The most common questions I get from first time, out of state DIY elk hunters is about how to choose a hunting unit.
Chances are, you can find elk on every unit on most National Forest lands, without any additional knowledge. But more information always helps.
Of course the local hunters know when and where to find elk on units with few elk, but non-residents will not, so choose a unit proven to have lots of elk.
You can research population estimates in the Herd Management Plans (DAU Reports – AKA Data Analysis Units) or you can see how many elk were harvested in the past and see the hunter success and the amount of hunting pressure.
If you are an out of state hunter, unless you have done lots of scouting, I suggest you start with units where at least 50 – 100 elk were harvested and also had better than average hunting success.
2017 Colorado OTC Elk Licenses
The OTC licenses are just that, sold over the counter and the numbers of these OTC licenses are unlimited. They go on sale starting at 9 a.m. July 25 (2017).
Colorado OTC Rifle Elk Hunts
Lets start with the Over-the-counter (OTC) rifle hunts. The OTC rifle seasons are the 2nd and 3rd rifle season. In 2017, the 2nd rifle season will be Oct. 21 – 29 and the 3rd rifle season will be Nov. 4 – 12.
These are for Antlered Elk Only (Bull Elk) and are available in 90 hunt units (GMUs – Game Management Units) in Western Colorado. The latest available harvest data from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) is from 2015.
The harvest data are available compiled in various ways and it is easy to see harvest numbers, hunting success and hunting pressure for each unit. But it is a little more difficult to separate results from OTC tags from Limited Tags.
There are a few units where Limited hunts for Bull Elk also take place during the 2nd or 3rd rifle seasons, but there are many Limited cow elk hunts going on at the same time. But since OTC tags can only take Bull Elk, I left out harvest data for cows and calves. So, the data in Table 1 shows bull elk taken by both Limited and OTC tag holders in the OTC units during the 2nd and 3rd rifle seasons.
Table 1 show GMUs ranked by total Bulls Harvested on the left and by Hunter Success ranked separately on the right.
Table 1. Top 24 Colorado OTC Units; 2nd & 3rd Rifle Harvest 2015
For total bull elk harvest, the top 20 OTC elk units ranged from 293 to 116 elk harvested (left side Table 1). I included harvest data from 24 units instead of 20 because half (50.7%) of all Bull Elk Harvest (OTC Rifle; 2nd & 3rd seasons) came from 24 of the 90 hunt units.
For hunter success (right side of Table 1), I limited units to those where at least 20 bull elk were harvested, so some units had higher success, but only had a few elk harvested. So, highest hunter success (with at least 20 bulls harvested, ranged from 28.3% to 16.9%. Notice that total success for the OTC 2nd & 3rd Rifle seasons was 13.4%. The top 24 units ranked by hunter success accounted for 38% of all Bull Elk Harvested for the OTC Rifle seasons.
Also notice that eight units are hi-lighted on both side of the table. These eight units (11, 13, 43, 65, 70, 74, 82 and 83) ranked in the top 20 for both total harvest and hunter success.
Colorado OTC Archery Elk Hunts
Now let’s look at the OTC Archery Hunts. Table 2 shows GMUs ranked by total Bulls Harvested. There are two types of OTC Archery Elk Tags; Either Sex or Bull Elk Only. The 2017 OTC Archery season is Aug. 26 – Sept. 24.
There are 137 Either Sex units and 58 Bull Elk only units on public land. There are also 7 additional private only units, but those data not included. There are 55 units that offer either tag (Either Sex or Bull Only). Table 2 shows the 2015 top 20 OTC Archery Elk units ranked by Total Harvest and Table 3 shows the 2015 top 20 OTC Archery Elk units ranked by Total Success. The top 20 units ranked by total elk harvest (Table 2) accounted for 56.5% of the total OTC Elk Archery harvest.The top 20 units ranked by hunter success (Table 3) accounted for 43.1% of the total OTC Elk Archery harvest.
Yes, the units with the highest harvest numbers also have lots of other hunters. But remember, most hunters don’t hunt everyday, most don’t hunt all day long and most don’t get more than ¼ mile away from a road. Also, if a unit has lots of hunters, it is a good indication that unit has lots of access points to disperse the traffic. Of course, some areas can get very crowded, but with a few days to scout, you should be able to find less crowded areas.
These tables are just to help you get started. These are the units in Colorado where the most elk are harvested and those that have the highest hunter success. Spend a little time researching the combination of these factors and also consider the size of the units, the number of access points and the amount of hunting pressure they get.
Table 2. Top 20 Colorado OTC Units; Archery Harvest 2015
Table 3. Top 20 Colorado OTC Units; Archery Success 2015
For total elk harvest (bulls, cows & calves combined), the top 20 OTC elk units ranged from 239 to 81 elk harvested (Table 2). For the top 20 units by hunter success, I again limited units to those where at least 20 total elk were harvested. Some units had 100% success, but only had a few elk harvested. So, highest hunter success (with at least 20 bulls harvested, ranged from 24.5% to 14.6%, compared to Total success at 11.1%.
Again, notice that nine units are hi-lighted on both tables. These nine units (16, 22, 42, 71, 78, 81, 214, 421 and 521) ranked in the top 20 for both total harvest and hunter success.
Colorado OTC Rifle Plains Elk Hunts
The last type of OTC Elk hunt are the Plains Rifle. In 2017, the Elk OTC Plains Rifle Season dates are Sept. 1 2017 – Jan. 31, 2018.
The Plains Hunts include 53 units (Either Sex) in Eastern Colorado. In 2015, hunts were reported on 33 units and elk were killed on 22 units. Table 4 shows all 22 OTC Plains Elk units where elk were harvested ranked by total harvest and Table 3 shows the same 22 OTC Plains Elk units ranked by hunter success.
Table 4. Top 22 Colorado OTC Units; Plains Rifle Harvest 2015
Table 5. Top 22 Colorado OTC Units; Plains Rifle Success 2015
The plains units obviously don’t have as many elk as the western units, but they do offer long seasons and the opportunity to hunt either sex elk with an OTC tag. The total harvest in the plains units ranged from 55 to 3 elk (no elk were harvested in 11 units). Two of the plains units had 100% success, but only had 3 or 5 total elk harvested. The lowest success was 11.3%, but total hunter success was a respectable 25.8%.
If you are considering a hunt in the plains units, notice there are six units hi-lighted in both tables 4 and 5. These units (87, 105, 110, 123, 137 and 143) rank highest for total harvest and above average, for hunter success.