Hunt Elk in Colorado with Over-the-Counter Elk Tags in 2022

colorado OTC elk either sex archery units

colorado otc elk archery either sex hunt map Map 1. Western Colorado Archery Either Sex Elk Over-the-Counter Hunt Units (GMUs). Public Land shown in Yellow, Private land shown in White. No OTC tags in grey GMUs.

Want to hunt elk every year in Colorado without having to draw a tag?

Residents and Non-residents can buy Elk Licenses Over-the-Counter (OTC) in many GMUs in Colorado (Table 1).

There are two OTC archery hunts, an Either-Sex and an Antlerless hunt (same dates) and three OTC rifle seasons; 2nd Rifle Season, 3rd Rifle Season and a Plains Rifle Season in eastern Colorado.

Hunters with OTC Either-sex Archery tags can hunt in 137 of Colorado’s 184 elk units (Game Management Units – GMU’s).

Table 1. Over-the-Counter Elk Tags Available to Non-residents in Colorado for 2022 (not available yet)

Season Sex GMUs Public 2021 Season* Reference Map
OTC Elk Archery Either Sex 134 Sep 2 – Sep 30 Map 1 West; Map 2 East
OTC Elk Archery Antlerless  51 Sep 2 – Sep 30 Map 3
OTC 2nd Rifle Antlered  93 Oct 30 – Nov 7 Map 4
OTC 3nd Rifle Antlered  93 Nov 13 – Nov 19
OTC Plains Rifle Either Sex  53 Sep 2 – Jan 31 (2022) Map 5

* Dates finalized by mid of February every year, dates are correct for 2021 now.

2022 Colorado Hunting License Fees

Non-resident elk tags includes a fishing license and the cost for Non-residents in 2022 is $670.25 for Bull Elk (Antlered) or Either Sex Elk tags and $503.12 for cow/calf (Antlerless). The cost for Non-resident Youth tag is $102.78. Plus everyone 18 – 64 also has to buy a $10.40 habitat stamp.

For Colorado residents, elk tags do not include a small game hunting or fishing license. The cost for small game license is $50.37 and the cost is $30.11 for Bull Elk (Antlered), Either Sex Elk tags or for cow/calf (Antlerless). The cost for Resident Youth tag is $1.26 for small game and $15.68 for elk tags. Residents aged 18 – 64 also need a $10.13 habitat stamp.

These OTC tags go on sale on Aug. 6 this year (2021). These licenses are unlimited on public land, but most private land tags are limited.

Hunt many GMUs in Colorado with OTC Elk Tags

colorado elk hunt map otc archery either sex east 2018

Map 2. Eastern Colorado Archery Either Sex Elk Over-the-Counter Hunt GMUs. Public Land shown in Yellow, Private land shown in White. No OTC tags available in black GMUs.

In the past, there has been some confusion about how many units could be hunted with the OTC tags in Colorado.

You can choose any GMU that allows the type of hunt you want and you can hunt in all GMUs.

For example (see Map 1 or Map 3), you could hunt in GMU 72 one day in southern Colorado, then drive all the way to the northern part of the state and hunt GMU 3 the next day.

You will have to decide on only one of the six OTC hunts (three Archery, three Rifle) in Table 1.

You can also try to draw additional antlerless or either-sex tags or buy left-over tags, but you can only hunt with one OTC license.

colorado elk hunt map antlerless OTC archery

Map 3. Western Colorado Archery Antlerless Elk Over-the-Counter Hunt Units. Public Land shown in Yellow, Private land shown in White. No OTC tags available in grey units. Notice map has been broken into north-west and south-central sections (Click on this map for Hi-res image).

Historically, just over a half of all elk hunters in Colorado take over a quarter of all elk with OTC tags. The latest available harvest data (2019) is shown in Table 2.

As with most General or OTC Elk tags, hunter success with OTC tags is lower than Limited Tags.




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Table 2. 2020 OTC Colorado Elk Harvest and Hunting Success by Season

Season Total Elk Total Hunters Success Days per Harvest
All OTC Rifle combined  14,341    88,685  16.1%     28.0
OTC 2nd Rifle   7,951    49,521  16.1%     29.1
OTC 3rd Rifle   6,390    39,434  16.2%     26.7
All Archery   5,366    53,426  10.0%     71.2

More elk are harvested every year in Colorado than any other state (read post on harvest comparison), but Colorado also has the most elk hunters.

Lots of non-resident hunters choose to hunt Colorado because it has the most elk, but also because it is the closest state to many hunters in the east and the mid-west.

Hunter success seems very low both rifle seasons, but keep in mind that many people also hunt with Limited Antlerless tags at the same time or during other seasons.

How Colorado OTC Harvest Data Derived

colorado archery bull elk hunt map

Map 4. Western Colorado Over-the-Counter Elk Hunt Units (Archery and 2nd & 3rd Seasons). Public Land shown in Yellow, Private land shown in White. No OTC tags available in grey units (Click on this map for Hi-res image).

In previous years, I used to take the time and tried to separate out data for just the OTC GMUs in Table 1, This was difficult because those data are not reported directly by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

My ultimate goal for analyzing OTC and General Season harvest data is to be able to compare harvest, success, elk density and hunter density between different GMUs in different states. Some of the states make it easy to see only the general season harvest data, but others don’t. Colorado is one of the states that doesn’t.

It is easy to compare total harvest to total harvest, but we need the data separated because there are big differences between OTC Bull Only and Limited Bull or Limited Cow hunts. There is very little value in comparing apples to oranges.

CPW reports the combined Limited and OTC archery hunt data. But only one unit (851) has both Limited Entry and OTC archery hunts (and those hunts are separated by OTC hunts being off the State Wildlife Area and the Limited Entry units are on the SWA), so there is no overlap in space (GMUs) between OTC or Limited Archery hunts.

So the OTC Archery data could be separated by simply adding the data from all units with OTC tags. If we wanted to see just the Limited Archery data, we could then subtract that OTC data from the total Archery data.

There is a question of what to do about the private land only OTC units (4, 5, 12, 23, 24, 32, 33 and 441).

Since most first-time DIY elk hunters and non-resident hunters usually hunt on public land, I omit these units from the data in Table 1 and these units are not shown on Maps 1 or 3.

As for the rifle seasons, the OTC rifle tags are good for the 2nd or 3rd rifle seasons. Again, there is no overlap in space with any of the Limited Bull (Antlered) hunt during the same times, but there are many Limited Antlerless (cow/calf elk) hunts going on during both seasons.

CPW reports harvest data for all 2nd and 3rd rifle seasons and they also report harvest data for all 2nd and 3rd antlerless rifle seasons, so if the Antlerless data (per unit) is subtracted from the total data, that should leave only the OTC rifle harvest data.

But there are problems with that method since there are 68 hunts (antlerless or either sex) that overlap either the 2nd OTC rifle season or both the 2nd and 3rd OTC seasons that are not included with either the 2nd or 3rd antlerless rifle season data. Out of those 68 hunts, 57 are on private land only tags, so they could be omitted, but that still leaves data for 11 cow elk hunts that are still included with the OTC data.

So lots of effort to get imperfect harvest data.

So I decided to simply take all harvest from the 2nd and 3rd rifle seasons and simply remove all data from units that were not have OTC tags.

So the data is for the OTC units during the 2nd and 3rd rifle season, but includes antlerless hunters and their harvests.

The question about hunting effort is basically: How many days did you hunt?

So hunting only an hour vs. hiking and hunting hard all day long are both considered an equal day of hunting (not to mention everyone’s memory is not perfect).

Another problem with harvest data in Colorado is it estimated for herd units (Data Analysis Units – DAUs) and not by hunt units, by hunt seasons or by hunt codes (though it could be if CPW made it a priority).

So my attempts to get at the truth using imperfect data were not be perfect, but I hoped they were close enough to compare oranges to oranges (or to General Seasons in Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming), but I am beginning to think none of these states want that to happen.

This has gotten into more detail than I wanted, but since this data is not available anywhere else I wanted to explain how it was derived.

The OTC plains rifle season harvest data is not reported separately and I do not know how to tease that data from the tables as reported, so those hunters and harvests are not part of the All OTC Combined harvest.

Colorado Over-the-Counter Hunt Unit Maps

colorado otc elk plains rifle season hunting map

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

In all of the map images (Maps 1-5), I superimposed public land on top of the Colorado elk units that have OTC tags available for both resident and non-resident hunters.

The maps show which units have OTC elk tags and the relative amount of public land in the various hunt units.

Obviously, you will need more detailed maps before you can hunt, but these maps show which units are available for each type of tag and where to find the most public land.

Example: Most out of state hunters will probably want to hunt in western Colorado since there is less public land in eastern Colorado (compare Maps 1 and 3 to Maps 2 and 5).

For OTC Antlerless and Either-sex Archery tags are also valid in on private land only units 4, 5, 12, 23, 24, 33 and 441. Unit 32 is also valid with an Either-sex Archery tag.

I only included units that allow hunting on public and/or private lands. Private land only units are left out.

Hunting on Colorado State Trust Lands

In Colorado, only some of the State Trust Lands are open to public hunting as opposed to most other western states where most state lands are open to hunting.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife obtained access to 550,000 acres (State Trust Lands in Colorado totals nearly 3,000,000 acres) by leasing the land. The land can be accessed between Sept. 1 through Feb. for hunting.

It is a shame that the other 2.4 million acres 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 occupy the 16th and 36 section of many townships in Colorado, but you can not hunt on most of those sections. Each section is one square mile, which is 640 acres.

Colorado Hunting Maps & Hunting Accessories

Federal 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.

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.

The western part of Colorado is primarily mountainous and is mostly in the Southern Rockies and Colorado Plateau ecoregions, but also includes part of the Wyoming Basin in the northwest and and the Arizona/New Mexico Plateau in the south.

The ecoregions found in Eastern Colorado are the High Plains (north-east) Southwestern Tablelands (south-east).

Elk primarily live in the mountainous parts of the Southern Rockies and Colorado Plateau, 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.


  1. Backcountry Chronicles says

    OTC Elk Tags are on Sale Now and Left-over Limited Licenses go on Sale August 1st check here.

    • I really appreciate free, succinct, reliable data like this.

      • Thanks. I hope you have a great hunt. Appologies for removing your link, but it did not work.

        • Hi can you please advise how and where I can buy the tags?

          • Sorry for the slow reply, but I have been on my elk hunt. It is probably too late to find any tags for this year unless you buy private land owner tags, which can be very expensive.
            I suggest your boss learn what he needs to know to apply for Limited Entry Elk tags or buy OTC tags for next year. Better get ready fast, you have to apply by end of January for some tags (LE tags in Wyoming for non-residents).

    • Scott McDonald says

      Thanks for your website.
      I see that the success rate for 4th season rifle is pretty good.
      Do you know the success rate for 4th season in zone 24?

      I looked at the CO DNR page and I found it hard to read.


      • Yes, just download the latest report (2016 Elk Harvest).
        I’m not sure why you think 17% hunter success is “pretty good”, but I can’t fault you for being optimistic.
        In 2016, GMU 24 had 166 hunters harvest a total of 19 elk (7 bulls) in 642 days of hunting for a 11.4% success rate. 24 of those hunters were 100% successful.

        • Scott McDonald says

          We got back last week from our hunt. Seven hunters and we harvested 6 Elk! 3 bulls and 3 cows. We did use a guide out of Meeker and they were a huge part of the success and fun. We made sure we were prepared to hike and shoot and they put us into hunting opportunities.

          Thanks for your web site!

          • That is a lot of meat. Love to see a picture.
            Which unit did you decide on?
            Using a guide definitely helps save time when you don’t know the country.
            Now do you think you are prepared for a DIY hunt?

          • Scott Replied with this comment:
            We hunted unit 24.
            Not sure about 100% DIY hunt.
            We grew up hunting, hiking and farming and never paid for a guide.
            Tel & his team took us 6 miles into wilderness on horses, way beyond where we could hike to.
            They knew the Elk were moving and helped everyone get out of their comfort zone hiking to get an opportunity.
            Might go from a guided hunt to a drop camp.

            Scott sent pics of their hunt”

            Pic 1 This is our 14 year old and this was his B-day present. Each stack is one animal except the “one” carton goes with the stack beside it; the big bull.
            Our 14 year old shot a nice big cow.
            Pic 2 Me, my 2 brothers and our 4 sons. Each of the sons shot an Elk.
            Pic 3 Nice 6X6 but huge body
            Pic 4 Meat from 6X6 quartered in bags

            Congrats on a successful hunt. Looks like a great time.
            What are you going to do with all that meat?
            Here are a few of my ideas:
            Smoked Sausage
            Corned Elk and Pastrami

          • Scott McDonald — who was the outfitter you used out of Meeker for Unit 24?
            thanks, Dan

          • Scott’s Answer: Tel Gates at Rivers Bend Outfitting.
            Tel is 6th generation Colorado rancher and his father Kip guided before him.

          • Scott,
            Mind sharing the outfitter near Meeker you used? email at tcook.triplecrown at Gmail
            Thanks! TC

          • Hunted with friend, no outfitter. Was on Ranching For Wildllife lands.

        • Generally the have moved west toward the Utah border, all depends on the weather.

    • sean maitner says

      A wonderful resource. I am looking to do a DIY over the counter Colorado Elk hunt next year. I will be purchasing your reasonably priced guide as a reference as I notice you are quite active on these boards with comments and helpful links. Thanks for putting a dream hunt within reach of an everyday Michigander. What GMU unit(s) in Colorado do you recommend researching for a first timer with a 7mm rem mag hoping for a bull Elk?

      • Sean: We actually have a Vet Group from Michigan (Zero Day) on a DIY Archery Elk Hunt here now (Since Aug 17; Today is Aug 31, 2017).
        They are doing it DIY, I just helped them choose an area to concentrate on. Last I heard, they were seeing elk and passed on a 5X5 Bull.
        But they also told me the GPS said they covered 90 miles (on foot) the first 3 days.

        First, I recommend looking at the more populated units. Populated with elk and yes, populated with other hunters. The two go together, but that is probably your best chance to find elk on a first time hunt. I wrote this post to explain more and point you in the right directions.

        If you are more interested in quality “alone” time, I wrote this post to explain how to use harvest data to choose an elk unit. Those posts will link you to other posts about how to choose a hunt unit.

        After you read my Diy Elk Hunting Guide, you should realize that elk hunting is more about logistics than tactics and your best chance of finding elk will be in places other hunters don’t want to go.

        The book links to many resources that you will want/need to choose your elk unit.

        Good Luck and let me know your hunt goes.

        • Sean asked me another question by email:
          Thanks, one last question. Does your guidebook offer info on any hunting or mapping applications for smart phones that may come in handy out west in Colorado on a hunt?

          Thanks and see you online.

          My book has lots of information about where to find state and hunting maps. It doesn’t have a lot of specific information about applications for smart phones, because that is the easiest information to find.

          You can get OnX hunt maps, Garmin hunt maps and the new DIY hunting maps at Cabela’s (Click here to see smart phone hunt maps).

    • Hey my names Steven and I’m looking to drive out to Colorado and purchase a license and tag for a bull elk hunt with archery equipment. I understand there’s many many acres of public land I can drive to and hike into the woods and hunt.

      • Yes, you can hunt elk in Colorado with archery gear with OTC tags and yes, there is plenty of public land to hunt elk on.

        The best advice I can give you is to start planning your trip as soon as possible, start getting in shape for hiking and sleeping at high altitudes and start scouting maps and Google Earth for places to camp and hunt.

        The elk are on the landscape and if you get out there, you have a good chance of running into them.
        Good Luck.

  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. Remember In Colorado, you are restricted to hunt only one unit (in most cases). You can’t hunt any all units (spike or any bull) like you can in Utah.
      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. 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.

          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.

    • I suggest the Salida area… lots of public land.
      Also, maps are available that tell you what is public land and private land as well as migratory information.

  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?

  12. Russell Ward says

    Sir, I’m from south Arkansas and have always dreamed of hunting a elk of any kind. I recently retired and have time now. I really can’t afford a guide and have no friends up north. Do you know somebody who would take me hunting. I can pay my way and some extra. I am retired law enforcement and am 100% honest and trustworthy. Russell Ward. Contact Russell with comment here.

    • Hi Russell:
      I post this with the hope that it helps you find a hunting partner. I had another fellow from Minnesota interested in an elk hunt to to share expenses.

      But for elk, think out West and not up North.

      I withheld your phone number for security reasons. If anyone leaves a comment here, I will make sure it is forwarded to your email.

      I know there are a few websites on the internet designed to help people find hunting and fishing partners.

      There is the Outdoorbuddyfinder facebook page and the partner search at Also try searching for “find a hunting buddy”. I have seen threads like this from time to time on many different hunting forums.
      Good Luck

    • Used to hunt NW Colorado, but now hunt some in NE Utah. Weather wise, it’s best to be done hunting before 1st of November.

  13. Great info! I will be moving to Colorado in August 2015 and plan on taking about 30 days of leave during our PCS move from Alaska. Not new to Colorado but ELK hunting I am. If you don’t mind could you email me some info on the GMUs close to Fort Carson and some others as time is always an issue with training. I primarily bow hunt.



    • Clifton: You will have to grub through the CDW website and regs yourself. One thing you will learn is that the state agencies, ease of use and customer service do not belong in the same sentence. If you want to hunt elk, you will have to learn what you have to do and when and where you can do it.

      My DIY Elk Hunting Guide does show you where to find all the important things you need to know (for each of 7 Western States with over-the-counter elk tags) and where to find them. I also show which GMUs are in each National Forest. Since GMUs include private land, I would start with a National Forest and determine which GMUs are in the forest you want to hunt.

      Good Luck with the move and with the elk hunt.

  14. Hi Dan, I purchased you book “DIY Elk Hunting Guide” last week. I would like to say thank you for that! As a rookie in the elk world your book is an asset for someone like myself. The 2016 season will be my first attempt at hunting in the mountains.

    After reviewing the 2014 Elk harvest reports for Colorado I narrowed down a few units for the second OTC rifle season I “think” should be good areas with lower hunting pressure. My plan is to pick a unit and go to Colorado in late spring/early summer to do some scouting. (I live in the Kansas City area).

    Could you give me advice on these areas? Maybe something I’m not considering as far as terrain, weather, access to the hunting etc for these units. even with the resources you have outline I’m still rather insecure about my thought process lol. I will leave my chosen units here with some positives/negatives of the units that my research has found. If you can add some insight it would be much appreciated.

    Unit 31 – Good elk population – average of good bulls – no forest service range – looks to be a lot of private land.

    Unit 53 – decent elk population – low pressure- some 300+ bulls. I’m reading there is only western access to this unit.

    Unit 65 – Good elk population – average of good bulls – 50/50 on hunting pressure – can be very rugged areas

    Units 75/751 – the harvest reports indicate low pressure – good elk population – internet rumblings indicate LOTS of hunting pressure.”Texas”

    If you think I’m way off base on my thinking or have recommendations of another area entirely, I am all ears.

    • First, thanks for purchasing the book and thanks for the comment. I hope you learn something and I know you will enjoy hunting elk, especially DIY elk hunting.

      2nd, Just like you, I have to research all units except my local units. I have hunted Colorado, but I do not live in Colorado… I will look at the units you chose and make comments and suggestions. Maybe others will respond with comments as well.

      It is good that you have started your research. Half the fun is getting ready. Use the resources I point to in the DIY Elk Hunting Guide. In your case use the hunt planner at the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Section.

      Also look at pictures of habitats and National Forests that are in my book. For example unit 53 in partly in the Gunnison N.F., so look at photos to get an idea of habitat and terrain.

      A quick comment… Late Spring/Early Summer may be too early to get into the high country for scouting… Many higher passes do not open until after the 1st of July and many roads are too wet to travel, but that depends on how much snow the mountains get this Winter.

      Also, will you be hunting by yourself? How old are you? What kind of shape are you in? I will be 60 next elk season (still can’t get my head around that one), but proved to myself this year that I can still climb a mountain or two, but just not as fast as I used to. Getting into an area to hunt is one thing, packing an elk out is something else (especially without horses).

      Give me a few days to check out your chosen units.

    • Brandon: You have probably researched most of the same things I would. You already chose 4 or 5 units and have your pros and cons based on numbers and quality of bull elk, hunting pressure, public land and access. Truth is, people kill elk in every unit by the hundreds. (41,900 elk were harvested in Colorado in 2014)

      What you are really looking for is local knowledge. That is the real challenge of a DIY Elk hunt in a place you are not familiar. You are at a disadvantage to locals about where to camp, where to hunt and how to get back and forth between camp and hunting areas. You can learn some of that when you scout the area you pick this Summer. But like they say about battle plans, they change the instant you contact the enemy, so will your hunting plans change as soon as you actually see the habitat and terrain. You can see elk miles away in some places and then try to figure out how to get to them. In other places, you will have to find them on foot (or by ear) and then try to figure out how to sneak in on them.

      You will gain local knowledge every day in the field. I suggest trying different units (or even different states) over the next several years until you find a place you have to return to every year. In Colorado, you can only hunt in the one unit each year, but it would take a lifetime to learn everything about each unit.

      I have my favorite places to hunt, but try to hunt a new place for a few days every year. That way, I get to see and experience new country, find new “honey holes” and expand my knowledge of the area and about elk in general. Your first elk hunt will be about learning a new area and having a new experience. If you get out and put in the miles every day of the hunt, you should find elk. Now, getting the elk you want or one that you have a tag for to get into the back of your truck is another thing.

      Hunter Success in Colorado in 2014 was 19.2%. That means the average hunter has to hunt 5.2 years for each elk killed. Now, a lot of hunters only hunt a few days and many only drive around and look for elk that want to get into the back of the truck. It happens enough that people continue to hunt that way, but don’t count on it. In my DIY Elk Hunting Guide, you probably read the story of the guy that hunted for 16 years before he saw his first elk. A guy like that drags the hunting success average down. In reality, if you get off the roads and hunt hard, your chance for success is much higher. Like many things, it probably follows the 80-20 rule where 20% of the hunters kill 80% of the elk, leaving 80% of the hunters only 20% of the elk.

      In my book find the State Licenses, Tags and Lingo Chapter, then go down and find Colorado in the “Links to Important Hunting Information in Each State” Section. Then follow the link “See Individual Elk Herd Plans” on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Page (also here). Go down to elk and click map (also here) to download pdf of DAUs and GMUs. You need this or you will never find which unit (GMU) is in which DAU (Data Analysis Unit). So you see GMU 53 is in DAU E-52. So download E-52 (Coal Creek/Fruitland Mesa) (also pdf here). Download all the Elk Herd plans for each of the units you like (E-35 is missing).

      In Colorado, these reports will tell you everything you could possible want to know about elk numbers and movement as well as habitats, hunting pressure and harvests and the amount of public land within each unit. The only thing lacking is a good detailed map. Perhaps this is where you got your information already?

      There are many for sale, and some free topo maps sites, but I also suggest downloading Google Earth. Here is a kml file for all Colorado GMUs. The kml file will show the GMU outlines in Google Earth.

      I’ve looked at the units you selected in Google Earth and I would sure like to check out many of the places in each unit.

      Your hunt is almost a year away, so start planning, exploring maps and get into high elevation hunting shape. You will have a blast.

  15. Hi Dan,

    Thanks for the quick response. I had not taken into consideration the conditions that late in June, I will definitely plan to go mid July or so now.

    I will be 35 during next season. I have made a hand full of trips to the ski resorts over the years so I have a fair amount of experience with the altitude.

    One of my biggest concerns is packing out if I am lucky enough to harvest. The original plan was just me and a friend, but now my wife decided that she would like to go and my father-in-law as well. Neither will hunt. My father-in-law has spent a considerable amount of time in the Rockies as a hiker, but has no hunting skills whats so ever.

    That being said I feel like I will have a descent amount of help packing out if I harvest. I love that my wife and father in law want to participate, but I am a little concerned about the ruckus of four people tromping through the mountains as it pertains to the hunt.

    Thanks, Brandon

    • It is good you have some experience with altitude… It is awesome your wife and father-in-law want to go along, but remember to watch everyone carefully above 8,000 feet for fatigue and flue-like symptoms. A young man from Michigan died from altitude sickness on a hunt in Wyoming this year.

      I suggest all of you start a workout program (if not already on one). It doesn’t have to be a big deal. I basically make sure I walk everyday. I prefer to hike in rough country, but have to walk around the neighborhood to get the walk in about half the time. We all need to be getting 10,000 steps everyday anyway, just for long term health.

      Before your hunt, increase your walk and start carrying a pack. You will be glad you did, when you see some of the ridges you will want to climb. At least Kansas city is about 1,000 feet instead of 300 ft. I live at 5,600 ft, so I have a head start on you. I hunted places this year (alone) above 9,500 ft where I had to drop down 500-600 ft, climb up the next ridge 500-600 ft and then drop down another 1,000 feet. Long hike back up and out, but I slept good at night. Two vehicles would be nice to have sometimes.

      The pack out will be tough, but not impossible for 4 people. Last year, my wife and I quartered and packed an elk ½ mile in 6 hours. It will be a story you will remember and tell for years. Just field dress and/or quarter (de-bone to save more weight) your elk quickly and keep meat in the shade and or in the snow when resting. The 2nd OTC rifle season will be Oct 22 – 30 next year. October is usually dry, but there is a good chance there will be some snow above 7,000 feet by then. Temperature at elevation will be lower than you may think, but the Sun will be warmer than you can imagine.

      Check out some weather station data at different altitudes…
      For example Aspen, Co is just under 8,000 feet. Avg High between Oct 22 – 30 is between 52 – 55°F. You will lose 5°F on average for every 1,000 feet you climb in elevation.
      So average hi could be 47 – 50°F at 9K and 42 – 45°F at 10K. See, the meat is already in the fridge even during the warmest time of the day. Record temps ranged between 7 – 75°F in Aspen, so -7 – 65° at 10K. Aspen averages 11 inches of snow in October, so higher elevations usually have more.

      4 people can make lots of noise after the leaves start to fall especially if it’s dry. But scent control is always more important. Stop using all the scents before you leave. No colognes or perfumes, use unscented deodorants and wash your clothes with unscented detergent and do not use those scented dryer sheets. Products like Dead Down Wind help, but they work better when you are snoozing in a blind than when you are humping over a mountain. At camp, change clothes so they don’t smell like smoke. You can even put your hunting clothes in a bag with local plants and/or tree branches for a natural pine scent.

      Windy days are great, easy to work into the wind and the noise from the wind masks most of the noise you make. But also makes it very hard for 300+ yard shots. When the wind is quiet, it will be a challenge to move quietly and always stop when the wind is at your back.

      Work hard to get close for a shot, but start practicing at 6 – 8 inch targets between 100 – 250 yards. I remember reading somewhere on Colorado P & W website that the average shot distance at elk is about 168 yards. The kill zone is about 14 inches, but practice so you can hit 6 – 8 inches 90% of the time. Remember the ballistics of your bullet will change with elevation. Thin air at elevation offers less resistance, so bullet shoots flatter. But average wind speed can be 20 mph.

      Back to looking at your units…

  16. Will definitely watch the scent control. I think I have used about every product available from the retailers and field change my clothes strait to a tote and into the freezer when I get home for whitetail hunts here at home.

    Will actually be starting a workout here this week for ski season. I really let it go during the summer due to motivation lol. I will continue on with my program after this ski season prepping for the hunt.

    I will keep any shot I take within 250 yards. Per your book, I plan on printing a ballistics cheat sheet to practice shooting with, and prob have laminated and fixed to my stock during the hunt.

    I got altitude sickness one time over the years. It only lasted about 8 hours or so. bad headache and really sick to my stomach. I was told to drink lots of water and it went away. I def have a more difficult time adjusting to the thin air now than I did when I was in my 20s. I don’t ever really remember thinking about it back then lol.

    I tried to look at the link of unit 53 you posted but for some reason it will go to the page but the map won’t load. It gives me the rest of the info but not the map.

    I also need to get a new pack. I will start using it here on day trips just to get used to it. Do you have a favorite pack that you would recommend? I have been looking at the Eberlestock-j34 – just one. Seems like it is well thought out.

    • Yes, try to get in shape. You don’t need to run marathons, but you will enjoy the hunt more and get to places others will not. You will also hunt more and spend less time hanging around camp. The altitude will effect you less the better shape you are in. Make sure to drink lots of water. Altitude sickness and dehydration are both problems. The thin air will suck the water out of you faster.

      Yes, I can’t see the maps now either, so I removed the link. The link requires a sign-in, but I temporarily found away around it.

      Your pack looks great. I use both a simple day pack and a meat packing frame. My day pack is small, but holds enough food, water, safety gear, extra clothes and butchering tools for a day (and sleep bag on the outside if I plan to stay out). I use a water filter (Lifestraw) so I don’t have to carry so much water, but that only works if there are streams in the area.

      The pack frame is great for packing meat, but the biggest problem is the pack frame is at camp or in the truck. I have sent my wife back to the truck to get the pack while I started butchering, but when I am alone, I usually forget about the pack frame and build a travois (read post) to drag the meat back.

  17. Hey all, I just found this site. I enjoyed reading it all, sounds like some true elk hunters. I would like to say to the beginner diy guys… I have been to Colorado 3 times bow hunting. And all 3 times I have shot elk. It is possible. The number one most important thing is your legs have to be solid as steel. I mean do the Cameron Hanes elk workout with the stepping box. If you can’t do 50 reps each leg with 35 lbs on your back…you’re not ready. Keep pushing.

    All OTC mountain type units have elk. I have learned that the first mile is to warm up your legs. The second mile is for sight seeing. After that you probably should start hunting. Get deep. It’s easy if you’re in shape, and believe me there is a trail that leads to all places you just have to find it.

    Throw away that silly bugle call you bought at Walmart. This ain’t primos truth. This is OTC every Tom, Dick and Harry in America is or could be out there. Get back to basics. Get sneaky like an Indian. Get up early, early. On top of mountain at dark. Get back to camp after dark. There’s no reason to not hunt all day. Your wife can’t call, there’s no service. It’s a real blessing.

    Learn how to de-bone an elk on the ground without gutting it. Learn it.

    Leave half the crap you think you might need at camp. You’re not walking the poodle in the park. You’re packing light like an Indian sneaking on wapiti. Be mobile. Don’t be afraid to move fast. When you hear a bugle, that’s where you go. Be in shape so you can go. Don’t be the fat lazy guy that says man that bugle is a long way off. BE THERE!

    I didn’t get lucky shooting my 3 elk. I got prepared. An experienced guy told me what I posted. I did it and prepared for success. You can do it too.

    • Excellent comments and 3 elk in 3 seasons is very impressive. It’s a fact, when elk hunting, the harder you work the luckier you will be. I still know places on public land where I can find elk less than a mile off the road. It helps to be young and fit, but us old guys can still sneak up on elk too.

  18. Is your book available in paperback.

    • No Mike, my book (DIY Elk Hunting Guide) is only available as kindle ebook or as a pdf file. These electronic book forms allow the book to connect to websites and photos on the internet, which reduces the cost. I am also able to add additional information and photos on my website which ebook readers can see.
      If you want a printed version, I will allow you to print the pdf version of the book. After you buy and download the book, contact me and I will send a printable version. Thanks for asking.

  19. Crit Everman says

    Are there places for someone one to elk hunt for a week and camp while there hunting?

    • Yes Crit there are more places to camp and hunt elk than you can shake a stick at.
      The Western states have many National Forests (public land). Elk live in those forests and you can camp there.
      That is basically a big part of my DIY Elk Hunting Guide. I want to let people that don’t live in the West to know they can do a DIY elk hunt on public land.

      Basically, you pick a state to hunt, then pick a unit. I usually pick the unit based on which National Forest I want to hunt. My book either has all the info you need or shows you where to find it.

      You can get OTC tags for to hunt elk every year in 6 western states.

      My only question to you, is what kind of camping? Some of the big RV rigs will have a hard time on small forest roads, but you can still camp on the forest and drive to trail heads each morning.

  20. Hunter Jackson says

    Hey there… I’m looking for a great archery, OTC public land, hunt in Colorado. I prefer a bull tag, but would be okay with getting a cow. I would be driving from Arkansas, being fairly young (early 20s), I don’t mind the hiking. If you don’t mind, I would like to ask the best areas for my hunting situation. I have no experience of Colorado what so ever, but I don’t mind learning. I just want to have a great experience. I would also like to know the cost of your DIY Hunting Guide?

    • Hi Hunter: If you are hunting Colorado for the first time, look at the Archery OTC unit map I made (or here) 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. Archery starts on page 33.

      Hunter success for elk during the 2014 archery season was 14%, with 44,536 hunters taking 6,434 elk in 328,680 total hunt-days (51 hunt-days per elk).

      Look for units with success higher 20% or higher, but have at least 50 bulls harvested. I see 12 units that meet those criteria, but three of those units are not OTC, so that leaves 9 units (16, 21, 22, 34, 70, 71, 78, 81 and 85).

      Check them out and compare harvest, success and calculate effort (hunter-days/elk harvest). For example, in unit 21, (Utah border), 412 hunters killed 103 elk (25% success) in 2,863 days (1 elk killed for every 28 hunter-days).

      The OTC tags go on sale July 26 this year and archery tags are not limited.

      After you pick a unit and buy your tag, look at maps, topos and/or Google Earth for access, camping areas, isolated forests and water.

      You are exactly the kind of person I wrote the Elk Hunting Guide for. I put lots of good information in the book for first time DIY elk hunters (like which National Forest is in the hunt unit you chose), especially for people not familiar with western habitats and terrain.

      My Elk Hunting Guide is $9.95, but I’ll give your money back if you don’t think it’s worth it. Excerpt from the guide: “If elk prefer areas at least 1.33 km 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.”

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

  21. Florida hunter says

    I have been looking at Colorado unit 65 due to the vast majority of public land.
    I am from Florida and have never attempted elk hunting before, however I am stubborn as a mule and willing to push and hunt hard! I am allotting myself the entire archery season for the possibility of harvesting an elk.
    In my map scouting (because I can’t get out there early), I have began to focus on the western slopes of the ridge to the west of Silver Jack Reservoir due to being a summer range for elk! This area appears to have road access which makes me skeptical to heading here although I was pointed in that direction. Also I have been looking at the wilderness areas south of Silver Jack.
    Can anyone give any information as to the road conditions in these areas and previous experience in this unit along with any other advice regarding this unit.

    I plan on making 4-5 trips in for 4-6 days at a time in order to give myself the maximum amount of hunt time as possible.

    Thanks for any help!

    • I personally have not hunted that unit, but perhaps someone that has experience there will respond.
      Road access can be good and bad, but unless you have a team of horses, it is necessary for most of us. Just make sure to get off the roads and you will leave most of the hunters behind.
      First advice is try to get in the best shape possible before the hunt. You are at a disadvantage coming from such a low elevation and Silver Jack Res. is almost 9,000 feet. You mention making 4 – 5 trips, so you will quickly lose any acclimation you gain when you leave and go back to Florida. Consider staying longer each trip if possible.
      Second, August should be warm and mostly dry, but at high elevation it can always rain. It can start snowing in Sept. You are correct the area is Summer elk range, but if it has been dry, elk will have to go to water each day. Western slopes will be the driest. Northern Slopes are the wettest and Eastern Slopes are intermediate.
      Good Luck and let us know how it goes.

      • Florida hunter says

        Thanks for the reply
        Hopefully will have some input from others that have hunted these units.

  22. Sean Richard says

    Having never elk hunted I appreciate these suggestions. You have to start somewhere and this should help me get on the right track. Thanks for the article

  23. My wife and I are very interested in hunting elk. We’re looking for over the counter tags but the zone area and corespondent tags can be quite confusing. It’s hard to find good data on kill numbers per zone so we could try and get tags for that area. If we don’t have any luck we will be happy. We love the west!

    • Yes, the rules and regulations can be confusing. I had this exact same conversation with one of my relatives this week.

      Some states do a better job than others showing or making it easy to find harvest data and hunter effort. I say pick the state based on knowledge of the land and then learn that state’s rules and lingo and figure out how to find the information.

      I wrote the DIY Elk Hunting Guide for people like you. It has the links and hints about where and how to find the data you need to help decide where to hunt. The state websites change so often, I created a place on my website that I keep updated so you can find the information you need. I also include lots of information about which hunt units are in which U.S. National Forests and about the habitats you will find there.

      Good luck on your hunt. Let us know how you do.

  24. Dennis Collins says

    Hello, my name is Dennis. My older brother, his son and I have hunted Colorado for several years without much luck. He is 68 and I am 66 years old, with knees not in the best of shape. We have hunted most of the time west of Meeker in southern part of unit 23 and northern part of unit 33 on BLM land. Lots of hunters, traffic and oil field traffic. Three years ago we hunted west of Naturita in unit 64; flatter country and again a lot of hunters. Last year we hunted off horse back north-east of Mancos in unit 85/86, but the country is very rough and hard to get back into the mountains.
    This will be my seventh year hunting with my brother in Colorado without even seeing a bull elk to shoot at. Getting very discourage, but looking for a better area to hunt this year. We camp out and have four Wheeler’s to get around in, but are still able to do some walking. I do understand that we need to get back off of the road to hunt. Have been reading about your book, and I do plan on purchasing it. Is it on line with an electronic copy?
    Not sure where we will go this year, but was looking at the Meeker area again, we know that area pretty well. We are from Texas and my nephew is from the Chicago area. Do you have any comments on where may be best for us to commence looking for an area to hunt?

    • Hi Dennis: I assume you have been hunting the 2nd or 3rd rifle seasons after the elk have stopped bugling. They have been hunted and are wary and cows, calves and spikes are more numerous than mature bulls. You didn’t mention if you had seen any elk at all. I once talked to a guy that had not seen an elk in 16 years, but I don’t think he ever got off the roads.
      Elk are not the easiest animals to hunt, but they are not the hardest either. Earlier this week, I had a nephew visit from the East to fly fish and we took a day off to see if we could find elk. We didn’t see any big bulls, but we found elk because I know the area.
      Last year (2015), 431 Bulls were harvested in unit 23 (801 total elk) by 3,798 hunters in 17,692 total hunter days. Also, 156 bulls (350 total elk) were harvested in unit 33 by 2,939 hunters. Unit 64 had 143 bulls (301 total elk) harvested by 1,084 hunters. Units 85/86 had 479 bulls and 1081 total elk harvested by 5,720 hunters. Success is very low in some of those units, but hunters are finding elk. On average, the people that find elk have specific knowledge of elk habits during that time of year, get farther off the roads or just plain get lucky.
      I understand having bad knees. Some days I climb the ridges or drop down into the canyons and go places others can’t or won’t go and other days I don’t.
      Look for units that have at least 20% hunter success. That is about average for most areas of the West for general season elk hunts. 20% means one out of five or the average hunter takes 5 years for each elk, so you are about due if you are doing what the average hunter does.
      The problem with picking different units every year is you have to start learning everything from scratch. Where is the access? Where do we camp? Where are the watering areas? Where are the resting areas? Where are the feeding areas? What is the terrain like? What is the habitat like?
      I also understand not liking an area because of the oil field traffic. I know a spot that still has elk, but I don’t like listening to pump jacks when I hunt.
      I assume that you would still hunt even if you knew you wouldn’t get an elk. Time camping and hunting with your brother and nephew and the time spent outdoors is probably reward enough.
      My DIY Elk Hunting Guide is available here as a PDF file you can read on almost any electronic device.
      Put in as many miles as the knees will allow and that may improve your luck. Let me know how the hunt went. I could even post your hero shot with your grinning faces and that big old bull…

  25. My father has misplaced his non-resident elk tags. How does he go about obtaining replacement tags?

  26. Hi there, I have recently become very interested in going elk hunting this year and have started doing a ton of research and also have purchased your DIY Elk Hunting Guide. I’m planning on using a bow and was wanting to hunt Colorado being that it is the closest to Florida. I have been reading all the unit reports and looking at maps but I wanted to get a locals perspective on what would be a safe bet to be thick in the elk while were there.
    We are going to be hunting for about 6 days and definitely are not afraid of walking since we walk about 2 miles every time we go anywhere on public land here. I was thinking about going into the White River National Forest but it looks like it gets hit very hard by hunters with a very low success rate even though it has the largest population of elk. I just can’t make my mind up and would really appreciate any insight you might have!

    • Good for you… First thing, bow hunts on public land always have low success. Good news is elk (bulls) are distracted during the rut. 2nd thing, make sure you are in shape… the average elk hunter walks about 6 miles each day and you will be at least at 6,000 feet and probably over 9,000 feet… Then imagine packing an elk back to camp after a long day of hunting.
      The reality is that during the hunt, people are everywhere and elk are everywhere people are not, so any unit on National Forest lands will be about the same.
      I keep finding honey holes relatively close to roads and then have to find new places because other people find them as well. So find a place where you can hike in at least ¼ mile off roads (½ mile to a mile is better, but will be harder to get elk out without lots of help) and major trails since the average hunter doesn’t get that far off the road.
      Since you are traveling so far, you probably won’t have much time to scout except for looking at maps and/or Google Earth. You may show up and have to make new plans the first day based on where others are camped or parked.
      But remember, most people drive the roads or walk close to the roads and that is why success is so low. Some people never seem to leave camp.
      Obviously, you want to find and harvest an elk, but the goal your first year should be to learn as much as you can about the area you choose to hunt. While you do that, you should find elk and if you work hard, pay attention to the wind and have some luck, you will get a shot. Then you will appreciate getting into the best shape possible. Elk think nothing about running up hills we dread climbing.
      Also read some of the other comments and my replies here in this post.
      Good luck and let me know how it goes.

      • Thanks for getting back to me I really appreciate it! So would the units in White River National Forest be a good place to start? Or would you look for units with low hunters and higher success rates? I have already scoured that article on your page and read the comments haha, I’ve really been trying to learn as much as possible for this and you have definitely been my best resource by far!
        I am also in pretty good shape me and my buddy are still 19 and 20 respectively and we both stay very active.
        In your guide it says to stick with forest areas for beginners and I think that sounds like a good plan to me but its just hard to make up my mind which one is best.
        Is it more like deer hunting and looking for sign where we would be going?
        Or would it be looking out into little meadows and listening for animals while you walk because they are more vocal?
        I know it will be the rut but on public land are they call shy and quieter like a turkey on public land?

        • In a perfect world, we want to see plenty of elk and no other hunters. That can only happen on private land.
          Sure, look at the harvest reports (see Colorado 2015 elk harvest).
          Units 24, 25, 33 and 34 are in the White River NF. In 2015, Archery hunters had 18%, 5%, 11% and 9% success in those units respectively, but only units 25 & 34 have OTC either-sex elk archery tags, so as expected, the OTC tags have lower success than the draw tags.
          Obviously, look for the best combination of high success and low hunters you can find, but people kill elk on every single unit.
          I say for beginners to stick with the National Forests mainly because you are new to hunting the West. If you know of BLM land with elk, have at them. I sure do, but for the first time elk hunter, I think the best chance of finding elk is on a National Forest.
          Public Land Elk hunting is walk, spot and stalk (more likely spot and spook), but you have to find them first. Walk all day and look and listen for elk and look for fresh sign; scat, rubs and wallows. If you get tired or when you take breaks, sit in areas you can watch for elk. If you hear them first, you have a good chance to make a plan to get close.
          The bulls will bugle and fight during the rut. The cows are wary, but the bulls lose their minds. It is a fun thing to listen to and to watch. They may not respond to your calls, but they definitely talk to each other.
          If you find elk and identify a short term pattern of them going to bed at one place or feeding at another or going to water, you can try to set up an ambush. But never forget the wind.
          Good luck and let me know how your first hunt went.

  27. Jerry bleyenberg says

    Me and two of my nephews are planning our first elk hunting trip in Colorado and was wondering what units would be good. We will be hunting the 3rd season with rifle and we will be backpacking it all in. We are going to drive to Alamosa and hunt around there.

    • The Rio Grand National Forest is near Alamosa Colorado and includes parts of units 66,67 and 76. The 2015 harvest report. You must be planning on the Over-the-counter 3rd rifle season, so units 66,67 and 76 are not included in that hunt.
      You may want to go farther west to the San Juan National Forest or hunt one of these Units 80, 81, 82 or 83, near Alamosa. Units 80, 81 & 82 had low success last year, but unit 83 was not bad with 26% success.
      I wrote the DIY Elk Hunting Guide to help new elk hunters like yourselves to decide on places to hunt. There is lots of other information in the book I think will help you guys have a safe and enjoyable hunt.
      Good luck with your hunt.

      • Jerry bleyenberg says

        What is the weather like in Colorado during 3rd rifle season? So I kind of know what I have to get ready for.

        • The 3rd rifle season for Elk in Colorado is Nov. 5 – 13 in 2016.
          The average temperature over that time of year in Alamosa (7,543 feet elevation) ranges from highs between 50 – 49°F and lows range from 19 – 16°F and the month of November averages about 4 inches of snow.
          Remember at higher elevation than Alamosa, the average temperature will be about 5°F cooler for every 1,000 feet climb in elevation.
          You will like the temperature in high dry air. The cold doesn’t get to you as much as heavy, wet low elevation air. But the elevation will get to you if you are not in shape. Some of the ridges in unit 83 are over 11,000 feet. You probably don’t need to go that high to find elk, but you could easily find yourself hunting in areas over 9,000 feet.

  28. Hi, First off I want to thank you for an excellent DIY Elk Hunting Guide I purchased and downloaded your e-book and have completed reading all your information and this has sure helped me out as a new elk hunter. I have a question regarding a certain area within GMU 65.

    My wife and I are non-residents from Ontario Canada and have been planning over the last year to hunt Colorado this October for the 2nd Rifle Season for Elk. We are utilizing OTC bull tag for GMU 65 and do not have the ability to travel the distance for a summer scout. I have relied heavily on my knowledge of hunting and searching google earth for GMU 65. I know GMU 65 is a rugged unit but we are all for the challenge it brings. After searching the areas my main focus within GMU 65 is south-east of Silver Jack Reservoir either down the east fork of the Cimarron River or the Little Cimarron river area. We chose this area based on past harvest statistics and the rugged terrain in hopes to have a smaller crowd of people for our first experience.
    With your knowledge from years of elk hunting, do you feel I am on the right track with this decision of area? I am curious on a second opinion to help ease my thoughts on making the right choice.
    We also will be on foot and will be camping in our 12′ x 14′ outfitter tent. We will utilize our vehicle to get as far down the trails as possible before we need to setup. We are 100% new to elk hunting and are looking to build experience from this year forward; successful or not (hopefully). But we are going for the sole purpose of experience and knowledge.
    We archery hunt each year in the northern Ontario back country for moose and have been very successful over the years. We will have a smaller tent if we stay the night in farther from our main camp to get to more remote areas and if successful, to packing out our elk.
    I thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing back with any further information you may have stored away. Happy Hunting!
    Ps. I leave for our moose hunt Sept 21 2016 for 8 days Northern Ontario and we are super excited once again!


    • Thanks Andy. Seems to me you are on the right track. Hunting an area that you don’t know will be challenging. But your approach to enjoy the experience and learn for the future is the way to go.
      Read some of the other comments here and my responses to them. You have already researched the harvest reports and looked at maps (and/or Google Earth).
      Last year, 366 Bulls and 313 cows/calves were taken from unit 65 by 2,774 hunters (24.5% success) that spent 14,951 hunting days (averages 22.0 hunter days per kill). The 2nd rifle season had 133 total elk harvest from 625 hunters. With 671 square miles in that unit, that gives each hunter just over 1 square mile if everyone spreads out. Since most people hunt close to the road, there is lots of room for those that do spread out.
      The Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife estimates there are 6,000 elk on unit 65 (see Southwest hunting Guide) with a 17:100 bull/cow ratio (for about 871 bulls)
      You are correct about the rugged terrain, which goes up over 14,000 feet. If you can handle the elevation, you will leave many other hunters behind. But it may not be necessary to go that high. You will learn more after you get there and start hunting and scouting.
      I’ve said before, I sometimes find little honey holes that hold elk and aren’t far off the road. But other people also find them eventually, so I am constantly scouting new areas.
      Good luck on your hunt, I know you will have fun and I hope you will be successful. I envy your Moose hunt. I am still waiting to draw a moose tag.

      • Thanks a lot for your reply, I appreciate the extra information you provided me as well as the link to the Colorado southwest hunting guide. I guess the rest is up to us to put our best boots on and scout once we arrive and get ready for a great experience, again thanks for all your time and help with your DIY Elk Hunting Guide. I will let you know the hunt turns out.

  29. I read your book and loved it. Thanks for your insight. My brother and I are looking to do our first DIY elk hunt next year. We have a few preference points for Colorado and are looking seriously at an archery hunt in GMU 501.
    We are in good shape and intend to go as deep as we can into the wilderness area. This unit only has around 65 archery and 65 muzzleloader tags each year but it look like the herd is not large here. Success rates are in the 20% for this unit.
    I was wondering your opinion on the unit and also what time of the year you would look at.
    I have read that opening week it the best. I have also read that the last week is the best because it is more likely to be the peak of the rut but the elk will have been hunter over more after muzzle loader and may have move to private land sanctuaries. Thank you for you help!

    • Chad: Glad you liked the book. I have never hunted unit 501. Here is a link to the Elk Plan for that unit (along with units 50 & 500). 31% of units 50, 500, and 501 combined are private, so some elk will start to escape there, but many elk will still be at higher elevation then.
      Success rates of 20% are not bad for archery. I think muzzleloader success is low in Colorado, especially since they get to hunt just before the peak of the rut (Sept. 10–18 in 2016). The peak of the rut is usually around Sept 21, but that changes some year to year. Success shouldn’t be that low with ML if elk are bugling at all. Colorado doesn’t allow scopes or sabot bullets on ML hunts, so that probably effects success a lot.
      Good success rates usually means there are lots of elk, but there are elk in every unit. The 2015 population estimate for DAU-18 was over 2,000 elk; that’s one elk for every 361 acres. That doesn’t seem low to me.
      I’ve been following the idea that I shouldn’t drive past elk just to find elk, so I mainly hunt close to home, but about once a season, I go to a totally new area just to learn a new area.
      Hunting the last week of archery season to try to hit the rut is not a bad idea, but give yourself more time if you can. You could find elk the 1st day, but don’t count on it. Everyday gives you a better chance. If elk are bugling, they are easy to find. If not, they are more challenging to find, but not impossible. You may hunt high elevation one day and decide to hunt low or mid elevation the next. Give yourself time to learn at least parts of the area.
      Anyway, good luck and let me know how your hunt goes.

  30. Jeremy Camburn says

    I am from the east coast and have never hunted elk. But my dad and I really want to give this life long dream a chance. Been reading your valuable information and I find myself more excited to try a DIY hunt rather than spend thousands on an outfitter. Can one purchase an OTC license without traveling to Colorado first?

    • Of Course! You are a little late for this year, so there are not many tags left, but you can buy Elk tags Over-the-Counter online at the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website here.
      Look to see available tags here. Be careful, most leftover tags are for private land only.

  31. A clarification on limited tags, the license that must be applied for by midnight April XX. These are NOT first come first serve but it is a drawing of correctly filled out applications. A certain percentage go to residents and others to non-residents. If you fail to draw a tag then you will have a preference point which increases your odds of drawing next year.

    Elk in Colorado are where you find them. Locals will fill your head with BS and elk can travel 20 miles overnight. They prefer timber but can be anywhere. If you are having no luck in a National Forest do not hesitate to go to a ranch house and introduce yourself then ask if they allow hunting (if they have many acres). Offer to pay a trespass fee and if that works make sure you do not damage property and leave all gates the way you found them.

    I know great areas but will not reveal them and outfitters take them over and can really be disruptive sometimes. On the other hand a lot of hunters can kick up a lot of game too.

    Always be prepared when you hunt. Warm days can be ice cold nights so plan on getting lost and know what to do. If you kill a bull elk 2 miles from a road you will be working for two days getting it out.

  32. jim schmitz says

    What unit do you recommend for us. My buddy and I have 9 points, we are sick of wasting the money applying and never gaining anything (point creep). We want to cash in and go in 2017. We want to do archery elk. We are not trophy hunters, any legal bull will do and just want to get into some elk and not tons of people. We would be coming from Wisconsin so pre scouting is not an option or is high dollar outfitters, probably DIY or small trespass fee. What unit do you recommend for us with 9 NR points.

    • Jim: Sorry for the delayed response, I’ve been in a warm place where I didn’t shovel snow last week. This post was basically to inform folks (especially non-residents) that they could hunt elk in Colorado (also Idaho and Utah) without winning the bonus points lottery.

      You guys have obviously been applying for elk tags for nine years. Have you hunted at all with OTC tags in that time?

      Most of the units that require lots of points to draw are usually managed for trophy bulls. If you guys don’t care that much about the trophy, You could hunt elk (either sex) in Colorado with an OTC tag in 137 units (130 units have public land – season Aug. 26 – Sept. 24 in 2017). These archery tags are unlimited. You can also hunt cow elk only in 60 units. (53 units on public land).

      In Utah, the General 2017 Archery season is Aug. 19–Sept. 15 in the Any Bull Units (Hunter’s choice – bull or cow in any or all of 18 units) or Aug. 19 – Sept. 8 in the Spike Bull Units (Hunter’s choice – spike bull or cow in any or all of 24 units).

      In Idaho, you can hunt elk with OTC Archery tags in a variety of seasons from Early August to Late December in any of their 26 elk zones.

      As non-residents, you can also hunt with OTC tags in Oregon and Washington, but if I were driving from Wisconsin, I would probably stick with Colorado or Utah.

      I think the hardest part of DIY public land hunting is deciding what type of habitat you want to hunt, then choosing a state to hunt, then learning the rules for that state and where to find all the necessary information. That is why I wrote the DIY Elk Hunting Guide.

      Since you have 9 preference points, you might as well try to draw a Limited Entry Tag. Here is the 2016 Drawing Odds Report. You can look and see how many people had more points than you for each unit. You can also see what chance you have to draw this year.

      A quick look shows that 48 out of 1473 non-residents with 9 points drew tags state-wide, but a quick look at the report shows there were units where you could have drawn tags last year.

      For example, hunt number EE007O1A (either sex, units 7, 8, 9, 19, 191), where 101 of 108 non-residents with zero points drew tags, everyone with at least one point drew out.

      Also look at EE020O1A (either sex, unit 20) or Em020O1A (bull elk, unit 20), you should be able to draw those tags with 9 points.

      Anyway, you will have to do some more research to find a unit where you can use your points. But remember, you can always hunt with OTC tags, especially if you are going to hunt the archery season anyway. Good Luck.

      • We have hunted twice, once in the Flat Tops Wilderness area and once in the Big Blue Wilderness [now the Uncompahgre Wilderness Area]. Both were DIY hunts with OTC tags. Both those hunts were a joke. We are in good shape and our plan was to go in off a trail head as far as you could without getting closer to another trail head. Well everyone in the world must have that idea, the number of people we saw was incredible. Needless to say not many elk sightings.

        • Yes, there are more hunters during the general seasons. That is the reality of DIY public land hunting. This is an example where having knowledge about an area helps to find places with less traffic. I can usually find more isolated areas just by getting off the roads. Perhaps the Wilderness Areas attract more hunters that are looking to get off the roads. Also, many Wilderness Areas have limited access points, so most hunters have to start at the same few trail heads. I imagine that you could find less crowded areas now that you have some experience in those areas.

          I don’t know what years or units you hunted, but the Uncompaghre Wilderness is in Units 65 and 66. In 2015, those combined units had 1,150 elk harvested by 4,190 hunters (all hunts, all weapons – 27.4% success). For Archery, 897 hunters harvested 137 elk (15.3% Success). Hunters averaged 7.4 days of hunting out of the month long Archery season. With 103,000 acres in the Wilderness Area alone, that would give each hunter 115 acres per hunter if everyone hunted every day (very crowded; I get about 15,000 acres per day on my local unit during the muzzleloader deer hunt). Obviously, everyone does not hunt everyday and not everyone hunted in the Wilderness area, so there should be a little more space per person. But not all of the highest elevation areas are good elk habitat, so if we removed those acres, the amount of space per hunter decreases.

          The Flat Tops Wilderness Area is in Units 12, 24, 25, 26, 33 and 34. Combined Archery harvest in 2015 was 393 elk by 2,592 hunters in 17,644 hunter days (15.1% overall success). Success by individual unit ranged from a high of 28% (which is very good for archery) in unit 12 to a low of only 4.6% in unit 25. Total harvest from those units was 3,374 elk by 16,524 hunters (20.4% success) in 79,813 hunter-days (not great).

          Well, you have 9 points, perhaps you can draw a tag this year and have a less crowded experience. Again, Good luck.

  33. Can you hunt with a crossbow during Colorado bow season?

    • No. No Crossbow during the Archery or Muzzle Seasons, but you can use them during the Rifle Season (Any Legal Weapon).

      This is what the Colorado Regs says about using crossbows:
      a. Draw weight must be a minimum of 125 pounds.
      b. Draw length must be a minimum of 14 inches from front of bow to nocking point of drawstring.
      c. Positive mechanical safety device required.
      d. Bolt must be a minimum of 16 inches long, have a broadhead that is a minimum of 7/8-inch wide and with a minimum of two steel cutting edges. Each cutting edge must be in the same plane for entire length of cutting surface.
      e. Illegal during archery seasons.

  34. Braedon Cohen says

    Hello, are the O.T.C tags restricted to the units you buy them in or are they valid through out the state?

  35. I’m a non-resident and looking at hunting the OTC units of 71, 74 and 75 archery elk. I was just curious as to how these units are and any info would help. Are these solid units for bull? From what I have read, these units see a lot of traffic, but I like to get away from the roads and hiking in a few miles at least, so getting away from people is my preference.

    • Hi Max:
      Have you ever hunted Colorado before? Or any other western state on public land? If not, I am curious how you decided to hunt in Colorado?
      Most elk are harvested in units that also have the most traffic. The two always go together. Local hunters can go into a low elk unit and harvest elk because they know the territory and they know what the elk are doing. Hunter success may be highest in areas with low elk numbers, but what are your chances of being one of the few to harvest an elk in a unit with only a dozen or so elk harvested?
      All non-residents that want to DIY elk hunt on public land in unfamiliar areas have to make a choice based on time/cost or from the data in the harvest reports. By time/cost, I mean you will have to choose the cheapest tags and/or the closest units (to cut travel costs and travel time).

      What do the harvest reports tell you? They tell you how many elk were harvested and how many hunters were in the unit. Sometimes (some states) give more detailed info about the different aged bull elk that were harvested. Some states also report the total number of recreation days. Most states also report hunter success, but you can get that yourself by dividing the total number of hunters by the total elk harvested.
      So, this is what I recommend. First, choose units that have lots of elk. Yes, there will be lots of hunters, but there are usually lots of space to get away from other hunters. That doesn’t mean you have to choose the most productive elk unit, but choose one where at least 50 elk were harvested. Then compare units for total hunters, recreation days and hunter success.
      I just published a post that ranks the top 20+ units in Colorado based on total harvest and by hunter success (Read Here).
      Unit 74 (archery) is one that ranks highly for total harvest and above average for hunter success (see tables 3 & 4 in link to other post)
      More info on unit 74 in the HERMOSA ELK HERD MANAGEMENT PLAN.

      I also recommend you take a look at my DIY Elk Hunting Guide. As for “how these units are”; My book covers information about about how elk habitats differ in different eco-regions that encompass different mountain ranges and National Forests of the different western states.

      If you are willing and able to hike in off the roads, you will get away from most people. But in areas with very few access points (trail heads and roads into the National Forests, almost everyone has to access those areas at the same places and there is always someone that will walk as far as you will.

      It has taken me many years to find all my honey holes and I still need to find more because other people keep finding them too.

  36. I am fairly new when it comes to elk hunting and had a great opportunity last year in Arizona. After my trip I was so excited to get others on board that myself and 3 others applied for a late season Arizona rifle hunt but were not drawn.

    If we were to consider a non-resident Colorado hunt without a guide service what would be best area to consider for OTC tag?

    I’m trying to keep the excitement going and get others on board for future hunts. Limited Entry tags are expensive and cause some people to hesitate before spending the money with little chance of drawing a tag. We are not necessarily all about getting an animal but only want a chance. At least an OTC provides the opportunity.

    • Yes EVC. Welcome to the reality of Limited Entry (LE) tags. Of course everyone should apply for the LE tags in their state and in nearby states, but you have to hunt the General seasons (called OTC in Colorado) and also apply for cow elk permits. If you don’t, you will never get any elk hunting experience and you will never put any meat in the freezer.

      It should be obvious why Limited Entry tags are hard to get. Because so many people want them. The LE tags offer the best (easiest) opportunities to harvest a trophy animal because very few hunters are in the field at the absolute best (easiest) time of year to hunt them.

      My neighbor’s mother (age 65+) harvested a very nice 6×6 bull last year. They showed me the video her husband took on his cell phone. It was that easy, but she waited 20 years to draw that tag.

      Your question about “the best area” is the universal question. Who doesn’t want the absolute best unit to hunt every year? But what does that even mean? If you are willing to hunt out of state, why are you asking just about Colorado?

      Most hunters eat tag soup in even the “best” units every year and the “crappiest” units have a few people that are 100% successful each year.

      My DIY Elk Hunting Guide should help you decide on which state to hunt and what habitats to focus on.

      For your specific question, I direct you to this post, where I ranked the Colorado Units by total elk harvest and by total hunter Success.

      A word of advice about keeping the excitement going with your friends. You can’t want it more for them than they want it for themselves.

      Years ago, I had an old friend that was a falconer. He absolutely loved everything about it and constantly tried to recruit apprentices so he would have someone to hunt with and to share experiences. But he helped them do everything. He helped them study to pass the test, he helped them build their mews and all of their equipment and he even helped them trap and “man” their birds. But he always seemed surprised that he had the worst apprentices.

      I would simply tell people falconry was probably not for them, but I would suggest they read several falconry books. You would be surprised how many people would continue to ask for my help, but never read a single falconry book I recommended.

      Some of your friends will go on this new elk hunting journey with you but others will not.

      Good Luck and let me know where you decide to hunt and how the hunt went…

  37. South Dakota Hunter says

    Hello Back Country Chronicles ,

    Thank you for all the advice you offer on this page. Really helps all us hunters from beginners to pros. I have hunted my whole life and run a hunting lodge in western South Dakota. So I’m no expert but I have spent many days in the hunting field. Never after elk, but me and two of my college baseball teammates are planning a DIY hunt to Colorado.
    Of course we want to go and shoot the biggest bull we’ve ever seen. We just want to go and see elk and put in the work to come out with some good sized bulls. We are young (30) and do not mind roughing it and putting in some serious work if it means having a chance at a giant bull. What are your suggestions for us to hunt the 2nd Rifle Season? Thanks in advance.


    • Jake: I like your honesty. Of course we all want to go find a 400+ class bull on our first hunt. And it could happen, but the reality of a first time DIY public land hunt makes that very unlikely. Big bulls don’t get big by being stupid and while we may hunt long and hard, they make their full-time living being hard to get.

      It’s one thing finding and getting close to elk when they are screaming their heads off trying to attract the ladies in September. It’s another thing after they have been shot at a few times.

      What I expect for young motivated guys during the 2nd rifle season (Oct 21 – 29 in 2017) is that if you put in the effort, during your first hunt, you will get to know a very small piece of the unit you hunt. You will probably find elk and may even get a shot at a nice bull.

      If not for public land, the average guy in our country would never get to hunt elk. But since the average guy can hunt elk, he might want to park, camp and hunt right beisde you.

      Most other hunters never get far off the roads, but in some places, the only place to hunt from a specific trail head is far off the road, so everyone there is young and tough and they will all be going to the same place.

      Over the years, I’ve identified places to consistently find elk. Some of these areas aren’t too far off the roads and others are very deep. I also know of back up areas when I find other hunter in my honey holes. But the key is that I have spent many year finding these areas. I have to admit that at my age I don’t go as deep as I used to and when I do, I am not likely to shoot at anything because I know I can’t pack it that far by myself. Think logistics when you hunt elk. Think about the effort it will take in rough country to get an animal almost as big a horse back to camp.

      If you haven’t already chosen a unit to hunt, take a look at this post. I’ve ranked the top Colorado units by total harvest and by hunter success. If you don’t have specific knowledge about a unit, I suggest you start your search for a unit based on areas where lots of elk were harvested and by the average hunter success and by the total numbers of hunters and the number of days they hunted.

      Then search on Google Earth for areas with cover (dark timber on north facing slopes), water and access. Pay attention to the steepness of the terrain. Steep hillsides are hard to walk, but easy to glass. Rolling hills are easier to walk but hard to glass. Dry southern exposures will probably not have elk during the day. When you start hunting, cover lots of ground and hunt all day every day as long as you have the energy (There are no elk at camp). Most of the highest elevation terrain is better suited for mountain goats and not for elk.

      Learn the different habitats you will find in the Southern Rockies ecosystem (Most elk habitat in Colorado is Southern Rockies or Colorado Plateau). There are reasons that Aspen grow in one area, spruce-fir in another and Ponderosa pine, oak-brush or PJ (pinyon-juniper) grow in yet another.

      If you judge your hunt based upon success or failure to harvest a nice bull, you may be disappointed. But if you judge your hunt based on the time you spend in a beautiful place with your buddies (all with elk tags in your pockets), then you’ve already won starting from the time you pack the truck.

      Good Luck and send me pictures.

  38. bob wyman says

    I don’t know the dates on this page or why I was emailed a notification but I came to look. I was a bit bewildered. There is a lot of elk hunting talk and silly advice given by novices. I realized out of state hunters are even more confused. If you need to know where and when to hunt the Big Game Brochure put out Parks and Wildlife is the only way to go. Do not rely on a comment on a forum!

    I don’t know how many elk I have killed and I do not feel like thinking back that far to start counting. Most have been antlerless and not more than an hour from my house in Colorado Springs. Some on private land but most in National Forest. Only one time I was not able to 4 wheel itno the kill. A winch or come-along is the best thing to bring along to load it.

    Elk are where you find them. If you want to call elk do a cow call, bulls and cows respond to it. Most licenses are for west of I-25. There are 55,000 hunters spread out over different seasons and those who talk about getting away from other hunters are gaining no advantage. Other hunters around help to move animals that may stay put in timber otherwise.

    Most hunters share info but a few are jackasses and you will know them as soon as they open their yaps, the experts… Road hunters and 4WD trail drivers. I do it but I do get out and walk a bit. These others drive right by game all the time. Elk move at first light and at dusk unless disturbed and feed in the dark and bed down around 4 AM. They also move at night and can travel 15 -20 miles easily so what was there today may not be tomorrow. Bulls tend to hang together after September and October and can be seen on high slopes in the morning but they see you too and slopes will tire you out before you get 50 feet.

    Packing a bull out is crazy but if you think you want to hike miles go ahead. I can drag a buck but an elk? No. You will make 6 trips with de-boned meat and the antlers weigh as well. If you want the cape for mounting the head and neck must stay attached to antlers and the hide from shoulders on up weight 150 pounds, easy. The meat alone from a big bull is about 250 pounds.

    The biggest bulls I ever saw was 3 years ago at mile marker 25 on Colo 115. At midnight they were coming out of Ft. Carson and were going to cross over to Beaver Creek Wildlife Area. I turned around just to see again what I thought I saw. Antlers as long as the bulls’bodies.

    In Colorado, you get one license per animal per year and the OTC are the worst but they can produce. Most tags are for one Unit and some cover a few Units. Look in the brochure. Drawing is the way to go.

    The weather is rarely bad. It may snow and it may get cold as ice at night but most years the days are warm. Into December things change but hunts are rare then. Avoid high elevations, elk are everywhere and timberline is barren and windy. National Forests are open for everyone. Private land is usually posted. Don’t be afraid to ask the rancher for permission. A trespass fee offered is good. If you saw some elk on his land tell him and show him a $100 bill. All he can do is say no or yes.

    Be prepared and do not do more than you know. You are not an Indian or hot shot marksman. Find a spot and sit down and wait. Oh and make sure you are sighted in…and feeding game is illegal! This ain’t Texas.

    • Good advice Bob. Thanks for the stories and comments.

      • bob wyman says

        Thanks. I wrote about the three bulls on 115, well believe it or not at that same mile marker yesterday I saw 3 elk so I went up to a turnaround and came back and there were two elk. I glassed them and they both were antlerless bulls. It is military base so I didn’t go looking for the sheds. Matter of fact a vehicle came up 1/4 mile behind me and stopped on the shoulder so I figured it was security perhaps so I drove on my way. I will check my camera as I took a few photos and video of the elk. They were awfully spooky…

        • Thanks Bob:
          Love to see photos…
          I didn’t look for antlers until early May this year since we had such a hard winter. Last time out, I visited last December’s kill site. We found a group of bulls less than 150 yards from the kill. Older bulls were growing nubs, younger bulls and spikes still had antlers on May 10… I have seen 4 point bulls still holding onto antlers as late as the end of May.

  39. nick saracino says

    My buddy and I are starting to plan a elk hunt in 2018. We are hunting archery, public land and are going to camp. What would be the best unit with somewhere we can camp? We would prefer a place in the mountains not in the flats.

    • Nick:
      You can camp almost anywhere you like on public land (BLM or USFS), but can only camp in one place for 14 days. They have campgrounds with bathrooms (for a fee; reservations probably required) and you can primitive camp most places.

      I recommend that first time DIY Elk hunters should probably hunt in a National Forest (read more). Check with the National Forest where you want to hunt and find out if they have camping or travel restrictions in the areas you want to camp and hunt.

      Sounds like you have lots of research to do. My DIY Elk Hunting Guide would probably help.

      • I knew about the camping anywhere in the forest and BLM I just meant specificly what would be a good region that has a campground. We are planning to stay two weeks to get it done and that is a long time without a shower and hiking a mountain.

        • Yes, you have much research to do…
          I’ve never camped in a campground since I was a kid, so I can’t speak to what are good campgrounds. Not sure what you mean by “region”, but all National Forests have campgrounds.

          I always look for (and usually find) a quiet place to camp close to where I want to hunt. Not sure campsites in campground will be available and definitely not worth $13 per night to me…

          Choose any National Forest, then find a hunt unit that is in that forest.

          Here is a link that shows campgrounds in the White River National Forest in Colorado.

          You’ll probably need to rinse off in the creek occasionally because you won’t always be downwind from elk.

          Good luck.

  40. Brent Meeks says

    Just wanted to say thanks for all the great info. My friend and I are avid Arkansas hunters and have heard of the thrill of a lifetime hunting big game. We are starting to gather information on where to go, what’s needed, and how to hunt elk. We will be shooting for next season but will probably be in touch after we study the material on this website! Thanks again and God Bless!

  41. Missed my elk 1st week of archery and too far away to go back for a weekend.
    Going to buy an OTC tag and try one more day before the end of archery.
    Are you aware of any hot spots within an hour or so of Colorado Springs CO?

    • No, not my backyard, so I can not point you to any hot spot that close to Colorado Springs. Unless you are not thinking about going deep into the National Forest, it will be tough to find a good elk spot only an hour’s drive from town.

      There is over 1.1 million acres in the Pike National Forest with the closest units in Colorado GMUs 46, 50 & 501. Unfortunately, none of these units are valid for OTC archery tags.

      There are some close unis around Colorado Springs that are valid for OTC elk archery, but I’m guessing (quick look) they are mostly on private ground and I wouldn’t expect many elk in those areas until later in the season. Example 511 had 1% success last year, 110 had 0%, 59 had 4% and 581 had 7% success.

      The closest units to Colorado Springs that are valid for OTC elk archery and appear to be mostly public land are GMU 28, 37, 44, 45, 47, 444 & 86, but you are looking at 90 minute drive minimum just to get to the dirt roads (these units ranged from 4 to 37% success).

      Good Luck

    • You say you missed an elk and are now going to buy an OTC tag? That would be two licenses for elk this year? If so that is not allowed unless something has been changed.
      You need to spend a year scouting areas and studying maps. Archery coincides with the rut so a mouth diaphragm turkey call is ideal to imitate cows which bulls respond to quickly. Bulls are wary so good cover is essential and patience with willingness to sit all day in one spot. Make sure it is a good spot. Scouting is the key so at least you know where elk are and where you should be.

  42. I thought I had posted a link for photos but did not see but one photo. Here is a link for more, no password should be required

  43. I have family in Estes Park. I live in Michigan. We have started planning our elk Hunting trip for next year already. I have a few questions. Yes we want to hike the ridge, glass ect ect. not drive around. We plan on camping on the mountain. We are trying to go when the bulls are seeking and chasing, before they lock down a cow Elk. When is peak rut for the bulls? We want to come out the week before. With an OTC tag, I can hunt multiple units correct? Say we hunt a specific unit have no luck want to try another? What is the difference between the OTC tags and Limited tags?

    • Hi Jacob: You didn’t mention what hunt you plan to do (archery or rifle), but you hit on a very appropriate question for all DIY elk hunters. There is much confusion about the difference between the OTC tags (aka some states as general season tags) and Limited Entry tags. There are differences between states, but since you are asking about Colorado, I will stick with that state.

      Of course we all want to chase bull elk during the rut. The rut makes them easy to find because they are telling you where they are and they are also preoccupied with breeding so they are less wary. The Peak of the rut changes from year to year, but is usually around the first day of Fall (Sept 21).

      And yes, you can hunt multiple units with OTC tags (but only other OTC units).

      Limited tags are just that. They are Limited and are awarded through a draw system. Only a few hunters will be competing for elk in those units. Most OTC tags are available for everyone, every year, so there will be lots of hunters in those units. If tags are limited, they are first come first serve.

      Part of what every DIY elk hunter has to do is learn the options and rules of each state.
      I try to simplify that process in my DIY Elk Hunting Guide, but it is your responsibility to learn the rules.

      In Colorado (2017), the elk hunting seasons are/were as follows:
      Archery….. Aug 26–Sep 24 (Either sex or antlerless only – OTC tags and Limited Entry Draw Tags)
      Muzzleloader Sep 9–17 (Limited Entry Draw only)
      Plains Rifle Sep 1–Jan 31 (Either sex – OTC Tags)
      1st Rifle… Oct 14–18 (Limited Entry Draw only)
      2nd Rifle… Oct 21–29 (Bull Elk OTC tags and Limited Entry Draw)
      3rd Rifle… Nov 4–12 (Bull OTC tags and Limited Entry Draw)
      4th Rifle… Nov 15–19 (Limited Entry Draw only)

      There are other options for hunting dates for Limited Entry tags, especially on private land.
      There are also “Ranching for Wildlife” tags where the average hunter can draw a tag to hunt on a private ranch, but that is only for Colorado Residents.

      So which of these hunts above offer the best chance to hunt bull elk during the rut? Archery hunts and the tail end of the Muzzleloader hunt.
      The next best chance is the early rifle season (draw), but the main rut will be over by then.

      I was hunting last week (Oct 19) and some bulls were still calling. Cows that didn’t get bred during the peak of the rut start coming back into heat, the bulls compete to breed them. I have heard bulls still calling even into November.

      Anyway good luck on your hunt and let me know how you do.

  44. David Kaufer says

    We plan to hunt OTC archery, however would like to have the opportunity to draw a muzzleloader tag. Can that be done within the same unit? There will br 4 of us for a 10 day hunt, we will be unable to pre-scout as we are coming from Indiana. I have just begun the process of picking apart these units, which can be a bit overwhelming! We plan to hike deep and get after some screamers. Any advice on these units?

    • If you look at the 2017 Colorado Big Game Brochure (starts page 38) you can see on the elk muzzleloader section that most if not all units have muzzleloader tags. More units are available to hunt muzzleloader than for archery, so yes you an apply for the muzzleloader tag in the same unit you archery hunt. But you neglected to mention the units you were considering.

      As for “picking apart” the units, yes it is overwhelming. Most people spend many hours making that decision.
      I try to help make part of that decision easier in my DIY Elk Hunting Guide.

      Your plan for going in deep (if you are capable) is the right plan. If you’ve already decided on Colorado, you have narrowed the list considerably. But why Colorado?

      • David Kaufer says

        From a data perspective I like units 521, 72, 74, 42 and 61. Looking for an area with lots of elk. I feel like we can get away from others for the most part.

        I also like our chances of getting drawn [for the muzzleloader tags]. You posted a response about units 7, 8, 9,19, 191.

        We chose Colorado because of its large population. This is our first trip. Not looking at trophies. Looking to learn tactics and put meat in the freezer.

        What are your thoughts about those particular draw units. I believe 101/108 nonresidents drew a tag with no preference point.
        We will be hunting DIY public land. Four guys, hunting in pairs, so plenty of meat packers when we get one down.

        • You are correct that Colorado has the largest elk population, but they also have the largest hunter population. And they are the closest state to you, which makes the most sense.

          Have you seen the post where I rank the top Colorado Units?

          From a pure “numbers” perspective, GMUs 521, 42 and 74 are the best bets.

          I always suggest that first DIY elk hunter think more in terms of logistics and not just tactics. Sure, tactics are important, but preparation and planning are more important. There are many things to consider that most first time DIY elk hunters do not know.

          I like your optimism.
          Let me know where you decide to hunt and how it turns out.
          Good luck.

  45. Just read your OTC elk article. Thanks for pulling that together — must have been a lot of work.
    Question: I’m pulling together an elk hunt (we live in Maine) and really don’t have the resources to hire a guide. If you were me, where would you zero-in on? What state and zone(s) would you look at?

    Thanks! Dan

    • Dan: Putting together my DIY Elk Hunting Guide was most of the work.
      Since you are using the term “zones”, you must have already been looking at hunting in Idaho.

      Deciding where to hunt ultimately comes down to what you want from an elk hunt. In reality, if you threw a dart at the map and it landed on National Forest lands anywhere in the Inter-mountain West, you have a chance to find elk. There are also millions of acres of BLM and state lands that have elk.
      All of the Six Western States have plenty of public land and plenty of elk. But they also have varying differences in climate, habitats and terrain (eco-regions).
      The more you know about all of these things that determine elk habitat and where elk choose to hang out (including lack of development and disturbance), the better your hunt will be.

      Obviously direct scouting is the best way to learn and choose an area. Since I moved to my current location, I have scouted and hunted my local 1.1 million acre unit for over 12 years and still scout new areas every year that I’ve never seen. This year, I found a USFS road that I had never seen before. It gave me access from below to country that I had always hunted from above. I knew elk were down there, but on foot, it was too far to hunt alone. And yes, I found elk.

      I think my book and other posts I’ve written will help you make that decision. The book is basically the conversations I’ve had over the years with my friends and relatives from the East that ask me about hunting in the west. I know there is lots of information in the book that beginning DIY elk hunters have never considered.

      Good luck on your adventure and let me know about your hunt.

  46. My Dad and I want to elk hunt rifle (either sex). We have never elk hunted and looking for advice. My dad is 71 years old and we probably looking for something less demanding physically and maybe guided. What can you tell me?

    • Good Luck!
      Seriously, if you are willing to pay for a guide and or a private tag, you can almost guarantee to put your dad on an elk.

      My neighbor’s Mother-in-Law showed me video and pics last year of her elk kill (a very nice 6×6 bull) she took on a guided hunt (it took 20 years to draw the tag). Her husband filmed the entire hunt on his cell phone. Her sons and other packed it out for her. She was wearing camo (and orange) and boots, but she could have been dressed to go to the mall.

      The big challenge most of us run into is DIY hunting on public land, where elk are scared of people (and rightfully so). So they go where most people don’t want to go.

      But elk cross roads everyday including during the hunting seasons. Not all elk cross roads everyday, but enough that some people only hunt using the strategy of riding the roads looking for an easy shot.

      Not my style of hunting, but I would not turn down a shot at a cow elk on the last half of the last day of the season to put meat in the freezer.

      You have commented on one of my posts about elk hunting in Colorado, so I assume you are looking to hunt Colorado. Wyoming or Montana may have some easier terrain, but Colorado has the most elk. A late season hunt will bring animals down from the high country. If your dad can walk in rolling hills in a foot of snow, he could find elk then without having to climb up or down the steep terrain of the high country.

      Limited Entry Hunts have less competition than the general (OTC) elk seasons, and the early hunts mean the elk haven’t been spooked too much. If you get a chance to hunt the rut, elk are easy to find and are distracted with breeding.

      The 2nd and 3rd rifle seasons in Colorado are the general (OTC) elk seasons. They are bull only hunts (many archery tags are either sex), so you will also have to draw a cow tag to go with that tag. (Or draw an either sex tag and forget the OTC tag).

      I say pick a state and unit, apply for tags, buy general tags if you don’t draw and go for it.

      Most people are not successful. The average success (various states) is around 25% or less and it depending on the unit, it takes 25 – 60 hunter days (recreation days) on average for each harvested elk.

      But elk are on the landscape. If you get out there, you might run into them. Now finding one that wants to get into the back of your truck is the hard part.

      For most of us, hunting is about the opportunity to hunt elk, not just kill elk. There are lots of things to see and experience while hunting that have nothing to do with hunting.

      Your Dad will find plenty to enjoy as he hunts as hard as he wants to hunt.
      I say again. Good Luck. And let me know what you decide and how it turns out.

  47. First a guided hunt is not better because it is guided. Outfitters use National Forest just as others do. Some have leases they buy and that does not mean good hunting. Plus, outfitters by law cannot guarantee a kill.
    Elk migration is another exaggeration and that mule deer stay in one area is another. Mule deer migrate. Elk move out higher country if deep snow exists but they normally travel overnight anyway as I pointed out in another post. Elk can go 25 miles during a night. Just grazing during the day they can cover a lot of ground. People talk about tracking and my opinion is that tracks are good if they are smoking hot in a blizzard or if the animal is still standing in them.
    I have hunted many years and there is no “spooking” of big game. They do react to gunshots unless it is at them. When hunters are afoot animals will shy away from the vicinity of roads trail and campsites. The animals do know where it is quiet and can congregate. I have seen elk calmly out in the sun on private property where nobody is hunting and nobody living there. Not seeing elk or deer does not mean a thing. They blend in well especially if they are still. Glassing areas carefully can get results. Elk are very shy and not curious as deer tend to be. A buck that you might scare out hiding is not to be shot at- watch him and likely he will stop to see what it was that he heard.
    If as some say elk will clear out during one of the seasons then I ask “where do they go”? They move to another area where they are being hunted an the pressure will have them here and there and one must just wait. They will be back. Just because you do not see them does not mean they are gone.
    There is so much nonsense spread around and “tips” I have been told or read that just are idiotic such as removing scent glands so meat won’t be “tainted”; Those glands are on the hind legs far from any meat you will consume, leave them be. Cut into them with your knife and you have a knife with musk on it that you now will spread to everywhere your knife cuts afterward!
    OTC tags are next to useless as are “leftover” draw tags.
    You cannot shoot from a vehicle or a proper road or across a road. You can 4wd trails to get up on ridges to glass areas. Fresh snow can reveal fresh tracks which tells you they were there since the snow started.
    Find a good spot with plenty of views and timber stands and sit down. Waiting or them is the only way as you cannot sneak up on them unless you saw them and they did not see you. That very thing happened to me 3 years ago and I crawled on my stomach for 100 yards in snow to the slope where I had seen a spike bull’s head for an instant. There were 20 or so when I reached the edge and bagged a cow. I was driving slowly on a high trail when I saw that spike bull…
    Now about the other commenters “easy shot” road hunting statement. I take exception to the implication that is how people hunt. Driving 4wd trails is perfectly acceptable but paved road hunting is something nobody does except maybe a moron poacher. To take a person over 50 or 60 to high altitude and expect them to hike around is risking their life. Even physically fit will get altitude sickness if they come from sea level. It can be serious and for some deadly. Take Dad to a doctor a month before you leave and tell the doctor your plans. The doctor will advise you correctly, not me or anyone else can do that. NFL teams many times arrive in Denver a couple days early for important games especially so. Ten steps up a hill will sap anyone lugging a rifle and gear!
    Now with Google satellite views you can see where you are going to hunt, it cannot get much better than that.
    Do not bother with camo, you must wear orange so why try to hide parts of you? Also, go to nearby forests and practice sitting for 2 or 3 hours alone. The true test. If you kill an animal and cannot get it out of the woods contact local wildlife office and they will send someone. They also can find one you wounded but lost sight of as well.

    • Thanks for the comments Bob.
      There is much wisdom in your comments, but I will challenge you on a few statements.

      Bob has commented several times on various posts and has submitted photos of his past hunting trips (see Bob’s photos here).

      Not sure what you mean by saying a guided hunt is “not better because it is guided”… The whole point of a guided hunt is to take advantage of someone’s local knowledge. Obviously, nothing is guaranteed. Some folks want to hire the guide and others just want someone to set up camp and pack them and their gear in and to pack any elk they harvest out. These hunts can be on either public or private land. I don’t want or need a guide and Bob, you don’t need a guide, but it is an option for some.

      My comment about my neighbor’s Mother-in-Law was to demonstrate how easy some elk hunts can be. That particular hunt was on private land. I have seen others on video as I am sure you have, were all someone has to do is line up and squeeze the trigger. Again, not my thing (even if I could afford it), but it is for many.

      How can you say OTC tags are useless?

      In 2016 (latest available harvest data) 42% of all elk harvested in Colorado were on OTC tags. There were 138,841 hunters that hunted with those tags. Yes, only 11.9% were successful, but over 16,500 hunters were successful.

      How are we supposed to hunt every year without OTC or general tags? Do you not hunt OTC tags?

      I have never drawn a limited entry tag. I do draw a cow elk tag about every other year, so without OTC tags, I could only hunt about every other year and I would never get to hunt bull elk.

      You obviously take exception to my observation that I see many hunters driving the roads looking for an easy shot. I won’t argue against your success while riding the roads, nor would I deny you that right. And it is only my opinion of why most folks ride the roads. But many have told me that is exactly what they are doing. Looking for an easy shot and an easy pack out.

      Even when I get too old to hike the backcountry, I will not be riding the roads. I will do as you suggest and do my best to get to an area with a good view and sit, watch and wait. I basically hunt that way now. I hike while I have the energy and I sit and watch when I need a break.

      If only it were just the older guys riding the roads, but I run into 20 somethings that apparently don’t know any other way to hunt because that is how they were taught.

      I talked to a guy a few years ago that had other hunters shoot an elk he had already shot. They shot from the road above and behind him. When he talked to them, that was the first elk they every saw in 16 years.

      When people ask for my advice, I say if you are capable of hiking off the road, you are wasting your time hunting from the road, but that is just my opinion. Riding the roads is not my thing, but it is for many. Everyone is free to hunt how they see fit as long as it is legal.

      You give good advice for folks that live in low elevation areas to check with their doctor before hunting above 8,000 feet. I did not mention that in the last comment to Craig, but I have an entire section on altitude sickness in my DIY Elk Hunting Guide.

      In fact every person that has never been above 8,000 feet should be watched very carefully to make sure they are not susceptible to altitude sickness. Anyone with headaches that don’t go away or confusion of any kind should get off the mountain at least until they can acclimatize for a few days. It takes two full weeks for our bodies to make new blood cells in response to altitude change.

      I never heard of calling the wildlife office to have someone track a wounded animal or to help pack one out. That is great if they will actually do that and if you have a phone number for that purpose, I will post it here. I can’t even get law enforcement to respond to reports of illegal activity. I reported a poached moose and never even got a call back.
      Thanks again for the comments and good luck on your next hunt.

      • I do not advocate road hunting but it is a way of knowing an area and visiting other camps. Elk do not stand still and watch a vehicle like deer will. Elk run and you will not have a chance firing from a vehicle window. If caught with a bullet in the chamber or firing from your vehicle the fines are hefty. Where I hunt has wide open space will mountain tops covered in trees. Getting up to the top is easier in a 4wd! I can glass for miles also. Other hunters hiking around will spook animals out to those who sit and wait.

        • Yes, no other way to learn the general area than to drive it and those caught with loaded weapons should lose their ability to hunt for 5 years in addition to hefty fines.

          I am one of those hunters that bumps elk out for others on occasion, but I try to hunt where I am not within someone’s watch area.

  48. Great article and links.. Question: Looking to take someone on first elk hunt and wanted to start off with easy Cow hunt for him. Where would be the best zone for OTC cow tags for him and me here in Colorado?

    • If cow hunts are easy, why do I see so many bulls? Why don’t I get a cow every year?

      Everyone wants to know the best unit (Elk Zones are in Idaho).

      What does best mean to you? What does easy mean to you?
      You will have to do what everyone else has to do. Research.

      If I told you a unit to hunt, would you automatically hunt there? Wouldn’t you want to know why I thought it was a good (or the best) unit?

      I ranked the Colorado Units for total elk harvest and hunter success (read here – Top 20 Colorado OTC Elk Hunting Units for 2018).

      In the post there are 15 units (4, 5, 12, 13, 22, 42, 43, 53, 65, 70, 71, 82, 85, 421 and 521) than ranked in the top 23 for both total harvest and hunter success (2016 elk harvest data).
      Why not start there?

    • Bob Wyman says

      There are no OTC cow tags. Leftover tags is all you can hope for at this time…
      An easy hunt? That would be shooting from a warm bed and a team to do all the chores…

      • A group from MN is planning on a hunt in CO this season 2018. Are there any OTC tags remaining? We have a hunting party of 6. If we should be able to get 1 tag does CO allow party hunting to fill the one like MN does or is that unlawful in CO? Thanks for a response when can.

        • Here is the list of all big game tags still available in Colorado (also available at CDW website.

        • No, party hunting is not lawful. One tag is for one person and nobody else can kill game for the person with the tag. You can each buy a tag and hunt if you are lawfully allowed to have a firearm and to hunt Colorado. Find B=Game units that are National Forest and you can hunt there. Private property in any game unit you must get permission first.
          With elk if you see one there are usually more. They travel in live in herds of various sizes. There are times you will see just one. The bed down early morning and move after first light. They usually head for the timber but like deer they rest and move all day. They do travel great distances overmight where deer stay in area for days or weeks then are gone. Big bucks come out into the open after dark. You have to catch them in the timber. If you hike they will hear you long before you reach the spot they were in. Sit down, stay hidden but get a good vantage point sit for one hour then you can sit for another hour and another . That is the best way and remember if you shoot something you have to get the carcass out so know your limitations. Try to let the hiking hunters kick game toward where you are sitting. It happens all the time.

  49. Steve Fairbanks says

    Looking for help with a 2nd season OTC youth elk hunt. We are going to Colorado around the Gunnison area to hunt this year. It will be our first time hunting in Colorado and I am looking for advise on which area would be the best to get my son his first bull elk? We are planning on hiking in and camping weather permitting. I am hoping to have a hunting experience that my 15 year old son will remember for ever and will want to return for another adventure with a freezer full of meat and a wall ornament.

    • Everyone wants the best. Best chance to get 1st time elk hunter a bull? Who knows?
      Best advice is scout as much as you can to learn the area, then work hard.
      Some say spend your time glassing. I prefer to hike away from the roads and glass when I can.
      You will both remember your first time DIY elk hunt the rest of your lives whether you harvest anything or not.

      I ranked Colorado units for both elk harvested and hunter success. That is probably our “best” odds, but somebody is going to harvest elk in every unit.

      I wrote the DIY Elk Hunting Guide for guys like you.

      Good luck on your hunt

  50. Bob Wyman says

    Notified of new comments I came here to read them and thought of the leftover licenses since I did not draw. I usually draw my elk antlerless tags for the same unit year after year until two years ago and did not draw. This year my choices were the same as usual but did not draw. That put me in sour mood since I have lived and hunted in Colorado since Hank was a pup. I feel cheated somehow BUT I look at what is available in the leftover draw coming up and guess what? There are tags for each of my hunt choices as leftovers! How in the hell does that happen do you know? And I had chosen “if unsuccessful” an archery tag which was mailed to me.
    I will not bore anyone with the way things have gone south for me and my wife for the last few years but I will be 64 next week and thought maybe a senior discount here and there once in a while, or a little respect now and then but to lose hunting my unit in a draw after so many years I swear… senior discounts do not exist anymore either. I ought to just hunt when and where I feel like and if caught I’ll just act confused and let ’em sack me up and feed and house me until you-know-when…
    Any thoughts on this draw business and what is going on??? Thanks!

    • No Bob… it doesn’t make sense except for one possibility. If another person drew the tag and already turned it. If there are lots of tags available in the unit you did not draw, that doesn’t make sense.

      • I called and that is what they said, someone who drew a tag then changes their mind! I did not even try to get one in the leftover sales…

        • Yes, lots of people apply for elk, deer tags and other big game in many different states at the same time. If you drew a Limited Tag in two different states, in most cases you would have to make a choice about which state to hunt.

          Also, people have health issues and other things pop up in life. Imagine finally getting that Limited tag and then having surgery or get transferred or lose a job.

  51. Anthony Guillen says

    Hello, great article and very informative. My father is getting elderly, in his 80’s and he is passionate about hunting. My parents are moving to northern Colorado (where I live) from New Mexcio, and I would like to arrange an elk hunt this season for my dad. While he’s in good health and gets around well, I’m concerned that this may be the last year he’ll be able to go on a hunt. I have not hunted since I was a teen, and so I don’t know a thing about elk hunting in Colorado, and neither does he as he’s only hunted in New Mexico.
    My dad is very independent and I’m pretty certain he would not want a guided hunt, but I’d like to choose a unit where chances are better, but where terrain is not too difficult. We don’t have ATV’s and he likes going out on horseback or on foot. I will buy the DIY Hunting Guide, but I already know I’m just too busy to really plan this hunt and time is short this season already, and I just don’t know enough on how to even start. Do you do individual non-guided hunt planning? Or can you recommend someone who does? He’ll be moving first week of October, but they’ve already closed on their house here so he can claim residency now. Any help would be appreciated!

    • Anthony: Guide hunts are not my thing, but it may be best for you to hire a guide for your father. At least hire an outfitter to set up camp and take you in on horseback. Forget about an easy elk hunt unless you have a Limited Entry or Landowner tags during the rut.

      If you don’t know where to start, it will take you several years of hunting to learn an area and start to figure things out. Sure, some guys get lucky and harvest an elk the first trip, but that is not the usual story.

      I still think everyone should hunt the OTC and General seasons, so they will have experience when they finally draw that Limited Entry or Controlled tag.

      It is getting late in the year to get tags to DIY hunt this year on public land. There are a few left over licenses available in Colorado, but you will have to check on which (if any) OTC elk tags are still available.

      Good luck and I hope you both are able to get it done.

  52. Scott McDonald says

    I have used Riversbend (Tel Gates Meeker Colorado) guide service twice and they offer a drop camp option. Take you in on horseback and the drop camps have a tent, stove, water and firewood.

  53. I believe most outfitters offer drop camps but cannot say for sure, things have been changing so much in business of all sorts. Personally I think it costs way too much to be an out-of-state hunter. License fees are high and outfitters are not cheap. I was once offered a job with an outfitter and the deal was a couple hundred bucks for 3 seasons and not payable til the end. They would not pay if I quit and said I would make money off tips as most clients were well off!
    I would advise if you have money to travel and draw a tag then plan on nothing more than spending money on emergencies and cold weather clothes. Be sure if nothing else you have a warm place to sleep at night. Propane heat in a tent is best as long as as fresh air can get inside. A sealed tight tent or camper has been deadly to hunters. Propane uses oxygen while Coleman fuel does as well it produces deadly CO and is expensive. Propane right now is about 15 bucks to fill a 20 pound bottle or more for an exchange)..Avoid alcohol for the duration. Altitude sickness will affect you and a hangover is terrible when you cannot breathe or eat. Old timers who stick around camp will see as much game as those who go hiking around. One can hunt with a camera too and the experience is as good and you spend your money on a side of beef!

    • I agree that someone hanging around camp might see game, but I wouldn’t say as much game as someone out looking.
      If that is all someone can do, then that is what they do, but I don’t think most hunters push themselves very hard.
      Hunting is obviously not just about the meat or the money. Sure, beef is cheaper in the long run and a lot less effort, but I prefer hunting elk for many reasons, even if I don’t harvest an elk. Would you stop hunting if you knew you wouldn’t get an elk?

  54. New to Archery hunting and wanted to know if it’s possible to bow hunt during the rifle season?

    • Yes. Read the regs carefully, but most rifle seasons in western states are Any Legal Weapon (ALW).

    • In the past crossbows have been allowed in rifle seasons along with handguns of certain calibers. Tes, check the regs! I considered the requirement of calibers versus bow and arrow and wondered how they could compare the two and the best I can deduce is chances with a bow shot are under 10%, just for a shot at an animal while a handgun longer ranges are possible.
      I bagged two deer in my day with a 44 mag Ruger Super Blackhawk. Both shots hit behind the ear and into the skull- 20 and 70 yards respectively standing and no pistol rest. I am an okay shot but will credit the aftermarket Bullseye trigger spring kit which greatly eases the trigger pull and avoids a jerking motion of trigger finger which a .44 mag can cause out of anticipation of recoil.

  55. Ed Knipling says

    Great webpage and info. Thanks. My questions deal with elk population dynamics in CO. I know there is a lot of variation among units and years, but do you have data (averages, ranges) and/or references to herd age and sex distribution and numbers (cows, yearling, calves, legal bulls) within a typical stable herd before and after hunt seasons, calf birth and pre-hunt survival rates, % herd harvested (antlered and antlerless), population densities per square mile pre- and post-hunt, etc., within some of the top 25 units or in what you consider a representative one? Your knowledge and expertise much appreciated.

    • Hi Ed: You sound like a Wildlife grad student looking for a research project.

      You through a bunch of things out there, so let me bring you back (like I would a new grad student).

      What is your question? More specifically, what is the main question you are really trying to answer? Or are you just looking to analyze the data to death so you can find the most “perfect” unit that nobody else knows about?

      You mention “herd age”, but I assume you mean ages of individuals and how cohorts make up the population over time?

      You also made this comment on one post about Hunting in Colorado, but your question makes me think you read another post where I ranked the OTC elk units based on harvest and hunter success (read here).

      Back to your question: I do not have that data, but the Colorado Parks and Wildlife should. You should check out some of the Herd Management plans (Data Analysis Unit (DAU) reports for elk found here:

      I link to these types of resources for each major elk hunting state in My DIY Elk Hunting Guide.

      These data (related to your questions) are the basis for making wildlife management decisions such as setting seasons and issuing permits.

      Notice that the DAUs cover several units. So the data you are seeking is not necessarily available for each unit, but are for these groups of units.

      Some of the plans are fairy old (the newest I have seen right now was 2010 and the oldest was 2001, but that doesn’t mean they are not useful), and include data such as herd objectives, habitat, land ownership, age and sex ratios, harvest data and information about issues in that particular area that could affect elk populations or hunting.

      If there is such a thing, relative stable herd numbers is the goal of wildlife management. In a perfect world, each unit would be at the objective after the hunting seasons and taking natural predation and winter kill into account.

      The biggest factor effecting big game populations is timing of snow and snow depth, which is impossible to predict. The next biggest factor is probably new development and people walking their dogs and/or hunting for shed antlers during a critical time during the spring (not hard to predict, but impossible to control).

      I will use unit 5 as an example of a top ten ranked unit (2nd and 3rd OTC rifle). For this unit, you have to look at DAU E2 (Bears Ears).

      The plan has some of your specific info such as Post Hunt Population Size, Post Hunt Herd Composition, Calf Ratio, Bull ratio, Mature Bull Ratio, as well as Harvest History and hunting pressure (newer data available in harvest reports).

      There is also info about Current Population and Sex Ratio Objectives (current being 2008) as well as Current Management Strategies, Current Management Concerns and Elk Distribution.

      The DAU (E2) reports estimates the area can sustain 16,500 elk (Feb. 2007 survey); population objective between 15,000 – 18.000 elk. Historically, this DAU has had elk populations over 35,000 elk. This unit has increased antlerless tags in order to reduce this population to numbers that are “biologically, socially, and politically acceptable”.

      Sex ratio goal has been 20 – 25 bulls: 100 cows since 2005 and has been maintained using the 4-point limitation since 1986. The sex ratio has ranged between 16.1 and 37.5 bulls per 100 cows.

      The post-hunt age ratio (calves: 100 cows) has averaged 55 since 1975. The highest age ratio was 81 calves: 100 cows and the lowest ratio was 43 calves per 100 cows.

      There are also comments about elk distribution during the hunting season such as this
      “One of the biggest challenges in achieving an adequate harvest annually in the DAU is elk seeking refuge on large blocks of private lands to avoid hunting pressure”.

      The DAU consists of about 550,000 acres with about 50% private and 50% public (21% in National Forest Lands).

      Back to my question about your real question…
      If you are looking for a magic piece of info that gives you an advantage, save your time and just pick a unit but learn everything you can about elk and elk habitat and how/when elk use that habitat during your hunt season based on hunting pressure and weather.

      The best way to learn about hunting elk is to hunt elk. Too many people think they need to know everything before they go. Just go. And Good Luck on your hunt.

  56. Cody heuett says

    I am looking at doing a otc bull tag in Colorado I have mules to pack in and was wondering what you thought the best unit for me would be. I would like wilderness to pack into.

    • Cody you have the right idea and if you have mules, you can access country that is hard for others to access, but not sure I can pick the best hunt unit for you. Have you hunted elk before? And are you considering states other than Colorado?

      Also, when you say wilderness do you mean designated Wilderness Areas or do you mean large areas without roads? In many cases, much of the habitat inside designated Wilderness Areas are the highest elevation alpine habitats best suited for mountain goats and may not be best areas to hunt elk, especially in 3rd rifle OTC.

      You might want to also look at roadless areas in the National Forests. You can download kmz files that shows National Forests in Colorado, Wilderness Areas and Roadless Areas in Colorado that can be viewed in Google Earth.

      I show you where to find these kinds of resources in Colorado and in other states in My DIY Elk Hunting Guide.
      Good luck on your hunt.

  57. My boys ages 12 and 14 are looking at going first season elk hunting. Are there units in public land that you can buy an either sex tag? The unit we were looking at was not and I can’t seem to find that information. Thank you.

    • Yes, if you hunt Archery Season in Colorado. Map 1 in the post shows those units. (Map updated to remove units 44, 45, 47 & 444 which are now Bull Elk Only). If you want to hunt 2nd or 3rd rifle OTC seasons, these are only antlered elk tags. You can also apply for antlerless tags, which are not too hard to draw.

  58. BC, Thanks for all the help you provide and your elk guide is GREAT! Question…do most of the private landowners/ranchers sign exclusive deals with outfitters or do some do “trespass fees” ? What are you thoughts about paying a trespass fee to get on less pressured private land?

    • I don’t know what proportion of land owners sign exclusive deals or who will accept trespass fees, but it can’t hurt to ask. Many landowners will not accept any outside hunting because they want to save elk for themselves and family members and you will probably have to work very hard to find the right situation.
      I have never asked to hunt private land. I even know a few private land owners but have never accepted offers to hunt their land.
      Some private land hunts will be very good hunts in the sense that elk will have cover and you will have to be sneaky to get in on them. Other private land hunts will be more like shooting cows in a pasture, so you also need to consider what do you want from an elk hunt. Do you want to hunt elk or do you want to shoot an elk.
      Many landowners advertise for you to book a DIY private land hunt for around $2500, but you have to trust they have the habitat and terrain you want to hunt and that they have elk during your season.
      If you have good knowledge of an area and know where elk move back and forth between private and public land, those landowners would be the one’s to ask, especially after you’ve hunted the area for a year or two.
      Good luck on your hunt.

  59. Tim Yoder says

    When do the elk tags for 2019 come out?

  60. I haven’t read all of the comments but tired of Colorado. We have a ranch and allow over 30 people throughout the year to go hunting. Deer, elk,Turkey, rabbit etc. In order for me to get a tag on my ranch I have to draw. We get a few land owner permits for elk but try to sell those to guides to help pay taxes and fence repair. Not nearly enough. But now with all the new costs it cost me $57 per person to apply to hunt on my own property. I have a lot of people we know will no longer hunt because they have to buy another license they won’t use. I haven’t fished or hunted small game for 35 years. Pretty soon, since we never draw a tag, we aren’t going to let anyone hunt. For land owner draw my dad has 5 points for elk tags, just drew an antelope tag with 7 points. Considering we now have 50 head of antelope, 100 head of elk, minimum, and 50nheadd of deer, lions, bears etc. It sense that I can’t get a license for my kids to hunt elk.

    • Hi Travis. I have to admit since I am do not own a ranch, I haven’t paid much attention to rules for landowner tags. Can you or your family hunt with the landowner tags you are given for elk? I also assume that since you mean a few, it is not enough for every family member to hunt. I also assume you do not live in a unit that does not have OTC tags.
      Most states have some kind of program to make it possible for (and further encourage) large landowners to make room for wildlife since private lands are so important, especially for winter habitat..
      It has never been clear how those tags are proportioned. In part, it has to do with the number of acres and it must include the number of animals on the ranch. In some states, the number of tags is also in proportion to the number of public hunters allowed on the ranch vs private hunters.
      If you have 100 elk, 50 antelope, 50 deer and bears and lions, you must have a fairly large ranch with diverse habitats. Seems like there should be a way for Colorado Parks and Wildlife to allow you to benefit from the wildlife on your property and to compensate you for wintering wildlife and allowing others to hunt.
      I would be curious to know what the administrators of the Ranching for Wildlife program (or whatever program that gives out the elk tags you sell) tells you.
      As a public land hunter, I appreciate the value of private lands for wildlife like elk, deer and antelope.
      I never realized it was hard for you to get a tag. Good luck on your draw next year.

  61. seth malinski says


    I recently returned from a CO OTC Rifle 2 hunt with my hunting partner. We were successful in seeing 7 cows and 2 bulls (no shooters). We harvested a cow. Now that it was my second trip to that GMU and particular area, I am comfortable putting in for a Rifle 1 draw tag OR transitioning into an OTC Archery either/sex tag. The GMU we have hunted was 12. This year we had snow up high and it was too deep to go too far off the trail into the wilderness. We also saw many hunters in that area. I suppose we were very lucky to even see a couple of bulls and let alone harvest a cow. The weather is going to play a huge role into my future hunts. My partner and I DIY without any ATV/UTV. We backpack and camp in the wilderness areas. GMU 12 is good for that based on hunter success and elks harvested for an overall GMU and also contains some wilderness areas that allow my partner and I (weather depending) to get deep into the areas other hunters may not want to go.

    My conundrum is that the GMU 12 does not allow Archery on public lands, so, if I transitioned to Archery I would not have the luxury of finding out more about the GMU 12 and use the knowledge I already have of the area. We would Rifle 1 or 2 hunt in 2021, so learning more about GMU 12 is sort of critical. However, I really like the option of OTC Archery for harvesting purposes. Although I am now at the point in my hunting life where the harvest is not as important as the quality. Therefore, I would most likely go after a 5x or larger anyway. So the either/or isn’t a deal breaker but a nice luxury.

    Essentially, I am stuck between archery OTC and not being able to hunt GMU 12 and not gaining more knowledge for future hunts and putting in for Rifle 1 draw or R2 OTC for GMU 12. I hate the thought of having to find a whole other GMU to learn again. I could also be just stuck on GMU 12 because we harvested an animal and also saw 2 bulls.

    Any suggestions?


    • Congrats on your cow elk harvest. Weather will always be a big factor in all of our elk hunts. I have hunted in snow in September and crunched dry leaves in November. We constantly have to decide if we should hunt high or low based on snow cover and our ability to access areas and to move quietly.

      If you want to make the transition to archery hunts and your favorite unit will not allow it, you have a simple choice to make. Either learn a new area or continue to hunt rifle in GMU 12.

      I think it is a good idea to try to hunt totally new areas each year if possible. Obviously you should spend the first few days in areas you know well and expect to find animals. If those first few days don’t put you on the track, then why not try somewhere different? It won’t take too many years before you have lots of options. Also think about all the elk you drive past just to hunt elk in GMU 12.

  62. I am planning a 2020 elk hunt in September. Myself and 2 other buddies all want to go together. How do we get tags for the same unit.

  63. Hi there!
    Planning a 2020 hunt in Colorado. I live in Missouri and have family (2nd)cousins in Denver in which they hunt elk north of Craig. They said they would give me pointers and as much knowledge as possible cause hunting deer here is very different from elk. It would be on public and 3rd rifle and been planning for over a year now,Also I would be able to drive and not be a long haul. But after thinking and checking other states I’m on the fence. #1 is hunters and being able to get away from them. #2 drive distance. It would be a nice drive and not to far. Now here in Missouri I hunt public land and I don’t see ppl at all. I’m familiar with the land here and not with Colorado at all. I like the fact that I can get a tag without a problem there but worried about ppl after reading a ton of info. The fact that the drive would be short and how easy it is to get a tag keeps my mind going to Colorado. Any info would help with the hope to at least see elk instead of hunters

    • Yes, hunting elk in Colorado (public or private) will be very different from hunting deer in Missouri. For your first hunt, go with your cousins. Hunting third rifle season will probably have more hunters than 2nd rifle because the snow starts to shut down access to higher country and more people are starting at the same areas. But seeing people in parking and trailhead areas doesn’t mean you can’t spread out and get away from the crowds. Your problem will be not knowing where to spread out. But your cousins should know. Do all the research you want, the most valuable information is personal knowledge of the land and what elk are expected to do on that land at different times of the year.
      You also have to decide if you want to hunt with others, since I get the feeling you always hunt by yourself. As for options, as a non-resident, you will have to draw tags in Montana and Wyoming (not too hard, but not guaranteed). You can get OTC (General) tags in Utah and Idaho if are willing to drive a little farther. The best chance to get away from people is earlier in the season before the snow starts limiting access. Bow season is good, but days are still hot. Even with OTC tags, you can hunt close to the rut. Rifle or ML seasons in Sept and Oct are still usually good access. By November and December, the snow is piling up, roads are closed and elk are moving to wintering areas.

  64. Here is an elk video some may find interesting to see. Not sure where in Colorado but it was linked from KKTV 11 in Colorado Springs where I reside.

  65. Beautiful sight! I’d just like to see one in the woods this November. Hopefully they are still up higher. We will see I guess

  66. John Cowgill says

    I just got back from a DIY hunt in Arizona’s zone 9 in late November and early December. Mmy buddy finally got drawn after 15 years of applying I went along to packmule for him. We arrived a few days before opening day and scouted. We awoke opening day to three feet of snow, near zero visibility blizzard conditions. being the diehards we are, we braved the thigh high snow and 30 mph winds for several hours until I couldn’t see my buddy 20 ft. in front of me! Reluctantly we returned to camp and spent the next couple days digging out and getting the vehicles safely down the mountain. Disappointed but not beaten we spent the last days of the hunt at a lower elevation with no success. Leaving with nothing but a mild case of frost bite and an incredible adventure and story to tell back home. Do you think a guided trip would have been any better? Snow in the high country in Arizona during the late hunt is not uncommon .But three feet on the night before opening day definitely caught us off guard. Ever the optimist, we put in for the early hunt this year and hopefully miss the blizzard!

    • Yes, that was bad luck, but as you say an incredible adventure and you have a good story to tell.

      Of course a professional guide would have an idea of where to find elk ever after such a big storm. But the hunt would have been his and not yours. You would have been tagging along instead of leading the way.

      That amount of snow really limits access to almost all high elevation areas anyway. Elk probably started moving down to their traditional Wintering areas, which may have been on private land.

      As you said, he finally drew the tag. That is why I recommend people go to states with OTC or General Elk tags and hunt every year so they can learn different areas and learn about elk. Whey they finally draw that tag, then they are prepared to take advantage of it.

  67. Did the OTC area and units change this year? The Colorado G&F shows that there isn’t tags for some of the units you have highlighted. Thank you in advance

    • I originally responded that I must have missed a change to the OTC units, but after checking, there has been no change. Which units do you see in the tables that are no longer in the Big Colorado Big Game Brochure?
      Do you do Instagram? Find me at #backcountrychroniclesdotcom.

      • Maybe I’m not reading it correctly, but it looks like Units 77, 78, 751, 74, 75, 70, 71, 711, 722 are not on there. Your highlighted map of OTC archery and the Colorado G&F don’t look to match in all cases. They did last year. Like I said I may be looking at it incorrectly and i am sorry if that’s the case.

        I don’t do much on Instagram, but I will find you. Thanks again

        • Yes Tommy… Those units you mention 77,78 etc are shown on the Colorado Brochure, but no OTC tags are available there (note color legend)…
          I drew two maps; one for Western and one for Eastern so I could zoom in. I left GMUs without OTC tags off.
          My Map 1 (West) is for most non-resident Archers… My Map 2 (East) is for a few that know people with private land or have actually first hand knowledge of public areas in Eastern Colorado (which are few)…
          Hope that answered you question… Good luck on your hunt

  68. Mahliah Gomez says

    Hello I am a OTC youth and I wanted to go to Colorado so I can Get a bull elk. I was wondering what unit would anyone prefer?

  69. Hi,
    I am at the initial stage of considering where to try my luck at an archery elk hunt in the future. I read through your page here (lots of good info, many thanks) but one thing I am still a bit confused by is the GMU tags connection. If I understand it correctly, your OTC tag is purchased for a specific unit, correct? The reason I ask was because of this statement:

    “For example, you could hunt in GMU 72 one day in southern Colorado, then drive all the way to the northern part of the state and hunt GMU 3 the next day.”

    That (to me) makes it seem like a tag is good in multiple units but when I read the Parks & Wildlife Brochure, it doesn’t seem to be that way based on how the codes are listed for the tags.

    Can someone more versed in this share some of that knowledge with me?

    – Will

    • Funny thing, but I have been told both things by CPW…
      One person at CPW told me on the phone that OTC tags were only good in one unit. When someone questioned me about something I published, I called back and another guy told me they are good in all open units during the time frame (some units may have shorter time frame).
      Only govt. agencies can get away with being so hard to understand. If you want to hunt Colorado, you have to learn the rules and navigate their not-so-user friendly website and documents.
      This question continues to come up. I wonder what answer I will get next time I call.

  70. Jonathan Andrew Ford says

    OTC 3rd season rifle says Nov 13-19th on CPW website, and Nov 7-13th here. We are planning a trip, is this just an error in your schedule?

  71. Jennie Richardson says

    We have been hunting on the Grand Mesa the last 5 years, notably less elk each year. A friend suggested the White River National Forest. Your thoughts

    • The population estimate shows elk populations for Grand Mesa has been increasing. You need to look harder. Elk are getting pressured more. They will go where less people are. You have to do the same… go where half the people will not go.

      You can jump around and chase low hanging fruit or you can learn your home territory better and better.

Comments, Opinions, Questions?