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Existing Colorado OTC elk opportunities for 2020

Bull elk down!

Archery hunts are over, but opportunities exist if you still don't have a Colorado elk tag in your pocket yet. Photo credit: Jake Horton

With all of the uncertainty of 2020, you may not have applied for an elk tag or maybe you didn’t draw a tag in the state of your choice and are wondering what to do. Well, I am here to say that is okay and this year could be a great year to get after bulls in one of Colorado’s over-the-counter (OTC) rifle units. If you don’t have a tag in your pocket yet, Colorado should be number one on your 2020 radar for multiple reasons. Colorado has the largest elk herd in the world with ample public land, they offer unlimited OTC tags for specific seasons and the tags are available and affordable. Whether you didn’t draw or didn’t apply because you didn’t know what this crazy year would bring, there is still an awesome chance to hunt OTC hunts in Colorado that can put some meat in the freezer. 

When it comes to public land with prime elk hunting, Colorado cannot help but come up in the conversation. Over 34% of the state is public land, which totals around 23 million acres of public hunting land. That is a lot of public land! What is better than that is how many elk are roaming these acres of land. The latest post hunting objective by Colorado Parks and Wildlife was over 280,000 elk. Colorado has the most elk out of any state and also has the largest single herd of elk, which lives in the White River National Forest. This herd has as many as 39,000 elk alone, according to the latest management objectives and count. With that many elk and that much public land, it is easy to see why thousands of resident and nonresident hunters choose to chase bulls and cows in Colorado year after year. 

Glassing for over the counter Colorado elk

A huge and important reason why Colorado should be on your hit list every year is the unlimited OTC availability for many elk archery, second and third rifle hunts. This means that you can consistently plan on hunting the same unit year after year solo or with some hunting buddies. The biggest advantage to hunting the same unit annually comes with your education and experience in that unit. If you can hunt a unit every year, you can begin to build a knowledge base and understand the animal habitat, terrain, hunting pressure and animal behavior from one year to the next. This knowledge will allow you to be in the right spot year after year and increase your harvest success rates. If you don't know where to start, goHUNT's INSIDER makes sorting all your options a breeze! You can filter out all second season hunt options or third season hunts, and then you have several other great filter options from there. 

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When it comes to public land in any state, one of the hardest parts of hunting is to understand where to find elk during a certain season, especially during a heavily pressured OTC season. I have often heard many people say that Colorado OTC seasons are overcrowded and it is hard to get away from people. This may be true in certain units and near roads; however, there are some ways to get around this or use this to your advantage. First, goHUNT’s Filtering 2.0 allows you to see how many people report to be hunting in a certain unit during a certain season under their harvest statistics. Using this data and finding a unit that has less pressure is one strategy that will put you in a less crowded situation. This may involve avoiding some of the most popular hunting units and concentrating on less popular units with lower hunting pressure and higher harvest odds. No matter if you hunt in a super popular unit or an unpopular one, use other hunters who are unwilling to put in the work to your advantage. Plan on a majority of the hunters to travel less than one mile from a trailhead, ATV trail or road. Then plan, predict and search for areas and travel corridors that the pressured elk will use to escape. Pay attention to the migration corridor information and the wintering ground maps that CPW provides and use these to your advantage. Push in deep and play the pressure game smart and you will not feel as though these OTC units are too crowded. You might just harvest a nice bull. 

The final reason that Colorado second or third rifle season should be on your hit list is because of tag availability and cost. You can arrive the day before season at a Walmart, sporting goods store or other license dealer and buy an OTC rifle tag. They will print it off and you will be on your way within minutes. This has some excellent advantages to hunters with flexible time off and unsure whether to hunt second or third rifle season. Hunters can keep an eye on the weather patterns and stay in touch with local biologists before season and make a last minute decision to come or not to come depending on the weather and animal information. Hunters from nearby states can also come out prior to the season between first and second rifle season to scout and then buy a tag before the season if they like what they are seeing. The tags are also very affordable since nonresident bull/fishing combo costs $670.25. If you look at the cost of tags creeping up in most western states, Colorado is still very much affordable and stable for the time being (although we never know when things will change).

Closing

Bryan Campos 2019 Colorado OTC bull elk

goHUNT Store Manager Bryan Campos' 2019 over-the-counter rifle bull elk.

Though 2020 might have been an unprecedented year of uncertainty, there is one thing that is certain: elk hunting seasons are still happening all across the western big game states. Colorado is one of those rare states that gives everyone opportunity and allows hunters to dip their feet into some prime elk habitat year after year. As we have seen happen state after state across the West, the high opportunity, low cost and unlimited tag may not last forever. States are charging nonresidents more for tags year after year while fluctuating availability depending on herd strengths. Taking advantage and planning a last minute Colorado rifle elk hunt should be a must do if you do not have anything planned in 2020. There is opportunity, availability and convenience to hunt one of these OTC seasons every year. Talk to your buddies, use goHUNT’s Filtering 2.0 and goHUNT Maps and make 2020 a year to remember by harvesting a bull elk in the great state of Colorado.

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