Hunt Elk in Colorado with Over-the-Counter Elk Tags

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) manages elk in 43 Data Analysis Units (DAU) and the state is also divided into 184 Game Management Units (GMU). And yes, I counted them all.

Over-the-Counter Elk Tags Available to Non-residents in Colorado

  1. Elk Archery Season – Either sex elk – can be hunted in 138 units (80 west of I-25, 58 east of I-25) – See Figures 1 & 2.
  2. Elk Archery Season – Antlerless elk – can be hunted in 62 units (54 west, 8 east) – See Figure 3.
  3. Elk Rifle Season (2nd and 3rd seasons) – Antlered  elk – can be hunted in 92 units (84 west, 8 east) – See Figure 4.
  4. Elk Plains rifle season – Either sex elk- can be hunted in 54 units (4 west, 50 east) – See Figure 5.
colorado archery either sex elk over-the-counter units west with pubic land

Figure 1. Western Colorado Archery Either Sex Elk Over-the-Counter Hunt Units. Public Land shown in Orange/Yellow, Private land shown in White. No OTC tags in grey units.

Non-residents can buy Elk Licenses Over-the-Counter (OTC) in all but 36 of those units to hunt with archery equipment or any one of three rifle hunts. That is a total of 148 units have OTC tags with four different options to hunt elk, all over the counter. The license fee for Non-residents is $596 for Bull Elk or Either Sex Elk tags and $361 for cow/calf (antlerless).

These OTC tags go on sale every year in early July. The antlerless and either sex tags are limited for both resident and non-residents, so first come first serve. The antlered Elk (Bull Elk) OTC tags are unlimited for both resident and non-residents.

Elk Habitat and Colorado Ecoregions

If you know anything about Colorado, Interstate 25 runs down the Front Range of the Rockies and divides the state with about two-thirds in the west and one-third of the state in the east.

colorado archery either sex elk over-the-counter east with public land

Figure 2. Eastern Colorado Archery Either Sex Elk Over-the-Counter Hunt Units. Public Land shown in Orange/Yellow, Private land shown in White. No OTC tags available in black units.

The West is primarily mountainous and is mostly in the Southern Rockies and Colorado Plateau ecoregions, but also includes part of the Wyoming Basin and the Arizona/New Mexico Plateau. The ecoregions found in Eastern Colorado are the High Plains and Southwestern Tablelands.

Elk primarily live in the mountains, so 41 of the 43 DAUs are in the western part of the state and only two DAUs are in east of the front range.

2012 Colorado Elk Harvest

According to CPW data, 42,870 elk were harvested in 2012 from 125 units west of the Front Range and 620 elk were harvested from 49 units east of the Front Range.

Evidently, not all of the elk read CPW’s Elk Management plan since 316 elk were harvested in 39 units not assigned to a DAU in the eastern part of the state. That’s obviously not many elk, but proof that elk do occur in some of the eastern these units. Anyway, most elk hunting is in the western part of the state as is most of the public land.

colorado archery antlerless elk over-the-counter with public land

Figure 3. Western Colorado Archery Antlerless Elk Over-the-Counter Hunt Units. Public Land shown in Orange/Yellow, Private land shown in White. No OTC tags available in grey units.

In all of the map images (Figures 1-5), I superimposed public land on top of the Colorado elk units that have tags available for non-resident hunters.  The images are intended to show which units have OTC elk tags for non-residents and to demonstrate the general amount of public land in the various hunt units. Obviously, you will need more detailed maps if you plan to hunt.

In some cases, there are additional tags available OTC to non-residents, but they only allow hunting on private lands.  I only included units that allow hunting on public or private lands.

colorado rifle antlered elk over-the-counter with public land

Figure 4. Western Colorado Rifle Antlered Elk Over-the-Counter Hunt Units. Public Land shown in Orange/Yellow, Private land shown in White. No OTC tags available in grey units.

colorado plains rifle either sex elk over-the counter units with public land

Figure 5. Eastern Colorado Plains Rifle Either Sex Elk Over-the-Counter Hunt Units. Public Land shown in Orange/Yellow, Private land shown in White. No OTC tags available in black units.

2012 Colorado Elk Hunting Success

  • Overall elk hunt success = 20%
  • All rifle = 22%
  • 1st rifle = 30%
  • 2nd rifle – 17%
  • 3rd rifle – 14%
  • 4th rifle – 25%
  • All archery 13%
  • Muzzleloader 20%

Hunting on Colorado State Trust Lands

In Colorado, some State Trust Lands are also open to public hunting on 550,000 acres (State Trust Lands in Colorado totals nearly 3,000,000 acres) between Sept. 1 through Feb.

The access to hunting has been obtained by Colorado Parks and Wildlife through a seven year lease that was signed in 2006.

If my math is correct, that means the lease is up in 2012 or 2013 depending upon when the seven years started. Hopefully, a new lease will allow continued access to these lands for hunting.

It is a shame that the other 2.4 million acreas of State Lands in Colorado are not open for public hunting as most State Trust Lands are in other States like Arizona, New Mexico, Montana and Montana (with permit) or Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming (without permit).

State Trust lands may occupy the 16th and 36 section of many townships in Colorado, but you can not hunt on most of those sections.

Public Land in Colorado

There are still plenty of public lands to hunt in Colorado. There are over 14,5 million acres of US Forest  Service lands and 8.3 million acres of BLM lands. Including the State Trust Lands that are open to hunting, that totals over 22.8 million acres of public land which is about 34 percent of the entire state which is available for public hunting.

My DIY Elk Hunting Guide is now available as PDF or ebook

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  1. Backcountry Chronicles says:

    Left over licenses still available for Colorado for 2013-2014 hunt seasons.

  2. dan miller says:

    What game unit is best to hunt during muzzleloader season?

    • That is a hard question to answer. I assume you are asking about hunting Colorado. Are you a Colorado Resident? Are you looking for a wilderness hunt? Or do you plan to stay with local friends or stay in a hotel? Are you the kind of guy that will walk to the top of the ridge or do you plan on driving the roads? Do you want a limited entry hunt or a general hunt? Do you plan on hunting public or private land?

      Do you want to hunt Bull elk, Cow elk or either? Which is more important to you? High Hunt Success or low number of hunters?

      Colorado has 175 different Elk units and 128 units have muzzleloader seasons.

      A quick look at the 2013 Elk Harvest Survey (download pdf) shows largest number of Bull Elk were taken by muzzleloader in units 39, 37 & 36.
      The most cow elk were harvested in units 70, 521 & 4.
      The Most Total elk were harvested in units 70, 521 & 12.
      The most hunters and the most total recreation days were in units 421,521 & 18.
      Units 20 and 29 had 100% success, but only 6 and 12 elk were harvested respectively.
      In Unit 61, 96 hunters harvested 61 elk in 445 rec days (64% success).
      In Unit 49, 106 hunters harvested 49 elk in 574 rec days (46% success).
      In Unit 40, 57 hunters harvested 26 elk in 301 rec days (46% success).
      In Unit 441, 61 hunters harvested 26 elk in 318 rec days (43% success).
      In Unit 12, 150 hunters harvested 62 elk in 605 rec days (41% success).
      In Unit 76, 64 hunters harvested 26 elk in 300 rec days (41% success).
      In Unit 7, 97 hunters harvested 39 elk in 462 rec days (40% success).

      I hope this helps.

  3. I want to bow hunt the Grand Mesa area of Colorado. How do I get trail maps and learn about rules for using A.T.V.? Thanks

    • Hi Fred: Start with who owns the land. Grand Mesa is included with the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests. Maps are Here.
      Look at both the Motor Vehicle Use Maps and the Recreation Maps. Grand Mesa has a very good map available as PDF download.
      I include this kind of info in my DIY Elk Hunting Guide.
      Good Luck.

  4. Alma DeMille says:

    Any recommendations for an area in CO to do a diy otc bull elk hunt where I can ride in with horses to escape crowds & find good bulls? I have many years experience hunting but don’t know CO. I get elk often in Utah for meat but big bulls are mostly only in draw units here. After 30 years of hunting I’d sure love at least 1 good 6 pt bull even if only scoring 300. With the numbers of elk in CO there should be a place I can ride in and Harvest meat and mid-sized antlers! Advice appreciated!!!

    • Hi Alma: With 30 years elk hunting experience, you know what it takes to find the bull you want. For you, it will probably be easier to find a good bull in Utah than to travel to Colorado, even if you have to hunt the any bull units. I have seen some very nice bulls in the Cache, North Slope and South Slope Units in Utah, but depending upon where you live, you may be closer to Colorado.
      The best chance for finding the big bulls is to be able to hunt during the rut. OTC archery tags (either sex) in Colorado allow you to do that. The OTC rifle season does not and there is no OTC muzzleloader season for elk.
      If you are looking to go out of state, you are right to start looking in Colorado. They have the largest elk population and harvest the most elk. But Colorado also has twice as many elk hunters as any other state (Read comparison of 2013 Elk Harvest Reports).
      I would start by looking at maps for hunt units on public land that are farthest from Denver and other large cities. Then, I would look at the harvest reports for the last few years (2012 – 2014) to see which of those units had the fewest hunters, but a high success, especially for bulls.
      Take a look at the White River National Forest units like 24, 33 or 34 to see what you think.
      A friend in Wyoming thinks chances are better there to find a nice bull elk despite the fact that they no longer have OTC tags for non-residents. But you may will have to be aware of bears in Wyoming. My friend lost a bull elk to a grizzly last year.
      So, do your research and keep applying for the tag you want in Utah. Hopefully you will draw that tag before the knees wear out.

  5. Jesse Wallace says:

    Interested in your thoughts on beginner area for OTC archery elk. I have hunted in Colorado once with a guide, but myself and friends want to go at it DIY style. No experience back country hunting but we are all in good shape and don’t mind putting in the work hiking and we are comfortable camping and roughing it. Not looking for trophies at all would be thrilled with bull or cow. Thanks for your time.

    • Jesse:
      If you guys are in good enough shape to hike around at mid to high elevation and don’t mind roughing it, the next biggest hurdle is to learn the country. If the land you hunted previously with a guide is public land, you can hunt there again, unless that was a limited entry unit.

      If you are going somewhere for the first time, look at the Archery OTC unit map I made and pick units that have lots of public land. Then go to the latest Harvest Report (download 2014 Colorado Elk Harvest Report) and check those units for the number of elk harvested, the number of hunters and hunter success.

      Good Luck with your hunt and let me know how it goes.

      Then look at maps, topos and/or Google Earth for access, camping areas, isolated forests and water.

      You guys are exactly who I wrote the Elk Hunting Guide for. I put lots of good information in the book for first time DIY hunters, especially for people not familiar with western habitats and terrain.

      Another hint: Most hunters still don’t hunt very far from the roads (read study – download PDF), so plan on finding most elk at least half a mile from a road.

      Excerpt from Elk Hunting GuideIf elk prefer areas at least 1.33 km (0.83 miles) from small roads and only 3 out of 78 hunters (3.8%) travel 1 km from the road, there seems to be some opportunity for the average hunter to find elk if they are able and willing to walk.”

  6. Hello

    I’m trying to find prices on OTC either sex archery tags in Colorado. A few friends and I are planning a DIY hunt and wants some prices. Scouted and found a place but wanted to know the nonresident prices.


    • Jade: The info about cost for the either sex elk archery hunt in Colorado can be found at the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website here
      I wrote the DIY Elk Hunting Guide specifically for people like you. The guide includes all the useful links to find the information you need all in one place.
      The non-resident Elk, Bull or Either Sex license is $616. Those tags sent on sale July 21 this year, so better get one while they last.
      If you hunt Colorado, let me know how the hunt went.

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