Colorado OTC elk — using Insider to narrow down choices

Photo credit: Bryan Campos

Perhaps one of the most recognized over-the-counter (OTC) opportunities in the west is for Colorado Elk. Colorado boasts unlimited tag numbers, records numbers of elk, and loads of opportunities. Along with this, though, hunt pressure can be aplenty and some planning and strategizing before your hunt can make the difference in seeing elk every day, or seeing people. 

In the following article, we are going to deep dive into the best way to navigate through Filtering 2.0 on Insider to make the tools work for you in locating your next hunt.

Learn more about Insider here


Before diving into units that interest me I like to first get my Filtering filters set up so units I wouldn’t be interested in are no longer on my radar. While setting this list up I like to think of things I would want out of my hunt- Am I looking for more of a backpack hunt experience? Am I willing to play private land boundaries in hopes of arrowing a bigger bull? All small factors can make big changes when it comes to deciding on a unit.

Jump into Filtering 2.0 here and follow along

Trophy potential

Trophy Potential is one filter that is admittedly don’t use a lot. When it comes to elk, and in particular OTC elk, I’m not after a lot of terms of bull size. Sure, a nice bull is always the goal but I’m always in these hunts more for the adventure than the horn size, and I like to eat elk. Bottom line, any legal antlered elk is probably on the menu for me and antler size is not a huge determining factor. That being said, considering two units as equal I’ll almost always opt for the one with a better trophy potential, because why not?


This filter allows you to filter by specific season dates or during a specific date range. For this, set the filter by the season you are primarily interested in, Archery (Over the Counter) for instance. The map will now only display units with an OTC archery hunt available. Conversely, I could also do this for the 2nd or 3rd OTC rifle seasons. 

Public land

The public land filter is definitely one of the most important to me. This gives me a good indicator of the amount of land i’ll have available and how concentrated the general bulk of hunters will be. When looking at public land percentages it is important to weigh goals and season of choice into your decision as well. As an example, during an archery hunt I may focus on heavily mountainous areas while a 3rd season rifle hunt may find me in transitional areas where private land can begin to become an issue. With the second example, the public land percentage starts meaning less and less to a degree. 

Harvest Succes

Harvest success is one of the most obvious filters to play with. This gives a data driven pulse on the direct success of surveyed hunters. You do have to take some of this info with a grain of salt as harvest success is also directly related to hunter effort, but still, with the amount of data CPW collects these are very solid numbers to base a hunt around. A high harvest success does not always translate to larger bulls, though.

Bull:cow ratio

As you'll see in the screenshot above, there is a sort-by dropdown box. That is where you can sort your unit selection by M:F ratio or other options.

Another good data point to rank units by is the bull:cow ratio. The bull:cow ratio is simply referring to the average number of bulls the biologists have counted per 100 cows. A higher number means more bulls on the landscape. In general, the higher the better. I won’t let this data point be an ultimate decision factor but it does influence my decision no doubt.

Utilizing Unit Profiles

Once getting my filters set in Filtering 2.0 I can begin to pick units off the map that are intriguing to me. Here, I am paying close attention to the data points from the filters but also to the general terrain makeup of the area on the map. Any area that is immediately interesting will get a closer look. Clicking on a unit of interest on the map will bring up the unit profile. In our Unit Profiles, you can learn vital information about the immediate area and glean additional info about concurrent seasons. 

Factors to consider

One of the first things I like to look at on Unit Profiles is the actual written narrative. This will give me a good handle on the general terrain of the area, elevation makeup, and potential access options and/or hurdles. With the info in these sections, I will generally have a good idea of what this area provides and if it is something that would be of further interest to me. 

Concurrent seasons

While on a Unit Profile I can look at all season types for every species, and their respective season date. This will give me an idea of how many additional hunters I might expect in the woods should I choose to hunt a given unit. For example, if looking at an archery hunt I may also run into elk and/or deer muzzleloader hunters or archery deer hunters during the same time frame. Knowing how many people and when they are hunting on those hunts could be a big benefit. 

Additional season data

One of my favorite data points to look at on a season profile are some of the graphs located under the specific seasons, specifically the hunters surveyed and tag allocation graphs. This gives me a great idea of the number of surveyed hunters a unit has had in years previous or how many tags a given limited entry tag is offering. As an example, if I am looking at a 2nd season rifle hunt I might check a unit profile to see how many hunters the unit typically has for that season, if that number is trending up or down, and what the tag numbers might be for a concurrent hunt, such as a 2nd season rifle deer. I can then cross-reference these numbers with other prospective units on my list.


Colorado Parks and Wildlife is great at collecting and presenting harvest data and a lot can be learned when putting that data to use. Still, I like to ask myself questions as I’m combing through the data, not all data points that appear bad actually are. For instance, a unit with low success rates is generally off-putting, but why is it low? Is it something obvious like a high hunter number or easy access? Or, is it possible that this unit has great elk numbers but the terrain is tougher or more remote? This is where it becomes really important when considering things like bull:cow ratios, harvest success rates, and hunter surveyed numbers. Hunting in Colorado is just a little bit different than in most other states, from my experience, but planning for it in the right way can lead to enjoyable hunting!

Learn more about finding these opportunities on Insider here

Diving into GOHUNT Maps

From here, it's also a phenomenal idea to jump into GOHUNT Maps and start to play around with the layers and mapping tools to dive into the unit you're looking at hunting. You took the time and did your required work on Filtering 2.0... now it's time to take that research to the next level with GOHUNT Maps!

Note: All Insiders have access to GOHUNT Maps already on the web and through our mobile app! If you don't have access to GOHUNT Maps yet, you can either sign up for Insider or purchase our maps-only membership Explorer.

Learn about Explorer here


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