Changes to Colorado Big Game Structure

Colorado Division of Wildlife - 300

By DAVE BUCHANAN/The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Colorado Wildlife Commission on Thursday adopted the season structure for the 2010-2014 hunting seasons and, except for a few notable changes, left the existing structure pretty much alone.

Colorado again will have four big-game rifle seasons, starting with an elk-only first season, followed by two deer and elk combined seasons, with a final limited deer and elk wrap-up.

Nothing was done in regard to a proposal to swap archery and blackpowder rifle seasons.

The commission adopted what’s being called a hybrid preference point draw. There are several premier elk units, such as 1, 201 and 10, where it takes nearly two decades of preference points to draw a license.

Which means, of course, that even if you started accruing points in the past decade, you’ll never catch up, as the point totals mount each year.

Starting next year, though, every hunter with five or more preference points can enter into an auxiliary random draw, where 20 percent of the licenses will be set aside for any unit requiring 10 or more points to draw.

This includes deer, elk, pronghorn and bear units statewide.

For those hunters not expecting to draw but willing to gamble their first license choice, this opens an interesting realm of possibilities.

The worst that can happen is you don’t draw in the auxiliary and instead receive a preference point (what you really wanted, anyway) and a cow tag.

Or you might draw that coveted unit 201 tag and likely will have to change your hunting plans.

The number of points needed to draw in the random drawing will be determined based on the average number required from 2007 to 2009, DOW spokesman Tyler Baskfield said.

“It’s strictly a preference points game but it gives hunters who would never draw otherwise a shot at a license,” Baskfield said.

The nonresident “soft cap” for limited licenses also was changed.

Starting next year, every limited license unit requiring six or fewer preference points will set aside 35 percent of the licenses for nonresidents.

In units requiring more than six preference points, only 20 percent of the licenses will available to nonresidents.

The caveat, as in the past, is that if insufficient numbers of residents apply for these tags, the leftovers will revert to the nonresident side. This means it’s possible nonresidents may have a shot at more than 35 or 20 percent of the licenses depending on resident participation.

And the reverse also is true. Residents could get more than 65 or 80 percent, depending on how well nonresidents chase the respective tags.

License numbers and quotas for those limited-license units will be set next year after biologists have finished their post-hunt census of game populations.

In a related move, the commission changed the convoluted “pay to play” rules and dropped the requirement that hunters wanting a preference point pay $25 for that point if they did not have a hunting or fishing license in the previous year.

Up to this year, the $25 was nonrefundable but next year a hunter can opt simply for a license without being required to have an earlier license.

“This gives a break to the nonresident or resident hunter who isn’t interested in collecting points or only wants a one-time opportunity to hunt in Colorado,” Baskfield said.

The commission also approved a compromise in response to a push by some Gunnison residents to make the surrounding game management units (54, 55, 551) limited-license units and do away with all over-the-counter elk tags.

Starting in 2010, the first season in the Gunnison Basin will be limited-only elk, and the second season will offer over-the-counter, either-sex licenses with a cap on the number of licenses available.

These either-sex tags, Baskfield said, are an attempt to get a better cow harvest and help reduce the elk numbers in the Gunnison Basin.

The third season will offer over-the-counter bull-elk tags with the fourth season limited-license only.

“We think the either-sex tags will be more attractive to hunters,” said Baskfield.

Baskfield said the either-sex tags will be List B licenses, meaning a hunter possibly can have this and another elk license.

The commission also is continuing the earlier work of a Gunnison stakeholders group that tried to find a way to improve hunter access on private land in the Ohio Creek area north of Gunnison.

A major hurdle to increasing the elk harvest is the refuges provided by large ranches and other private properties in the area. The Gunnison Basin working group is comprised of wildlife officials, ranchers, local businessmen and sportsmen.

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  1. I am a new Colorado resident. I would like to start planning an Elk hunt for 2010. I have never applied for an elk permit in Colorado so I have no preference points. What would you recommend as a first time elk hunt? Put in for a drawing? Are there OTC tags available? Also, I am trying to get my brother-inlaw to fly out from the East Coast to join me or have his own hunt. What do you recommend for an out of stater elk hunt? Thanks.

    • Chris,
      I would subscribe to Huntin’ Fool Magazine, as this is the “coup de grace” for hunting resources in the West. Garth and his team research all of the units and draw odds. A bonus that HF offers is that if you draw special unit, they send you a list of all their members that have hunted that unit. This info is priceless! You could also supplement this with the Western Hunter Magazine, as Chris provides some good information.

      With these resources, you could start your research on picking a unit. Then, follow-up with contacting local wildlife biologists for that area. You may be able to reach out to some on the hunting forums to gain some insight on your unit.

      Both organizations provide applications services for a fee and could provide you with some insight on your selection.

      For your first elk hunt, I would not be concerned with a trophy bull type unit. I would look for a unit with a high density of elk. Even if you take a cow, you will have learned a lot from this hunt. In the future, you can be more selective.

      I also recommend reading ElkNut’s Playbook. It is a very good read and I have written a review on this site about it. It can be purchased here:

      Thanks for stopping by,
      Rudy Hassall