt choices issue very few tags annually even though the number of applicants is high. If this is the case, then this hunt choice is very likely to have “point creep” and an applicant that is over 12 points below what is needed to draw may never catch up and actually draw that hunt.

Example: Unit 201 early rifle bull elk

Point creep in hunt code E-E-201-E1-R

YearNo. of nonresident points
needed to draw


Unlocking Colorado’s system

In order to find success in Colorado’s draw system it is important to understand the reality of point creep. Some of the best choices will truly be out of reach for applicants with lesser points, unless Colorado changes the way they allocate tags through the draw. We do not think that a change is coming anytime soon so it is best to develop a new strategy.

Primitive weapons are truly the advantage when it comes to creating opportunity for elk and antelope. These seasons are drawn with fewer points and, for both species, the archery season coincides with the absolute peak of the rut. The best units have an incredible archery hunt opportunity. We recommend that you build points for a hunt choice that fits your hunt style and meets your trophy potential requirement. While you are building points, take advantage of the OTC archery opportunities in other units and hone your harvesting skills. Staying sharp will help you be successful when you finally draw that dream tag!


Colorado elk breakdown

Colorado archery bull elk taken with Little Creek Ranch
Colorado archery bull elk taken with Little Creek Ranch — A goHUNT Business Member

Colorado is home to high elk numbers across the state, which means plenty of opportunity to hunt bulls without waiting years for a chance. The OTC opportunities are endless. You can buy a tag every year to hunt the OTC units during the peak of the rut with primitive weapons or hunt with a rifle across various seasons.

Just like the other Western states, Colorado has supreme elk units that have the state’s biggest bulls, limited tag numbers, and an extremely high demand for those few tags. The downside to these units is the fact that it typically takes decades worth of accumulated preference points in order to actually draw a tag. If you do not have double digit preference points, then you have little chance to ever draw one of the premier seasons offered in Units 2, 201, 10, 40, 61, 851, or 76. These seven units make up the very best trophy elk hunting that Colorado has to offer. Do not give up hope because there are additional quality units that can be drawn with fewer points.

Current elk herd condition

Colorado post hunt elk population estimate

The elk in Colorado are thriving thanks to outstanding habitat and quality management. Elk are a very hearty species that can adapt well and flourish in many adverse conditions. Thanks to the lack of wolves and grizzly bears, Colorado elk have not suffered significant loss to predation (unlike neighboring states). With more elk than any other Western state, Colorado is a great place to hunt if you want to see a lot of elk during your hunt.

As far as trophy quality is considered, Colorado is a very average state overall for bull elk. Only a handful of units are consistent producers of 350” plus bulls, while most of the state is predominantly known for 280 to 300” bulls.

2016 winter precipitation

Colorado got slammed earlier in the winter with heavy snowpack and then freezing conditions that created some isolated herd die offs. As of February, the state is experiencing near record precipitation levels. As long as the state doesn't see late winter storms... you can be sure that Colorado is on track for a phenomenal antler growth year in 2016.

Colorado February 2016 weather precipitation
Utah, Colorado and Wyoming February 2015 precipitation as a percentage of normal. Photo credit: Colorado State

The seasons

Ron Elmer with his 2015 Colorado archery bull elk
Ron Elmer with his 2015 Colorado archery bull elk. Photo credit: BonedOut Productions

Colorado’s elk seasons are very structured and follow a statewide calendar. Season dates are not unique to each unit although not all of the elk seasons set by the state are offered in every unit.


Colorado statewide all archery elk harvest

Season dates: Aug. 27 - Sept. 25, 2016

The archery seasons are first and bowhunters can enjoy a very long season. Archery elk hunters will enjoy nearly an entire month of hunting with the peak of the rut behavior occurring during this liberal season. The first two weeks of the archery season happens before the rut begins, but the final two weeks will be primetime and offer some intense rut behavior and action.


Muzzleloader bull elk harvest and success rate

Season dates: Sept. 10 - Sept. 18, 2016

For nine days, right in the middle of the archery season, muzzleloader deer and elk hunters will also take to the hills. This can cause some frustration and competition, but the absolute best week of the rut is the final week in September and that is strictly reserved for archery hunters. If you archery elk hunt in Colorado and are limited to only one week to hunt, then we recommend that you wait for the muzzleloader hunters to leave and hunt only that last week of archery season.

These dates during this season offer an exciting experience for elk hunters. The hunt will begin with slow rut action, but will intensify as the season continues. The muzzleloader restrictions can frustrate a hunter that is not in tune to the requirements and limitations of Colorado’s muzzleloader laws. Do yourself a favor and read our recent article that illustrates a legal Colorado muzzleloader sight setup. Take the time to practice with this setup and you will have nothing to worry about when muzzleloader hunting in Colorado.

Early rifle season

Early high country elk harvest and success rate

Season dates: Oct. 1 - Oct. 11, 2016

Rifle elk hunters will find several season choices to select from. The earliest of the elk seasons is referred to as the early rifle season. This season is found in the regulations with a hunt code ending in E1-R. Only a few select units offer this prized early rifle season. Those units are Unit 1, Unit 2, Unit 201, Unit 10, Unit 61, and Unit 76. The early rifle season is highly sought after because it provides rut action and an opportunity to hunt with a long-range rifle.

1st rifle season

1st rifle season bull elk harvest and success rate

Season dates: Oct. 15 - Oct. 19, 2016

The first rifle elk season (hunt codes ending in 01-R) has mid-October season dates. This season is available in nearly all of the elk units on the western half of Colorado. During these dates the rut is primarily over, but bulls can still be found near cows and can be vocal. Other than the few units that offer an early rifle elk season, this is the next best rifle option available.

2nd rifle season

2nd rifle season elk harvest and success rate

Season dates: Oct. 22 - Oct. 30, 2016

Sharing the same dates as the deer seasons, the second rifle season (hunt codes ending in 02-R), is another post rut hunt.

3rd rifle season

3rd rifle season elk harvest and success rate

Season dates: Nov. 5 - Nov. 13, 2016

The third rifle season (hunt codes ending in 03-R) will find bulls forming bachelor groups. Weather will be a huge factor in success.

4th rifle season

4th rifle season elk harvest and success rate

Season dates: Nov. 16 - Nov. 20, 2016

The fourth rifle season (hunt codes ending in 04-R) are also available in most units as elk seasons. These later rifle dates will take place from late October through late November and offer no rut behavior. During these seasons, bulls are rarely found with cows and move less during daylight hours. Weather starts to turn cold during these later rifle seasons and snow is likely.

Statewide 10 year elk harvest trends

Colorado statewide elk harvest

goHUNT’s hit list units for trophy Colorado elk in 2016

Many hunters harvested older age class animals in 2015. Biologist are very optimistic about the future of elk in Colorado. 

Top hit list hunt units to consider for 340" or better bulls
(not in order of quality)



What is the Bosque del Oso?

Unit 851 is widely known by Colorado residents as a premier elk area. Numerous large bulls live within Unit 851 and some true trophies are harvested every year. This unit is located along the southern edge of the state and is made up of large private ranches with the exception of a 30,358 acre State Wildlife Area (SWA) known as the Bosque del Oso. Great hunting is available on the private ranch properties with many OTC tags. If you want to hunt the private ranches, then you will need an outfitter with the appropriate lease to make that happen.

There is a chance to draw a tag that gives you an opportunity to hunt the bulls on the publicly owned Bosque del Oso SWA. The private land bulls will leave the cows and begin to move, especially as the weather turns cold. As the bulls move off of the private ranches, they will move into the SWA. For this reason, the best seasons on the SWA are later into the fall. The November rifle season has always been the best and there is a new season that was added in later November that will be the best option for Unit 851. These are among the most difficult elk tags to draw in the state so plan on having a lot of preference points if you want an opportunity. The tag allocation is extremely low making for an incredible experience with virtually no hunting pressure.

How to uncover hidden gem elk units

Colorado bull elk taken with Little Creek Ranch
Colorado bull elk taken with Little Creek Ranch — A goHUNT Business Member

If you are looking for elk units that hold potential for bulls scoring 350” B&C or better, the sad truth is that Colorado really doesn’t have hidden gems. The units with trophy potential for bulls of that caliber are covered above in the hit list. If you are content with opportunities to harvest bulls scoring 280” to 320”, then Colorado is your state for opportunity. Utilize our Filtering 2.0 feature to find OTC seasons that have the potential of bulls more than 310”. You will be amazed at the results of a search like this.

OTC units with 310"+ trophy potential

Percentage that
is public land


Colorado's top Boone & Crockett producing
counties since 2010 for typical elk

CountyNo. of
Units found
within county
Moffat71, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12,
13, 201, 211, 301, 441
Jefferson329, 38, 39, 46, 391, 461, 501
Mesa330, 31, 40, 41, 42, 60, 61,
62, 411, 421
Park339, 46, 49, 50, 500, 501, 57, 58, 581
Eagle225, 26, 34, 35, 36, 361, 44, 444, 45


Colorado's top Boone & Crockett producing
counties since 2010 for nontypical elk

CountyNo. of
Units found
within county
Las Animas585, 128, 133, 134, 135, 136, 140,
141, 142, 143, 147, 851
Fremont357, 58, 59, 69, 84, 86, 581, 691


Trending bull:cow ratio units

Colorado rifle bull elk taken with Twin Buttes Recreation
Rifle bull elk taken with Twin Buttes Recreation — A goHUNT Business member

You may have noticed that we provide data on buck to doe ratios for each hunt unit in Colorado. Male to female ratios are a critical measuring data tool for wildlife managers and indicate the current status and health of the herd. A higher buck to doe ratio may indicate that a unit could have a higher availability of mature bucks compared to a unit with a lower buck to doe ratio. More bucks equates to more bucks to find and harvest. When selecting a unit or comparing several units, you should take this into consideration to help your decision. For a complete understanding of male to female ratios, please refer to a recent article covering this in depth. All of this information can be obtained and sorted in Filtering 2.0.

The interesting discovery is that the top areas with the highest buck:doe ratios are not found in the top trophy producing units. All of this information can be obtained and sorted in Filtering 2.0. These are some serious sleeper areas to consider!

Top Colorado units for bull:cow ratios

8255:100 X
68240:100 X


The points system

The preference point race

2016 maximum preference points for elk: 29

Managing points and expectations

Find your draw odds

Colorado elk preference points going into the 2016 draw

The chances of drawing a coveted tag in the Northwest corner of the state are very slim when you compare total preference points.

I have 0 elk points. What can I expect?

If you are starting from scratch, then you really should view Colorado as an opportunity state. There are a lot of options for the OTC bowhunter or OTC rifle hunter. Use our Filtering 2.0 feature to find an option that will be a good fit for you or search our Outfitter Directory to find an operator that leases a ranch with great hunting.

There are also some draw tags available for archery and muzzleloader with zero points, but some of the slightly better opportunity draw units may take a couple more points.

You can still apply for a point in the draw to begin accumulating points even if you decide to try the OTC option. Make you sure that you understand that the number of points needed to draw the superior hunt choices is above 20 and there are thousands of hunters with points between 10 and 20. Catching up may be a real challenge.

What can I do with 3 to 10 elk points?

At this level, your choices are determined by one question: Am I willing to hunt with a guide? If your answer to this question is “Yes,” then you should strongly consider a hunt in Unit 20, Unit 40, or Unit 49. Keep in mind that you will need to find an outfitter to assist you in order to find success. Unit 20 and Unit 40 will require the access to superior ranch properties that only the outfitters will be able to grant you. Unit 49 is a bit different and can be extremely physical. An outfitter with local knowledge, and possibly horses, will be beneficial to make a hunt possible.

If you will not consider an outfitter, then keep building points, or select from a muzzleloader season in a unit with 300” to 320” potential. Use our Draw Odds and Filtering 2.0 features to identify a muzzleloader option that works for you. Remember that the muzzleloader season dates will get you out there during the rut!

If a guided hunt or muzzleloader DIY doesn’t sound appealing, then consider the OTC seasons to feed your craving while you continue to build points in the meantime.

What can I expect with 15 to 20 elk points?

If you find yourself in this range of points, then it is time to consider a few options. If you are insisting on holding out for an early rifle season tag in Unit 2, Unit 201, Unit 10, or Unit 61, then be prepared to wait a few more years. You could apply for an early season in Unit 76 or a first or second rifle season tag in Unit 61. Other solid options include archery in Unit 61 or Unit 76 or muzzleloader in Unit 66 or Unit 76

Colorado antelope breakdown

Colorado antelope buck taken with Roosters Guide and Outfitting Adventures
Antelope taken with Roosters Guide and Outfitting Adventures — A goHUNT Business Member

Is it hard to imagine a state the offers antelope hunting and does not limit the nonresident applicants to certain percentage of the total tag quota? Colorado is such a state. Every year there are some of the better units that have as many, if not more, nonresidents that draw the tags than the residents.

Colorado is better known for trophy mule deer bucks or the endless elk hunting opportunity than stellar antelope hunting, but do not overlook the antelope opportunity that exists in the Centennial State. Although only a few units produce bucks over 78” with any regularity, Colorado is a great destination for representative bucks.

Archery OTC licenses are available for purchase and allow you to hunt in many units across the entire state. You can check out the OTC map on Filtering 2.0. The archery OTC season restricts you to buck antelope only from Aug. 15 to 31 and will allow you to hunt either sex antelope from Sept. 1 to 20.

Current antelope herd condition

Colorado post hunt antelope population estimate

Drought and winter mortality seem to be the greatest threats to Colorado’s antelope herd. Fortunately, the last few years have seen fairly mild winters with adequate rainfall and snowpack. The majority of Colorado is not ideal antelope habitat; however, the northwestern part of the state as well as the southcentral portion of the state actually have good antelope habitat. The herd numbers vary across the state. The best areas for trophy antelope and overall numbers are adjacent to Wyoming in the northeast and near New Mexico on the south end. Other localized areas of the state hold quality antelope hunting like the high sage near Gunnison, the Saguache Valley, or several parts of the eastern plains. Private land will heavily restrict access into some of the good antelope hunting. An outfitter may be needed to access some of the quality antelope hunting in Colorado.

The seasons

Colorado statewide antelope harvest

Like most of the species, the archery antelope hunters will also get first opportunity. The archery season runs Aug. 15 to Sept. 20, 2016. Obviously, the better units will require you to draw an archery license. Remember that the large majority of the state will allow you to archery hunt OTC. These dates are ideal for antelope bucks in the rut. If you have never experienced hunting antelope engaged in the rut, then find the time to do so. It is nothing short of exciting. During the rut, bucks are aggressive and decoys can be deadly. Although archery success on antelope is inherently low, it is entertaining because the action is usually all day long.

The muzzleloader licenses are drawn as a limited license in select units and the season runs Sept. 21 to 29, 2016. This short season will still see some rut behavior as bucks continue to chase does and run off lesser bucks. Pay attention to the strict muzzleloader restrictions that Colorado has in place and know your weapon. A rangefinder will be needed to accurately place your shot with a muzzleloader across the flat antelope habitat.

The rifle season is also offered exclusively in a limited draw and will run Oct. 1 to 7, 2016. The peak of the rut will be over by this time, but bucks will still be found near does. Obviously, the rifle tags are among the most difficult to draw and many of the better units can take 12 to 17 preference points to draw.

goHUNT’s hit list units for trophy Colorado antelope in 2016

Top hit list hunt units to consider for 75" or better antelope
(not in order of quality)




How to uncover hidden gem antelope units

The antelope in Colorado are somewhat segregated in populations. While there are areas of the state with high numbers, other parts of the state will have isolated herds, which surprisingly can actually hold some decent antelope hunting. Use the Unit Profiles to find units that have a decent amount of public land to hunt while still having an established trophy potential listed. The units without enough animals to provide a decent hunt will have “little to none” listed in the trophy potential. Avoid these units.

If you have time to spare in August and September, and you are an avid archery hunter, then head to Colorado. Your OTC tag will allow you to hunt across many units. Remember that your OTC archery tag is valid for a buck only from Aug. 15 to 31, but either sex from Sept. 1 to 20.

Again, use the Filtering 2.0 to find a trophy potential that fits your liking.


Colorado's top Boone & Crockett producing
counties since 2010 for antelope

CountyNo. of

Units found
within county

Las Animas685, 128, 133, 134, 135, 136, 137,
140, 141, 142, 143, 147, 851
Huerfano384, 85, 128, 133, 861
Moffat31, 2, 3, 4, 5, 11, 12,
13, 201, 211, 301
Jackson26, 16, 17, 161, 171

Trending buck:doe ratio areas

You have probably noticed that we provide data on buck to doe ratios for each hunt unit in Colorado. Male to female ratios are a critical measuring data tool for wildlife managers and indicate the current status of the herd. A higher buck to doe ratio may indicate that a unit could have a higher availability of mature bucks compared to a unit with a lower buck to doe ratio. This doesn’t always indicate that the bucks will be the highest scoring, but a higher ratio equates to more bucks to find and harvest. When selecting a unit, or comparing several units, take this into consideration to help your decision. For a complete understanding of male to female ratios, please refer to a recent article covering this in depth.

The interesting discovery is that the top areas with the highest buck:does ratios are not found in the top trophy producing areas or units that require 10 plus points. Several of these top buck:doe ratio areas are also available to hunt with an OTC license. All of this information can be obtained and sorted in Filtering 2.0. These are some serious sleeper areas to consider!

Top Colorado units for buck:doe antelope ratios



The points system

The preference point race

2016 max bonus points for antelope: 28

Managing points and expectations

Find your draw odds

Colorado antelope preference points going into the 2016 draw

I have 0 antelope points. What can I expect?

With no points accrued you should start to build points and consider the OTC archery opportunity while you build those points. There are a few seasons of all weapon types that may be drawn with no points, but they are predominantly in units with very limited public access. The quality antelope hunting would be found on private land in those available units. If this is something that you would consider, then use our Draw Odds calculator to see which units are available with zero points. Next, contact an outfitter from our Outfitter Directory that is in that area.

What can I do with 3 or 4 antelope points?

Archery draw opportunities in units with an established antelope population are available to you with this point range. This can be a quality hunt, but make sure you spend enough time to give yourself a chance at success. It can take a fair number of stalks or water ambushes to connect with archery equipment. If this doesn’t interest you, then continue to build points.

What can I expect with 9 or 10 antelope points?

Some decent hunt choices with multiple weapon choices are now available to you. The very best choices are still a few years away, but consider a rifle hunt in either Unit 87 or Unit 88. If you do, plan to scout early or hire an outfitter to know the public land access.

What can I expect with 15 or 20 antelope points?

Now you are in the game for rifle hunting! Unit 3, Unit 201, Unit 67, or Unit 81 are all great choices. Plenty of public land to get around and hunt. You will look over several quality bucks in any of these hunt choices.


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