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Overview of Colorado's elk hunting opportunities

Overview of Colorado elk hunting opportunities

Chris Neville with his 2020 over the counter archery elk. Photo credit: Sam Sarbacher

When it comes to Colorado it’s easy to see why this state is the land of hunting opportunity. Out of all of the western states, Colorado has the highest elk population. And with all that opportunity, there are some phenomenal hunts that shouldn’t be overlooked. When it comes to elk, most will consider Colorado’s over the counter hunts, but there are a lot of options that are worth considering when it comes to easily obtainable draw hunts too. 

Below is a quick overview of some opportunities that exist in Colorado for elk. Remember, even more research information can be found on our 2021 Colorado elk application strategy article here.


Muzzleloader elk hunts

If you love the challenge of a primitive weapon, a muzzleloader elk hunt is for you. You get all the thrills that you would experience with an archery elk hunt in the rut, but you have a weapon that has a little more range in your hand.

Plus, the opportunity exists to draw tags that you can pick up for minimum points in certain units. A quick look on INSIDER and of the 129 units that have muzzleloader elk hunts, there are 39 units you can draw 100% with 0 points. The big kicker… there are also 10 muzzleloader elk units you can draw 100% as a second choice. So what this means is you can gain a preference point, and still hunt bull elk on a permit tag.

See your muzzleloader elk options here


Draw rifle hunts

Also, beyond the ever-popular OTC 2nd and 3rd season elk hunts in Colorado, there draw hunts for 1st rifle, 2nd rifle, 3rd rifle and 4th rifle. These hunts with limited tags could mean less crowding. 

Again, some of these hunts can be drawn with zero points! A quick look on INSIDER showcased that for a nonresident, 56 units that were drawn in 2020 with zero points for 1st rifle, 11 units were 100% draw for 2nd rifle, 12 unts were 100% draw for 3rd rifle and finally 85 units were 100% draw for 4th rifle. And there are even options to pick up some of these units as a second choice at zero points, so you would build a preference point and put a tag in your pocket.

See your 1st rifle elk draw options here

See your 2nd rifle elk draw options here

See your 3rd rifle elk draw options here

See your 4th rifle elk draw options here


Archery draw hunts

For example, there are a total of 21 units that have draw odds of 100% at zero points and 32 units that have draw odds of 100% at 1 point. Plus, there are 19 units that were 100% draw odds last year as a second choice. So you'd be able to gain a point and hunt.

The archery elk draw hunts are a great way to get away from the OTC crowds and possibly have a better overall hunting experience.

See your archery elk draw tag options here


Over the counter hunts

One strategy for trying to gauge the popularity of OTC hunts is to view an individual unit's Unit Profile and check out how many hunters were surveyed that hunted the unit.

Number of hunters surveyed on Colorado elk unit

Screenshot of data that can be found on Unit Profile on INSIDER.

Using this data can help you to find a unit that has less pressure could put you at a slight advantage. Also, on some of the later season hunt dates it might not be a bad idea to start to look at some of the migration layers that can be found on goHUNT Maps to figure out where elk could be, or if it is an area where animals will migrate out of during those late dates that we will see in 2021.

Archery OTC

When looking at OTC archery elk opportunities you'll see there are a total of 122 units, but if you dig a little deeper, a bunch of them are on the eastern plains which is mainly private lands. If you adjust the public land percentage slider on Filtering 2.0 to 10% that number drops to 87 and if you slide it up to 20% you are now looking at 70 units.

Below is a screenshot of Filtering 2.0 showing all 122 units that have an over the counter archery elk hunt.

Showing all Colorado elk over the counter units

And now below, here is the same over the counter archery elk opportunities, with a 20% or greater public land percentage applied. You'll see how easily it can be to start to narrow down hunts using Filtering 2.0.

Colorado OTC elk hunts filtered by public land

Best harvest success rates for archery OTC hunts in Colorado in 2019

(With at least 10% public land)

Unit Trophy potential Harvest success Bull:cow ratio Public land %
301 300"+ 42% 19:100 15.5%
13 280"+ 26% 26:100 23.3%
211 300"+ 25% 26:100 43.2%
32 310"+ 21% 24:100 38.8%
11 300"+ 19% 26:100 67.2%
131 280"+ 19% 26:100 17.3%
22 300"+ 18% 24:100 73.4%
214 270"+ 19% 19:100 23.9%
21 300"+ 16% 24:100 87.6%
31 310"+ 16% 24:100 57.2%
63 280"+ 16% 21:100 56.6%
64 280"+ 15% 19:100 41.9%
65 300"+ 15% 19:100 52.6%
411 300"+ 15% 28:100 61.8%

The 2020 harvest reports were not available as of March 12, 2021.

See your archery OTC options here


2nd Season OTC

There are a total of 143 units that hold 2nd season OTC elk hunts. Again, there are a lot of units on the eastern plains, so adjusting the public land filter to 10% will knock that number down to 109 and if you jump to 20% public land you're looking at 94 total units.

Best harvest success rates for second rifle OTC hunts in Colorado in 2019

(With at least 10% public land)

Unit Trophy potential Harvest success Bull:cow ratio Public land %
41 300"+ 43% 28:100 71.4%
131 280"+ 34% 26:100 17.3%
59 300"+ 29% 25:100 40.4%
13 280"+ 26% 26:100 23.3%
31 310"+ 26% 24:100 57.2%
60 320"+ 24% 45:100 81.8%
70 300"+ 22% 16:100 69.7%
12 280"+ 20% 26:100 52.8%
82 300"+ 20% 51:100 70.9%
211 300"+ 20% 26:100 43.2%

The 2020 harvest reports were not available as of March 12, 2021.

See your 2nd season OTC options here


3rd Season OTC

There are a total of 90 different units in Colorado that hold an OTC elk hunt for 3rd season.

Best harvest success rates for third rifle OTC hunts in Colorado in 2019

(With at least 10% public land)

Units Trophy potential Harvest success Bull:cow ratio Public land %
13 280"+ 32% 26:100 23.3%
211 300"+ 27% 26:100 43.2%
214 270"+ 26% 19:100 23.9%
4 300"+ 23% 19:100 47.9%
17 300"+ 23% 33:100 62.9%
5 300"+ 21% 19:100 59.8%
16 300"+ 20% 33:100 52%
59 300"+ 20% 25:100 40.4%
131 280"+ 20% 26:100 17.3%
11 300"+ 19% 26:100 67.2%

The 2020 harvest reports were not available as of March 12, 2021.

See your 3rd season OTC options here


In Summary

Best of luck in 2021! Hopefully, you're able to pick up an elk tag this fall and get out and have fun. Keep in mind when looking at opportunities for elk in Colorado that there are a lot of options that you can draw with minimal points and you always have OTC hunts to consider if you don't draw.

Remember, as an INSIDER you have access to everything from Filtering 2.0, Draw Odds, goHUNT 3D Web Maps and Application Strategy articles. All of these tools are what you need to find the perfect hunt for you.

Stay tuned for an article coming out soon on Colorado mule deer where I take a deep dive into the 2021 season dates.

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