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

Like what you've read? Sign up for updates...It's FREE.

Get helpful tips delivered to your inbox.

Signup now and receive an email once I publish new content.

I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.


  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.

      • Thanks for the detailed reply. I’ve hunted the north and south slope in Utah for many years and have filled my bull tag about 50% of the time by riding way back from the crowds on horseback…but I’ve only seen ONE big mature 6 pt bull in 30 years…and sadly, I missed him at 680 yds, guessing it to be 550. I saw my bullet hit just under his belly and spray him with rock chips… Needless to say, I bought a rangefinder within a week.

        I’ve shot most of my bulls under 250 yards by placing myself in good spots, with only a few out to 500. I own a ranch and often have 380-400 class bulls eating my hay, but can’t hunt them as it’s in a state draw unit only hunt, so it gets somewhat discouraging to see them all the time with my binoculars and then travel hours away to hunt and settle for shooting spikes, 4, 5 & small 6pts that wouldn’t score even close to 300. At least they put meat in the freezer and we have a good time.

        Anyway, I was looking at unit 12 & 24 etc as a potential as I could ride into the wilderness areas away from tons of people. It appears there are some places in the wilderness that are still down around 8,000 feet so may be huntable in the 3rd rifle season, which appears to be my only time to go this year. Do you know if elk move into the desert units 3, 11, 21, 22 by beginning of November?

        There appears to be a lot of BLM land a guy could hunt there, if the national forest land of other units have too much snow. Any advice appreciated, as time to scout is tight this year and it costs a lot to hunt out of state and not find elk! :)

        • I feel your pain… I always see the monster bulls when I have a deer, cow elk or spike tag. I hope I can draw a Limited Entry tag before I get too old.

          And we appreciate that you let the elk eat your hay all winter. If it weren’t for the quality Wintering areas on private lands, we wouldn’t have half the elk we have now.

          Units 12 & 24 are in the White River Management Unit (E-6 – which is a famous elk hunting area). First thing about your question on the low elevation, BLM land “desert units” (3,11,21 and 22) is they are in 3 different Management Units. You can not hunt any unit you like in Colorado like you can in Utah. Unit 3 is in the North Park (E-2) unit, Unit 11 is in the White River Unit and units 21 & 22 are in the North Park (E-10) unit.

          So you had a tag for the White River Unit, you could hunt unit 11 if units 12 and 24 got too much snow, but you could not hunt the other units.

          Take a look at the Colorado Hunting Atlas. Check the Game Species box and select only the Elk Winter Range Box. You will see the north part of unit 12 and all of units 211 and 11 are considered winter range areas.

          But you know as well as I that it is the amount of snow in the high country that pushes elk into their winter range. If the snowfall is like last year, you could probably hunt to almost 10,000 feet into November. But you have also probably seen elk hunters stranded by the hundreds in October in a big storm.

          I have been finding elk year round in PJ & sage areas that I would have considered Winter habitat only, so who knows what you will find.

          You have the right attitude about hunting, so you will have fun no matter if you hunt familiar land in Utah or if you scout new land in Colorado and if you are successful or not.

          Good luck and let me know what you decide and how it turns out.

          • Thanks tons for the info about having to choose a unit and not being able to jump from one unit to another if weather changes! THAT Is so important to know as I plan… I had thought i’d hunt 24 if weather is mild and go west to lower ground if snow gets deep, so now i’ll rethink it all. Good luck this fall & I hope you have a great season! AD

          • Thanks Alma.
            Still didn’t get the Limited Entry tag I want, so I will also be hunting with an OTC tag. I will be happy to fill my freezer with a spike or a cow elk.

  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.

  7. Keith Schaeffer says:

    A friend and I will be heading to Colorado late Sept. This will be our second attempt at elk hunting. Any knowledge or advice of which unit to start in would be greatly appreciated. We are bow hunting OTC bull or cow.

    • Hi Keith: Where and when was your first elk hunt? Did you find elk? Since you have already decided on Colorado, Are you familiar with the public land and the different habitats there?

      It’s hard to know what to recommend without knowing exactly what type of elk hunt you are looking for. Are you camping? Do you plan on a backcountry hunt or are you going to stay close to the roads? Do you like hunting in the high country or do you want to stalk around in the oak-brush or PJ?

      You are asking the type of question that I try to answer in my DIY Elk Hunting Guide. The guide shows where to find all the info you need to choose a hunt unit in each of seven western states. I also give lots of information about finding elk and tips about backcountry safety and logistical issues of elk hunting. The book shows where and how much public land can be found in the best elk hunting states and I also discuss the various habitats used by elk within the different ecoregions of the western states and strategies to find elk.

      If you guys have hunted before, you probably learned much about that particular unit. Why start over in a new place?

  8. Keith Schaeffer says:

    Just south of eisenhower tunnel on I70 we hunted from 10,000 up to 13,500. We packed in about 6 miles and camped.

    • Ok, from this post and the PM you sent, you guys are obviously young and/or still in shape. Still without knowing if you know much about Colorado or if you found elk last time, I will tell you how I would go about choosing a place to hunt. Keep in mind, each time you move to a new place, you will have to learn everything all over again.

      But that is also part of the fun. If I don’t find animals where I usually find them, I like to try totally new areas the last few days of a hunt. Over time, you will have knowledge of many areas and where you can find elk at different times of the season.

      First thing I look for are public lands not close to large cities. I used to only look for the largest parcels of land, but that is not always important. Some small sections of public land next to private land can be very good. But in Aug and Sept, most elk are high up which is mostly public lands.

      Determine which hunt units cover the area and then look at the last few years data about how many hunters were there and how many elk were harvested.

      Keep in mind, the vast majority of hunters never get more than ½ mile from roads. It may be crowded near the road, but once you head out you will have lots of country to yourself. After you learn the area better, you will find places to go that have few hunters.

      Also take a look at Colorado’s Hunting Atlas and Click on the Game Species Layer and select Elk Summer Range since you indicated you plan to hunt the Archery either sex elk season (Aug 29 – Sept 27).

      Truth is, you could have a great hunt on almost any unit at the right time of year. Finding elk shouldn’t be a problem. Getting close enough for a shot with the bow will be the challenge.

      Before the rut, try finding ambush sites near water. After the rut begins, the best bet may be to call for satellite bulls that are following the action. The rut should peak around Sept 22nd. Try both bugling and cow calls and remember to have your buddy call from behind you so the elk concentrate on sound that is not where you are.

      Never forget the wind and don’t call too much. They should be curious enough to investigate, but not be overwhelmed or be convinced you are not real.

      Anyway, good luck and let me know how it goes.

  9. Hi, my father and I will be traveling to Colorado this September for an archery elk hunt. Should I go ahead and purchase either sex OTC elk tags on line or wait until we arrive in Colorado in September? Do the Either sex tags usually sell out?

    • Hi James:
      There are 2 kinds of OTC tags in Colorado. OTC unlimited and OTC with caps. You will be able to buy an unlimited tag (either sex archery elk) after you get to Colorado.

      Check at the Colorado Parks & Wildlife website to make sure you understand all the options and which units you can hunt.

      Good Luck. I know you will enjoy the hunt.

  10. Johnny Scott says:

    I was reading some of your q+a s. I will have to say being from the South it sounds like French to me. Here its lot different deal altogether. If you’re hunting on private land you can shoot a buck or a doe. If its National Forest or Management land you have specified times an dates. But we don’t have Elk either. I have been wanting to buy some land in Colorado and plan to move out there. So if you were me and could buy some land to live on and hunt (budget $250 – $350 thousand), where would you like to park it?

    • Hi Johnny: Yes, I grew up in N.C., but have lived in the Inter-mountain West for over 20 years. It is a different world from the South. The land is different, the history is different and the rules are different. With the access to public land and the quality hunting and fishing we have, I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

      Start your quest by looking online at places like this.

      If you want elk hunting land, look for areas next to public land (USFS or BLM or state lands). But keep in mind that your land may have to provide access to that public land or it may be near an access area.

      Also be careful of small parcels that do not have restrictive covenants. You could have the greatest neighbors in the world or you could have those that like to drink and shoot at the moon all night long.

      Look for land that has water. There is lots of cheap land, but they don’t have water. Water rights are something you will have to learn about before buying land in the West. You may or not be able to drill a well. You may or may not have any rights to the water in a stream.

      The largest parcels of land will be in the open, dry country in the eastern part of the state (Great Plains).

      As a southern boy, you are probably interested in land in the mountains (West of Denver/Colorado Springs/Pueblo etc) that has trees and water.

      Also make sure you have year-round access unless you only plan to live there part time. Some don’t have access in the Winter due to snowfall and are only accessible via snow machine or snow cat, unless you plan on plowing the road yourself.

      Also make sure there is already power to or near the land unless you plan on living off the grid.

      See anything in the link that interests you?

    • I’d look in the Craig, Co. area (unit 4 & 5) if I was shopping for hunting land in Colorado as you will likely always be able to get tags to hunt on your own land. In the West you usually can’t hunt your own land even if you feed the wild animals all year, unless you draw a hunting tag for the area your land happens to be in. The area I mention had a lot of elk and deer and turkey and antelope and you can always buy over the counter elk tags, so not have to depend on the lottery draw to be able to hunt on your land. Also, it is a beautiful area! :)

  11. Can anyone tell me where to go to find out how many tags are left?

Comments, Opinions, Questions?


Notify me of new posts by email.