The big news in Colorado for 2019 has nothing to do with actual hunting, rather the application/tag fee changes (as was highlighted by Mike Duplan in our last issue). The increases include a $3 to $9 per species application fee as well as a $100 preference point fee per species for bighorn sheep, mountain goat, and moose. Additionally, a $56 hunting license will be required to apply for the 2019 draws. I would assume a lot of applicants (especially last year’s first timers) will be rethinking their application budget.
Colorado is home to both bighorn and desert sheep. An applicant has the option of applying for only one. The desert sheep draw doesn’t have preference points. Conversely, the bighorn draw relies on a weighted preference point system after the third year an applicant applies. The weighted system generates a random number that is then divided by the number of weighted preference points. The tags are then allotted based on these numbers, lowest to highest.
There was one unit available to nonresidents for desert sheep (S62 in 2018). The draw odds were 0.06% in 2018! The harvest stats run 100% annually for this coveted tag. The bottom line is that for a new applicant applying already in Colorado and who has the prerequisite hunting license, there’s no reason to not throw in another $9 for a shot at a dream tag.
There are approximately a dozen bighorn sheep tags available to nonresidents annually. These can and do vary from year to year. Over the last few years, Unit S33 has been the cream of the crop. Once again in 2017, harvest was 100%. Similarly, S21 continues to produce better rams than other units, albeit with a drop in harvest percentage (57%). Not taking a hard look at S3 and S15 would be a mistake in my opinion. Both have 80% harvest rates and have draw odds more than double of the “top picks”.
The mountain goat draw in Colorado utilizes the same weighted preference system. The units that nonresidents can apply for varies from year to year. Harvest stats are extremely high in all units available to nonresidents. Units G11, G12, and G13 all offer harvest rates at or above 90%. Billies taken in each of these units often will be in the mid nine-inch range. A sleeper unit from 2018 is the G5 archery tag. This tag boasted a harvest rate of 75% and offers big mountain goats annually.
Colorado is the current epicenter for big Shiras moose in this country. Big bulls are located in all units available to nonresidents. With statewide harvest averages north of 90%, it’s difficult to pick a specific unit. Unit 6 supports a large population of moose and a 100% harvest over the years on 40”+ bulls. It is and will continue to be a top pick. The unit grouping of 49/50/500/501 continues to provide bulls averaging nearly 50” at a 100% harvest year after year. Unit 76 offers a behind the scenes pick with mid-to-high 40” bulls at a 100% harvest clip, with slightly better odds than other top units.
Antelope hunting here is a tough proposition. Colorado hasn’t historically produced trophy antelope with any regularity and for the most part, the largest populations are on private property. Drawing a rifle tag on a good private or public unit is a tall order and generally takes 14+ points. Those applicants with necessary points might look toward 3/301 or 2/210 for a hunt with enough public land for a good hunt and harvest stats higher than 75%. The border units of 87 or 88 could yield a decent chance at a good hunt for those with fewer points. Both units offer harvest stats in above 85% and have enough public land to get it done.
Colorado has far and away the largest elk population of any state. Known primarily as an opportunity state, there is a staggering amount of OTC hunts with for archery and rifle hunters (2nd and 3rd seasons). Colorado has a pure preference point system for all other elk hunts. High point applicants take the tags, period. The problem with this at this stage of the game is the number of points required to draw the best units. Those particular units (2, 10, 40, 61, 201, and 851) require 20+ points.
Playing catch up in the preference point game is a hopeless cause for many current applicants as well as any new applicants (point creep). Still, there are draw options for applicants with lesser point totals. For example, Unit 40 (a top 1st season pick) can be had for 12+/- points in the 3rd season.
Elk hunting is as good as it has ever been and undoubtedly hosts more nonresident elk hunters than any other state. Rather than building points forever, get an OTC tag and get out and hunt!
Any discussion on big mule deer has to include Colorado. Colorado has over twice the number of B&C mule deer entries over the last eight years as the next highest state/province! It seems like a given to apply in the land of the giants, right?
The only problem is the draw system. The pure preference point system that awards tags to only those with the highest point totals for any given hunt have made the best units a nearly impossible undertaking. The top 4th season (late November) tag units of 22, 44, 54, 66, and 201 take in excess of 20 points to secure a tag and growing annually!
The remedy for this it to utilize a different season choice. The 2nd (late October) and/or 3rd (early November) can often be had for half the number of points as a 4th-season tag in the same unit. The archery and muzzleloader seasons generally can be had for even less. Pick a unit/season that can be had with your points and apply.
Deer hunting east of I-25 (Eastern Plains) is a different story. The Eastern Plains are composed primarily of private property with a lot of agriculture. That being said, it makes sense that the tags in these units can be had for 2-8 points. Hunting seasons here are generally the first two weeks of December. The problem is that most of the great deer hunting there is controlled by outfitters who lease properties. These units can be home to great mule deer, whitetail, or both.
The plains units being managed by outfitters has made them perennial hotspots for great bucks. The game plan here would be to do your due diligence locating a reputable outfitter and let them recommend a unit that they outfit in. For those adventurous hunters looking to hunt the plains DIY, take a look at units 142, 124/126/127, or 132/139. They all have enough public to hunt.