Best 101 Guide To Colorado Elk Hunting

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Colorado Elk Hunting
By: Heather Howell/Flickr @All Rights Reserved
Colorado Elk Hunting
By: MegWhatman/Flickr @All Rights Reserved

Before we begin, here are some suggested readings you can check out:

Colorado is named after the Spanish word for ‘colorful’ and is mainly known for Colorado elk hunting. Spread over millions of acres of property and access to the public property.

Colorado is indeed an elk hunter’s paradise. It is the only state in the US which is situated 3200 meters above sea level. It is a high, rugged and mountainous state, and the eastern part of it contains plains which has forests and grasslands, canyons and ranches covering the whole length of it.

Colorado is also comprised of mountains and some of them run really tall quite above 14000 feets. The mountains are full of coniferous forests and the trees like aspen are home to elks and a number of other animals. 

The state has a long list of big-game animals: mule deer, moose, mountain goats, lions, black bears, white-tailed deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, waterfowl, and upland birds are the most popular amongst the hunters.

But the Elk hunting is the supreme monarch of the Colorado hunting season.

More elk like the bull elk are hunted and shot in the west by the hunters during the rifle hunts who have special use permits, often accompanied by licensed outfitters during special season dates. Hunting elk is legal and needs a license.

Elk Hunts

By: bob/Flickr @All Rights Reserved

Elks have defined summer and winter coats that they shed in late summer and spring. In winter, their head, belly, neck, and leg regions are dark brown, whereas the back and sides are greyish.

The female elks usually have a lighter coat. Elks are one of the most widely distributed members of the deer family in North America. These can be sighted everywhere other than the Great Basin desert and Southern coastal plains.

The population used to be estimated at around 10 million before European men arrived. They accepted the western settlements better than the buffalo and inhabited the rougher terrain.

Before moving on to Colorado elk hunting, wouldn’t it be great to check a few fascinating facts on Elk? 

Well, I think it will be great, so here are a few fascinating Elk facts. 

1. Elk are Often Confused For Moose

People often mistake a moose for being an elk. However, there are quite a few distinctive features to both of them if you notice them properly. Moose are the largest among the two and usually hang out alone. 

But elks are always in groups. 

2. Not Every Elk Has an Antler

Unlike some deer species, only male elks possess an antler. Male elks use their antlers during the mating season to compete with other elks. 

3. Elk Play an Important Role in the Ecosystem 

Elks are essential for our Ecosystem, as they help shape plant communities. 

4. Elk Are Very Friendly and Social 

It is already mentioned that elk can be found in groups, which means they are very social beings. They always live in large groups. 

5. Elk Prefer the Cold Weather 

Elk always prefer living in the cold, and that’s when they are the most active. 

All About Colorado Elk Hunting

Elk Hunting
By: dukkillr/Flickr @All Rights Reserved

The elk population in Colorado is estimated at 286,000 heads which is greater than any other state. The elk hunt tourism plays a crucial role in the economy and lifestyle of the Colorado rural community.

With numerous game species in Arizona, elk hunting often sees its ups and downs throughout the history in the Colorado Elk hunt.

Many times hunters go for hunting imagining a perfect shot at a broadside bull or cow in the meadow. Hunting in the terrain with its scattered vegetation and an equally unpredictable climate, here the elk can go hiding as you chase it. Rarely will you come across the perfect opportunity to shoot it down. 

With good road access, a wide range of terrain and thousand acres of land, large public areas and customized options of guided, semi-guided, or DIY hunting options and lastly, the opportunity to buy elk tags over the counter, and being able to fly to a major airport are some of the reasons why the Colorado elk hunting or big game hunting is so well known and the best in the whole of America.

There are many magazines on wildlife and then often there is the picture of the elk standing in the open meadow which would make a perfect target. The real picture is however very different.

Elks are found stalking in the meadows and the shoot becomes quite a challenging one for the hunters. Elks are found stalking in dark ravines, steep hillsides, or in thick timber where they simply go rushing over bushes and obstacles.

Hunting Season and the Impact of Weather

When the weather becomes warmer, the elks move to higher regions located just above the timberline. It is not surprising hunters need to work hard to reach these elks who roam on the higher terrains. 

If you need to hunt down an elk you will need to go the exact area where it is roaming. Reaching the area where the elk is roaming is hard but packing it off is harder. Then there is enough drinking water that you must carry along with the snacks bars that you would try to munch when you are hungry.

This changes when snow starts falling, and the elks will get together and get down to lower latitudes because they need to find out food sources and with the gradual arrival of winter the vegetation stands exposed.

The snowfall must be at least one foot to set the elks moving. The hunters can track elks with only some amount of alertness. Its fairly difficult to hunt down for elks if you have taken your own car. The elks will move away from the car once it starts making sound.

Elks like dogs can always smell when somebody is approaching and so you can use the wind direction to conceal the scent. The last thing that should be in your mind is the elf finding you out before you find it out. So once you are following its trail take short steps and after walking for every ten minutes scan the area surrounding you before moving forward.

Elks have a remarkable capacity to freeze their movement for a long time and completely blend into the dense and thick green background.  You have to scan the area with binoculars so that you can keep track of any movements that is taking place in the shadowy terrains. Elks mostly go around in groups of ten or more of them together. They can run fast using their long legs and disappear quickly on the ravines or steep slopes of Colorado.

How to buy Elk tags in Colorado?

There are several ways you can buy elk tags in Colorado. Colorado has several hunting seasons, which may differ from Game Management Units. The general archery season opens up at the end of August till the 4th week of September. It may include Archery, Muzzleloader, 1ST rifle, 2nd rifle, 3rd rifle, 4th rifle, and late archery.

The seasons are the same year to year with pre-rut, rut, and post-rut hunts. The Muzzleloader season is probably the best Colorado elk hunting season.

It runs in the middle of the archery season, the elevation and weather play an important role, the hunting pressure rises with two open seasons, but the large terrain and vast amounts of elk herds can handle the traffic.

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife came up with a great plan that gives elks a 20-day break between the archery season and the first rifle season. It helps the elk to fall back into their routine, settle down.

The first rifle season begins from 13th-17th October.

The second rifle season often brings a mix of different terrains, higher and lower elevations. Good weather, making it typically productive for the hunter if they can score a trophy after a successful hunt the meat of the bull, horses, bugling bull, muzzleloader elk, harvest and woods like timber and dark timber would typically help the economy in a significant way.

The third rifle season begins from November 3 till the 11th.

The weather turns cold, and the snow starts to set on the ground, and the elks are on their feet more often in a pack because of the snow.

The fourth rifle season runs from 14-18th November.

It is a winter hunt, but the animals are more on their feet than on the trees. It is also the season where most animals follow their dependable daily routine patterns and settle in their winter ranges. Both bull elk and cows can be easily hunted if scouted properly and score a trophy.

During the seasons, one can hunt both deer and elks. The OTC tags are valid only in OTC units that have the license by the USDA Forest Services for the hunting season they are issued. The first day for the sales of Colorado OTC permits on July 25.

It is usually limited and sold on a first-come, first serviced basis. The application dates and deadline for limited draw units are April 1.  An area with few licensed tags means that you are required to be flexible with the hunting dates given.

What units are better for elk hunting?

The question doesn’t have a hard and fast answer; based on Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the most 300+ point elk trophies are from GMU 2, 10, and 201. Although GMU 12, 23, and 24 are high, units 76, 79, and 791 may be the highest.

Relying entirely on the unit’s reputation is not the best idea. Success depends on too many other factors. You may be in the best unit and still have no luck, whereas you may get a shot at the lower team.

How to go hunting in Colorado?

Hunting in Colorado is extremely fascinating and exciting. You come up, close and personal with moose, bears, elks and more so with the hilly terrain that is home to these beasts. There are coniferous trees and temperate climate that are meant  for people residing in this typical rocky areas.

The Archery season starts off on Sept 1 and the next Muzzleloader sets in on Sept 11 followed by four rounds of rifle starting on Oct 9, Oct 23, Nov6 and Nov 17.

The hunting areas that Colorado is divided into is called gaming units. Deer, bear, elk hunting seasons start in September and last for a month. Hunting season is divided into zones and it completely depends on the species what you hunt and when you hunt.

When is the best time to hunt Elk in Colorado?

Elk Hunting Season
By: Bryan Carnathan/Flickr @All Rights Reserved

For any elk hunter, the principal focus is on the bugle. In Colorado, it starts mid-September and covers the archery and the rifle seasons of the west.

Stepping aside from the bugle, the best time depends on the method as well as the territory. In significant parts of Colorado, archery and early rifle season are the best time to visit.

However, in other regions, later seasonal hunts are more successful. The golden rule to keep in mind is that during Colorado elk hunting is that the elevations should be higher, and during the later winter seasons, the elks tend to migrate towards the ground.

Which type of hunting should you choose?

The Colorado elk hunting choices are wide and varied, from a fully catered hunt with a comfortable lodge to a DIY search on public land and ranches living inside a camp.

It includes everything in between, like guided tours, semi-guided tours, and the ones where you can be accommodated in local motels, inns and visit restaurants.

Visitors in the Colorado department do not necessarily need to be accompanied by a local guide for the Colorado elk hunting. However, the Colorado outfitters and guides need licenses when visiting private lands.

More information about them can be found on the Colorado Outfitters Association, from where you can choose public or private land, limited draw, or OTC, DIY or guided is up to you.

The cost, however, might be over $600, excluding the travel and lodging expenses depending on the private property, drop camps and rifle seasons.

The average success rate of the OTC tag hunt is 10 percent, and for limited draw hunts, it is 20 percent.

The best option might be to hire a guide as it doubles the probability of hunting the animal.

The best guides work either on private land and know the less-traveled paths. Therefore you’re most likely to hunt in areas with less pressure, which gives a better shot at animal hunting experience.

In short, if you lack considerable experience in Colorado elk hunts, then hiring a licensed outfitter by the USDA Forest Service, visiting the national forest in season dates, using suggested hunting locations is supposed to be a good investment.


  • On a cold winter day if you want to go out hunting wear gloves,  hybrid options and mittens. It will help you to keep your hands warm during winter hunt.
  • Elk hunting and deer hunting are not the same thing. With deer you have to be quiet but with elks you can be loud. Then elks have bad eyesight compared to deers and you can shoot them right away.
  • Camping is just another part of hunting. You have to set up a base camp where you can eat meals and sleep at night.
  • On a hunting expedition you can bring tents, skillet, bowls and matches. You can also bring along your sleeping bags.
  • Then you should also bring sufficient water and food. Drinking water as well as the water required to take a quick shower are some things that you cannot afford to forget. You can bring meat and bear, blended coffee and snacks.
  • Rugged reclinable chairs will complete your packing list. But it all depend on whether you are going for a guided tour or not and whether there is sufficient lodgings.


  • The legal bull needs to have antlers with at least four points on one side or brow tunes 5 inches or longer. 
  • To purchase a hunting license in Colorado, you need to show the hunter’s safety card before the Colorado elk hunt. 
  • Colorado hunters need to wear 500 square inches of blaze orange, a headgear visible from all directions. The blaze orange or pink incorporated.
  • The Colorado elk hunting takes place in steep terrain, valleys, and woods.
  • Most elk hunts in Colorado take place on high altitudes. Hunters from the plains might experience mountain sickness. It is also a risky condition.
  • Colorado is a grizzly habitat range. Other predators, like mountain lions and black bears, may be spotted. Therefore caution is advised.

Colorado has a major population of elks living in it and you can purchase licenses over the counter for a very few units. No application needs to be made in advance and this makes it a popular destination for last minute bookings for outfitted hunts and do it yourself hunts.

These over the counter licenses are also needed for archery pronghorn hunt and in certain units for white tailed deer. If you want a hunter’s license in Colorado you need a hunter’s safety card. Its also mandatory for Colorado hunters to wear 500 square inches of blaze orange.

Now you are all set to go Colorado elk hunting. I hope to have provided you with all the related information to Colorado elk hunting to make your hunting session a significant success. 

We would love to hear about your Colorado elk hunting trip. Comment down below! So, if you have ever been Colorado elk hunting before, share your experiences with us. 

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