Top 20 Colorado OTC Elk Hunting Units for 2018

bull elk buglingThe 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 should be able to find elk on every unit on National Forest lands, without any additional knowledge. But more information will always be helpful.

Of course the local hunters know when and where to find elk on units that have few elk, but non-residents will not, so choose a unit proven to have lots of elk during your hunting season.

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 before, I suggest you start researching units where at least 50 elk were harvested and also had better than average hunting success.

2018 Colorado OTC Elk Licenses

The OTC licenses are just that, sold over the counter and the numbers of these OTC licenses are unlimited and will be on sale for 2018 starting at 9:00 am on August 9, 2018.

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 2018, the 2nd rifle season will be Oct 20 – 28 and the 3rd rifle season will be Nov. 3 – 11.

These hunts are for Antlered Elk Only (Bull Elk) and are available in 93 hunt units (GMUs – Game Management Units) in Western Colorado. The latest available harvest data from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) is from 2016.

We can also look at past harvest data to help choose a hunting unit. The harvest data reported by CPW 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.

Limited elk hunts for both antlered and antlerless elk do occur during the 2nd and 3rd rifle seasons. There is no overlap in space (units) for the bull elk hunts, but there are for the limited cow elk hunts. But by removing the number of hunters that participate in cow elk hunts from the total, we are able to get just the OTC rifle data.

If we are willing to assume the OTC Rifle Hunters hunt the same number of days as the cow elk hunters, we can also estimate hunter effort for just the OTC rifle hunters.

Table 1 (left side) shows the top 23 units ranked by total bull elk taken by OTC tag holders in the OTC units during the 2nd rifle season. The right side of Table 1 is ranked by Hunter Success.

Table 1. Top 23 Colorado OTC Rifle Units – 2nd Rifle Season 2016

colorado otc elk rifle units ranked by harvest and hunter success
For total bull elk harvest, the top 23 OTC 2nd Rifle Season elk units ranged from 165 to 66 elk harvested (left side Table 1). I included harvest data from 23 units instead of 20 because half (51.3%) of all Bull Elk Harvest (2nd Season OTC Rifle) came from 21 of the 93 hunt units and since units 13 and 82 were only 2 elk behind 21st place, I included those units as well.

For hunter success (right side of Table 1), I limited units to those where at least 50 bull elk were harvested, so some units had higher success than these units, but only had a few elk harvested. So, highest hunter success (with at least 50 bulls harvested) ranged from 24.2% to 13.1%. Total hunter success for the 2016 OTC 2nd rifle season was 12.7%. The top 23 units ranked by hunter success accounted for 47% of all Bull Elk Harvested for the OTC 2nd rifle season.

Also notice that 15 units are hi-lighted on both side of the table. These 15 units (4, 5, 12, 13, 22, 42, 43, 53, 65, 70, 71, 82, 85, 421 and 521) ranked in the top 23 for both total harvest and hunter success.

Five units (4, 13, 22, 85 and 421) were in the top units for both the 2nd and 3rd rifle seasons for both total Bull Elk harvest and for hunter success.

Table 2 (left side) shows the top 22 units ranked by total bull elk taken by OTC tag holders in the OTC units during the 3rd rifle season. The right side of Table 1 is ranked by Hunter Success.

Table 2. Top 23 Colorado OTC Rifle Units – 3rd Rifle Season 2016

colorado otc elk 3rd rifle units ranked by harvest and hunter success

For total bull elk harvest, the top 22 OTC 2nd Rifle Season elk units ranged from 130 to 40 elk harvested (left side Table 2). Though the top 20 unis accounted for half (51.2%) of all Bull Elk Harvest during the 3rd OTC Rifle Season, I included two more units since they had at least 40 bull elk harvested.

For hunter success (right side of Table 1), I limited units to those where at least 20 bull elk were harvested. Some units had higher success, but only had fewer than 20 bull elk harvested. Hunter success (with at least 20 bull elk) ranged from 28.1% to 11.9%. Total hunter success for the 2016 OTC 3rd rifle season was 10.0%. The top 22 units ranked by hunter success accounted for 44.7% of all Bull Elk Harvested for the OTC 3rd rifle season.

Notice the 12 hi-lighted units on both side of Table 2. These 12 units (4, 11, 13, 22, 23, 35, 42, 75, 77, 85, 421 and 441) ranked in the top 22 for both total harvest and hunter success.

Colorado OTC Archery Elk Hunts

Now let’s look at the OTC Archery Hunts (Combined Either-sex and Antlered hunts). Table 3 shows GMUs ranked by total Elk Harvested (left side) and by Hunter Success (right side). There are two types of OTC Archery Elk Tags; Either Sex or Bull Elk Only. The 2018 OTC Archery season is Aug. 25 – Sept. 23.

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 are not included. There are 55 units that offer either tag (Either Sex or Bull Only).

Table 3. 2016 Top 24 Colorado OTC Archery Units

colorado ranked otc elk archery units 2016

The top 24 units ranked by total elk harvest accounted for 64.8% of the total OTC Elk Archery harvest. The top 24 units ranked by hunter success (Table 3) accounted for 47.1% of the total OTC Elk Archery harvest.

For total elk harvest (bulls, cows & calves combined), the top 24 OTC elk units ranged from 242 to 64 elk harvested.

For the top 24 units by hunter success, I limited units to those where at least 20 total elk were harvested. Some units had higher success, but only had a few elk harvested. So, highest hunter success (with at least 20 elk, ranged from 22.2% to 10.7%, compared to Total OTC Archery Success at 9.4%.

Again, notice that 11 units are hi-lighted on both sides of Table 3. These 11 units (53, 62, 65, 70, 74, 78, 131, 211, 214, 231 and 421) ranked in the top 24 for both total harvest and hunter success.

High Hunter Density is not all Bad

Who doesn’t want to hunt all season and never see or hear other hunters? On public land that is not the reality. 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, that is usually a good indication that area 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.

Also, some hunters will go deep to find elk and they almost always bump elk, those elk have to go somewhere and they might just run over you.

These tables are just to help you get started with the selection process. 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.

There is also an OTC Plains Rifle season in eastern Colorado. These units obviously don’t have as many elk or public land as the western units, but they do offer long hunting seasons and the opportunity to hunt either sex elk with an OTC tag. The total harvest in the plains units is relatively low and most elk are harvested by local hunters that know the country and know when elk can be found there.

If you are considering a hunt in the plains units, make sure you know where the public land is and that elk should be using those areas at the time you want to hunt. Many of these units do not have any elk harvested during the season.

I no longer rank the Plains Rifle units because CPW makes it impossible to find or to separate the data.

For More info on Hunting Elk with OTC tags in Colorado and to see units maps, read my post here or download the newest Colorado Big Game Brochure here.


  1. Based on the information you provided and what I have seen on maps, I am looking at Unit 28 & 37. Which of these units would you recommend for a DIY OTC resident elk hunt? Thanks

    • Paul: I pointed you to this post in our previous conversation, so I posted your comment here.
      As for raw hunting data, Unit 28 ranks 19th of all units for total Bull Elk Harvest (Table 1) but ranked 64th for hunter success. Unit 37 ranked 45th (out of 90) with 57 Bull Elk harvested and only 8.7% of hunters were successful (ranked 72nd for success). Average hunter success in Colorado in 2015 was 13.4%.

      As for the number of total hunters, unit 28 ranked 10th with 1,221 hunters and unit 37 ranked 30th with 653 hunters. For reference, the “Average” unit in Colorado had 572 hunters and the median number of hunters is about 490 per unit.

      As I’ve said many times before, most hunters are unsuccessful in the best units and some hunters are 100% successful in the worst units.

      What is most important is that you and your son learn the country. Learn where and how to access areas, learn where to find the habitats and the terrain you want to hunt. I say you should hunt the unit you can spend the most time scouting.

      Why drive past elk to find elk? And always apply for cow tags so you have a better chance to put meat in the freezer.

      Good luck and let me know how the hunt goes.

  2. I have been reading through your DIY Elk Hunting Guide and also information provided at the State websites and at your site trying to determine which GMUs I should focus on. Based on what I have read so far I am leaning towards 74, 75, 751 and 77.

    Do you have any insight into these areas that I should consider as I focus my search for my September Archery Hunt?

    As these areas are so large my questions start with where to look for access, so that I can limit my hike in to less that 3 miles.

    Any insight/guidance would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance for any information.

    • Matt: I’m going to start by pointing you to this post where I ranked the top GMUs in Colorado for both total elk harvested and hunter success. Since you are interested in an Archery Hunt, look at Tables 2 and 3.

      Unit 74 made it into the top 20 units (14th) for total harvest in 2015, the other units were 21st, 26th and 46th place. For hunter success, neither unit made the top 20, but two of those unites were above the state wide average (GMU 74; 24th place at 12.8% success & unit 77, 27th place at 12.3%). Unit 75 was just below the state wide average at 11.0% and unit 751 was ranked in 41st place and with success of 8.9%, was well below the state average.

      I assume you have downloaded the Hermosa and the San Juan Basin Management plans (on the Colorado page I supply in the book; under Elk Plans (DAU Reports). If not, check those out as they supply information about herd management and about how much of the units are on public, private and native lands and also info about the of habitats. The Hermosa Units (74 & 741) are in the Colorado Plateau and the San Juan Basin Units (75,751, 77, 771 & 78) are in the Southern Rockies

      If you are not familiar with the area, it is a beautiful area with high rugged mountains. During Archery season, the elk will be everywhere between the high elevation alpine, the Spruce-Fir and Aspen and all the way down into in the Ponderosa pine and oak brush habitats.

      If the elk are bugling, they will not be hard to find, but it can be hard to get close. If it has been dry (and it usually is), elk will have to come to water.

      Do as much research as you can about finding water and the distance from roads you are looking for. There seem to be a fair amount of access to those units when I look at Google Earth, but also room to get away from the crowds.

      If this is your first hunt there, get in as much scouting as you can so you can learn the area. I’ll bet within a few days you will find what your are looking for and with a little luck, you will find elk too.
      Good luck and let me know how it goes.

  3. My first otc archery hunt, thanks for the great information to start with.

  4. My son was drawn for an either sex elk tag in Colorado zone 28 for the 4th rifle hunt. I am currently in Colorado and will be doing some scouting to get a feel for the area. Do you have any suggestions on areas I should scout? Thanks. (Moved to this post by

    • Paul: Sorry for the slow response, but I’ve been visiting relatives back in NC and VA and fishing. I know your hunt is not an OTC hunt, but I moved your post here so other’s can read it and my response. I don’t personally know anything about Colorado GMU 28.
      I am curious how you chose this unit?
      But after a little research, I can tell you that 59 total elk (11 bulls) were harvested in that unit during the 4th rifle season in 2016 by 460 hunters (hunted a total of 1,618 days) for a 12.8% success rate.
      This would be one of those units that I would hunt only if I had first hand knowledge of the area and how elk responded to weather and hunting pressure.
      That said, you (or you son) will be hunting there, so you need to start scouting.
      The 4th rifle season is Nov. 15 – 19 this year (2017), so the best time to scout will be during the 3rd rifle season and just before the hunt begins.
      Elk will have been shot at and chased around quite a bit by then, so you will probably have to get far from the roads to find them.
      Last year during that time a snotel station in the unit shows there was between 4 – 9 inches of snow at 11,000 feet during the hunt, so snow may be an issue, but you will probably be hunting much lower.
      Read the DAU report for unit 28 (DAU 13) here.
      The objective is over 4,700 elk for units 28, 37 and 371 combined.
      You will probably be hunting on the 250,258 of Forest Service lands (59% of the total area of 420,908 acres). There is also 27,330 acres of BLM lands in the unit east of Granby along the Fraser River and also west of Granby which are used by elk for winter range. Just don’t know how fast they will move down and how much human development is changing how elk use that land.
      I would suggest looking at areas on USFS lands that are close to wintering areas as elk will start moving from the forest about that time. Also look or public areas near private lands where elk could be seeking refuge.
      There will be lots of other hunters, so go where most will not go and you should have a good hunt (defined by me as not running into other hunters and seeing elk).
      Good Luck.

      • Your article and stat table have been very helpful. I’ve hunted unit 22 and 32 since I was a little boy with my dad up until age 20. The oil and gas closed things off and we stopped hunting it. I’ve only hunted those units during rifle season but this year, we are actually leaving Sept. 8th for a 10 day OTC archery elk hunt and am super excited about it.

        I see unit 22 and 32 have high success rate and the oil and gas def not going to stop me from going in there and finding elk during archery season. Seems to me these are still strong units to hunt during archery? Would love your feedback. Thank you

        • Sorry for the slow response Phil… I’ve been away from internet connection for a few days doing my own scouting. By now, you should be on your way to your hunt units in Colorado.
          I do not know those units specifically, but I have stopped hunting some of my favorite areas that have lots of oil and gas development. Not because the elk are no longer there, but because I don’t want to hear jack pumps while I’m hunting.

          You are correct though. If success rates are still high, the development will not hurt your chances of finding elk. They will get used to the traffic since most of it never leaves the roads.

          Let me know how your hunt went.
          Good Luck

          • Thanks for the response. I just got back from my hunt and we were on elk every day. Didn’t get a shot, but had a nice one at 70 yards the first evening at dark, was full draw but didn’t shoot. We got into the elk by hiking away from all the road hunters.

  5. I will be able to do some scouting the week before the hunt. I guess it will depend on the snow amount. I was really hoping we would be able to backpack hunt somewhere in the Arapaho National Forest, but we can be flexible depending on the weather. I plan on driving to Frazier and Granby this week to check out some county roads that look promising as access points. Thanks for your input. I’ll let you know how we make out.

  6. Hi I was just looking for some clarity about hunter access. There is a “DIY hunting” web site (which I won’t name but I am sure many are aware of) that helps narrow units appropriate to your entered criteria. One determinate is “poor access.” I am non resident, archery either sex tag hunter. I am fit and able to travel a ways but I did not want to commit to a unit if its hardly accessible. Is it a function of public access? or Physical access? I purchased your guide and it is EXTREMELY helpful ! Thanks for any tips on this matter

    • Hi JP. Most of the states also provide information about access. They warn about units that are primarily private land with limited access.

      In some cases, there are no public roads passing through private land. And in the “checkerboard” areas, there is lots of public land, but it is illegal to cross from corner to corner, so there is no access.

      I’m leery about sites claiming to show you the “best unit”. What criteria are they using?

      That is why I named this post Top Units and not “best units”. I simply ranked units by the numbers of elk harvested and the percentage of hunters that were successful. I leave it to you to decide if the combination of numbers of elk harvested, numbers of hunters, percentage of successful hunters etc. interests you.

      If you’ve read many of the questions I get and the answers I give, you will notice that I deflect/redirect questions about “what is the best unit?”. Whatever that is…

      Let’s assume good access/easy access/lots of access is your primary reason for choosing a hunt unit. At the same time, many hunters are looking for areas with limited access, because they know other hunters aren’t willing to go as far as they are.

      I wish some of the areas I hunt had worse access. Elk could benefit from the strategic closure of a few roads.

      Many hunters complain that there is not enough access on public lands. That they have to walk too far (or can’t drive their 4-wheeler) to get to places elk hang out. But that is exactly why elk hang out there. But some will never be happy until they can drive to every spot on public land.

      If you aren’t capable of hiking miles off the road in rough country, I completely understand. I will probably be limited to where I can hunt before another 10 seasons pass.

      But looking for easy access will probably guarantee you will be crowded with others looking for the same.

      One reason I recommend the first time a hunter goes to a new areas they should choose a unit where lots of elk were harvested. That also usually means lots of hunters, but it also means lots of elk and elk habitat is some balance of reasonable access without too much access.

      In most cases, if you are willing to get off the roads, you will find good places to hunt without too much competition.

      Instead of looking for the best access, I personally prefer to hunt certain elevation bands and habitats depending upon the time of season.

      I also prefer to hunt areas with long ridges or rolling hills over areas that are straight up and down, but where is that information available?

      You have to find those areas, either on topos, Google Earth or on the ground. You will earn them.

      If you are looking at maps with areas on public lands (National Forests, BLM lands or state lands, and you see roads; that is access. It may take time for a DIY hunter to find the spots they want to hunt, but isn’t that half the fun?

      I still say you can throw a dart at the map of National Forest lands in the state you want to hunt and simply go to that spot and start hunting.

      If you don’t find elk or fresh sign in areas with cover and water, go to higher or lower elevations depending on the time of year. If you spend your time hunting and not riding the roads or lounging in camp, most of the time, you will find elk.

      After all, most DIY Elk hunters come out west for the opportunity to hunt and the experience. To actually kill an elk would be a bonus.

      Good luck on your hunt.

  7. Charley Morgan says:

    I am currently planning for a 4th rifle season cow hunt in Colorado unit 70. This will be my first midwest hunt. I have been using OnX data along with other state available data but was wondering if you had any experience with this unit and if you had any recommended areas to start with. I know there may be snow on the ground and that could limit access to some of the areas.

    • Lots of cow elk taken off that unit last year. I assume you are hunting public land. I am more familiar with the Utah side of that area, but yes, there will be snow up high by mid November (going to snow above 7,000 feet here tonight (Sept 21). The questions will be is there enough snow to push animals down? Or will you have to climb to find them?

      Your hunt is only a 5 day hunt, so you don’t have time to mess around. I would start hunting on mid – lower elevation (7 – 8,000 ft) areas on National Forest lands. You will either find elk or the elk signs will tell you if you need to go up or down. If elk have moved down, start on the boundaries of USFS lands and state or BLM lands until you find them.
      Good luck

      • Charley Morgan says:

        We are hunting public land primarily BLM land. We are focusing our attention on the areas that are listed as Winter Concentration and have around 5 different areas to consider. We will have 3 full days to scout before season starts. Our primary focus will be some areas of BLM we found that is surrounded by private ranches. The glassing areas are on BLM with about a half mile on either side before you get to private. I know the weather will be a determining factor as to what elevation we hunt.

        Thanks again for your response.


        • In that case, you are hoping for lots of snow up high to push them down. Some years the snow will already be several feet deep (up high) and other years there will only be a dusting. I’ll bet most elk will still be on USFS lands by then. December would be a different story.

  8. Floyd Lehman says:

    We are planning to hunt 2018 second rifle in the Eagle area. Past years we hunted first rifle in area 44-444 the problem we ran into was the excessive amount of bikers not hunters looking at maybe exploring more of the wilderness areas. Also looking at area 35 Any insight on the options would be welcome. Thanks Floyd

    • Yes, there is no end to the challenges of hunting public land. At least mountain bikers stay on trails.

      I ranked the top units so DIY non-resident hunters and residents without local knowledge have a place to start planning for a hunt.
      Definitely do your own research, but unit 35 didn’t make my cut for many reasons.

      For starters, just look at the last harvest report (last report is from 2016), only 4 elk total were harvested in unit 35 (2nd rifle) by 262 hunters that spent 1,064 hunting days in the field. Now 4 hunters were 100% successful, but I bet they were all local guys that knew exactly where to go.

      Antlerless elk hunters did even worse (zero for 72). Unit 35 is not a place to hunt with OTC tags or cow elk tags if you don’t know the area.

      Units 44 and 444 aren’t in the top 23 for elk numbers or hunter success either.

      I’m sure there is a reason you started with units 44 and 444 and are looking north of the I-70 now to unit 35. Why not look at units 42 or 421?
      They are both just west on I-70 and both units made the top 20 for both elk numbers and hunter success.
      Good luck on your hunt and let me know where you end up and how you do.

  9. Floyd Lehman says:

    thanks for the input
    I will do more research on these units you mentioned

  10. What can you tell me about units 80 & 81 for a rifle hunt?

    • A man of few words. Most folks have at least one general question or just want me to tell them which unit is “best”.

      Before I begin, I should ask why these two units specifically and why Colorado in the first place?

      If you read the post (or looked at Table 1), you already know that units 80 & 81 made the top 15 list for total elk harvest for the 2nd Rifle Season with 82 and 94 bull harvested.

      Unit 80 also made the top 15 list for the 3rd Rifle Season (47 bulls), but with success rates at 10% or lower, both units were in or near the bottom third for hunter success for both general rifle seasons.

      These units get lots of hunting pressure. For the the 2nd Rifle Season, units 80 and 81 had 875 and 921 hunters, which ranked 5th and 4th highest.

      For the the 3rd Rifle Season, units 80 and 81 had 530 and 585 hunters, which ranked 16th and 11th highest.

      If we consider the total number of hunting days (effort) for these two units during both rifle seasons, units 80 & 81 rank 71st and 58th with 55.8 and 46.8 hunter days per elk harvest for the 2nd rifle season and they rank 44th and 64th with 52.2 and 77.4 hunter days per elk harvest for the 3rd rifle season.

      About 59% of GMU 80 is public land, so there is about 331,955 acres of public land to hunt. With 875 hunters during the 2nd rifle season and 530 hunters during the 3rd rifle season, that leaves between 379 and 626 public acres per hunter.

      GMU 81 is about 70% public land, so there is about 539,880 acres of public land to hunt. With 921 hunters during the 2nd rifle season and 585 hunters during the 3rd rifle season, that leaves between 586 and 923 public acres per hunter.

      These are not units I would hunt unless I had personal experience and knowledge in the area. Overall success is low, but lots of elk are harvested, so lots of hunters are 100% successful.

      If I applied these same “rules” to my own local hunting area, I would not hunt here. But I do hunt here because I do have knowledge of the area, despite high hunter density and low harvest success.

      If I had no other knowledge, I would chose a unit that ranked higher for both total harvest numbers and for hunter success.

      The best advice is to pick a place you like and spend lots of time there over the next few years. You will learn what you need to know.
      Good Luck

  11. Thanks for all the great info. I have read DIY Elk Hunting guide several times and found it very helpful as this will be my first Elk hunt. In the beginning of the article you say that OTC tags for 2018 are available now but CPW website says Aug 9. Am I missing something or did they change this since the article was written?


    • Thanks Ian.
      You are correct. I obviously saw (or thought I saw) something on the CDW site when I originally posted the article, but if they now say (and they do), OTC tags go on sale 9 a.m. (MDT) Aug. 9, then that is what we do…

      This is the hardest part of elk hunting in my opinion… We hunt, find and learn their rules if we want to play their game.

      I called CWD before and was told that OTC tags were good for only one unit. I called again and was told they were good for all listed units (They are good for all listed units).

      Good Luck on your elk hunt.

  12. My husband, son and son-in-law are planning to bow hunt in Colorado this year. Is there a better place to bow hunt, with better possibility of seeing elk, than others? I am trying to surprise them with a package. Since I am not a hunter, I have no idea what all of these charts are telling me. I would just like for someone to advise me the best place to bow hunt. Ideas???

    • Basically, if they go to any of the five Western States that have General Elk licenses and go to a National Forest and get off the roads, they will have a chance to see elk.

      I know everyone wants to know the best of everything, but I really don’t know what “best” means to most people. I could probably guess at places that are better than others, but nobody can tell you the best. Even the “worst” units have a few hunters that are 100% successful.

      If they are planning a bow hunt in Colorado, I assume they have already determined that Colorado is best (as apposed to Montana, Utah or Wyoming) for some reason.

      The charts you refer to simply show ranked elk harvest numbers and success rates for hunt units for the general elk hunt on public land.

      Depending upon what you mean by “package”, they may be hunting on landowner tags on private land, so my charts would not be applicable.

      If you are going to buy a hunting “package” for them, your problem is to figure out which outfitter or guide is “best” for them at a price you can afford.

      I know a few outfitters and guides in Utah, but most people come to this website to learn to do it themselves.

      It is an awesome gift you are giving them. I wish someone were trying to get a package for me… I would probably trade it for an Alaskan Fishing trip, because I know where to find elk and I prefer to do it myself anyway.

      But good luck to you and to them on their hunt.

  13. paul graham says:

    I have drawn a 1st season elk tag for units 77, 78, 771. Do you know of an area in these you units I should scout.

    • Your hunt is Oct. 13-17. Above 9,000 feet it can be warm and dry or you could have a foot of snow by Mid Oct. If dry, I would look for elk up high. If it snows, some will stay be high, but some will start moving down into the P.J. (7,000 feet or lower). Lots of country in those units including wilderness.

      Forget about specific areas, but start looking for areas you can access and then hike in. It will all change depending on the snow.

      You will most likely find elk where few people have gone. That said, it is not unusual to find them as they move from high to low country or get pushed out of one area by other hunters.

      If dry, look for water. If wet, look for tracks. Scouting for elk is as much about learning the country as it is about finding elk. Like war plans, hunting plans change the second the first hunter shuts the truck door.

      Some like to sit and glass large areas. I like to push into and around thick forested areas (north and east faces) and see what I can find.

      Good Luck & let me know how it goes.

  14. Mark Richmann says:

    I’m taking my daughter bow hunting for elk this fall as a reward for getting her bachelors in nursing degree. The area I rifle hunted with the guys a few years ago is closed to OTC bow. After reading the above information I decided to look at area 62. I pulled out my maps and found that I had area 62 mapped out as it was our second choice from our last trip. It looks like a large area with several good draws. Any chance of finding out from you the best areas. I’m looking at ordering topo maps soon so if you could provide names of the maps that would be great.

    Looks like from my Colorado map book most of 62 is public land other than the city areas. Is that true? I plan on driving my 4 by 4 pick up pulling a 16 foot trailer. Are the fire roads in good shape or should I try to travel with just the truck? Also having trouble finding rules for bow. We use red dot scopes and I think that might be illegal there. My bow is getting hard to pull these days due to a bad shoulder and I’m 62. If I can’t crank it down I was going to look at cross bows but that is probably illegal too. Is there a age or handicap exception for cross bows?
    Thank you for your information. Mark

    • Mark Unit 62 was the highest ranking unit for elk harvest (bow) in 2016 and also ranked highly for hunter success. But also had lots of hunters.
      As far as best areas? What does that even mean? Best for driving everywhere? Best for hiking in where nobody else will? Best elk habitat? Or as your other question; best for hunting from a camper?
      Unit 62 is 70% public land, but during bow season you will probably need to hunt higher elevations, so mostly on US Forest Service lands (17%).
      Anyone can hunt with a crossbow in Colorado during the rifle season.
      And no Red dot scope on bow (see rules page 25 in 2018 regs)
      unless you get an ACCOMMODATION PERMIT. Get APPLICATION here to see if you can use a crossbow or red-dot scope.
      Congrats to your daughter on her degree and good luck on your hunt.

  15. Taylor Ladenburger says:

    Would you mind explaining what Days/Harvest can be interpreted and how it was calculated?

    • Sure Taylor:

      Another way to compare hunt units and hunt seasons is to look at the total number of Hunter-days compared to the total elk harvest. Most states do surveys to ask hunters how many days they actually hunted. The 2nd rifle season in Colorado is 5 days long, but most people don’t hunt everyday. A guy that kills an elk the first day obviously doesn’t hunt any more days (he may help a buddy, but technically he is no longer hunting).

      So I simply add up the total elk harvest and the total number of hunter-days and then divide the number of elk by the total number of days; harvest days.

      For example; in the left side of Table 1, unit 4 had 28.0 hunter days per elk harvested and unit 62 had 59.2 hunter days per elk harvested. So it will take the average hunter about 5 years to harvest an elk in unit 4 and about 10 years to harvest an elk in unit 62.

      I think this is a good comparison, because each unit should get it’s fair share of hard working hunters and lazy hunters. What I mean by this is all hunter days (according to the raw numbers) are equal. But we know they are not equal because one hunter may hike 12 miles in a day and another may drive around for 15 minutes and each can say they hunted that day.

      The reality of elk hunting in the west, most people put in very little effort. That is why 10% of the hunters harvest 90% of the elk.

      Good luck on your hunt.

  16. Ashley Coulson says:

    hello hunters,
    I am trying to get a second or third rifle tag in unit 13 just 13. I am going to go out for a few weekends and Scot to see if I see any signs of elk. Can I get some advice on where to start or what are a couple this spot. I’m not ask for your honey spot. just an area to beginning. This will be my forth year going out and I have not got anything yet but I still have hope.

  17. BC,

    I am a military man trying to harvest a bull elk before leaving this beautiful state, most likely summer of 2019 so this will be my last go at it. I was planning on hunting either 2nd or 3rd season OTC. I have been out elk hunting a couple times here, but have not had any success. Some days I put 12 miles or more on my boots and I am willing to go to the hard places and do the hard work. If you were in my situation, what unit would you hunt if it were your last shot at a bull elk? No where in the state that offer an OTC tag is out of the question for me.

    • First, thank you for your service. Second, lots of people don’t harvest an elk. The highest 2nd season rifle success rate was in unit 13 with 24% and it took 17.5 hunter days for each elk harvested. The 24% implies it will take 4 years for the average person to get an elk. The 17.5 days per elk implies it will take two full seasons to harvest and elk.
      The average hunter only hunted 4.2 out of the 9 days. How many days did you hunt?
      Did you find fresh elk sign? Did you see elk?

      I hunted 21 days last season (ML Buck, General Spike Elk Rifle and ML cow elk). In my state, I could have taken a cow elk any of those days because I hunted within that cow unit. I saw elk 9 times in 7 different areas and still didn’t harvest and elk.

      Obviously, putting in 12 miles per day is not the complete answer. Every one of the OTC units have elk, so elk are out there. The more time you spend where elk are the more likely you will run into them.

      So where are the elk going to be between October 20 – 28 (this year’s 2nd Rifle season in Colorado). That depends on many factors; like rain, snowfall, dry weather and human activity. During that time of year, elk could be between 5,000 feet up to 11,000 feet or higher. But unless it snows they will not be spending much time on South facing slopes or areas where humans spend much time or areas without water.

      No need to drive all over the state to find elk. Why drive past elk to find elk? Hunt close to home where you should have the best knowledge of the land. If you don’t have knowledge of the land, then spend time now before the hunt learning the area.

      Giver yourself the best chance possible. Hunt every day possible and hunt all day everyday. If several days in one place turn up nothing (as in no fresh sign), try another place. If you find fresh sign, take you time and find the elk. When you find them, do not run them off. Be very careful, always pay attention to the wind.

      For the most part, most of the rut will be over. So bull elk will be recovering from the breeding season and trying to put on fat to survive the winter. They will be in places where most people don’t want to go. They may be alone or with buddies. A few will still be chasing cows still in heat.

      You probably need to just keep doing what you were doing. Put in the time and the miles. Get off the roads and trails with traffic and find areas that have water and thick cover.

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

  18. Matthew Haywood says:

    As southern college students looking to hunt elk for the first time, your articles have been extremely helpful in determining if that was even a possibility, so thank you. So in your personal opinion, where would you hunt OTC archery this coming season if you were young and not afraid of getting well off the beaten path. Our group has plenty of hunting experience(just not with elk) and most of us are avid backpackers so mobility and terrain shouldn’t be a limiting factor. Any additional advice (gear, tactics, etc.) would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks in advance!

    • Mathew: First, if you are talking about the 2018 season, the OTC and general season bow hunts are over for most states. If you are talking about the 2019 season, all the things you are asking about is in my I wrote the book for guys like you, just like having a conversation with all my Southern friends and relatives that ask “what do I need to do and know to come out there and elk hunt”.
      Good luck and let me know where you decide to hunt and how it went.

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