The Colorado big game application deadline is always the first Tuesday in April. This year, that falls on Tuesday, April 6th. It’s time to make your plan to apply in this year’s big game draw!
Like many western states, the application and draw process in Colorado can seem daunting. But don’t let that stop you. Beyond the popular over-the-counter elk hunts, Colorado offers outstanding limited license opportunities that are only available in the draw. These opportunities are absolutely worth the effort to navigate the draw process.
Whether you’ve been applying and hunting in Colorado for years, or if you’re just beginning the journey – here are a few tips to help you make the most out of your Colorado Big Game Applications:
1. Don’t Apply for a Tag First Choice that You Can Draw as a Second Choice
If you’re planning to hunt a unit and season that can be drawn as a second choice, don’t put it as the first choice on your application! This is a critical difference. Here’s why…
Anytime you can draw a tag as the second choice on your application, you have the opportunity to gain a preference point AND draw the tag – have your cake and it too. If you draw a license as a first choice that could have been drawn second choice – you essentially just wasted a preference point! And every preference point represents a golden opportunity (see tip number two below).
Here’s how it works:
In Colorado, you get four choices on your application. The state looks at everyone’s first choice and distributes licenses based on a preference point system. The applicant with the most points gets the license first – until all licenses are distributed. The first choice on your application is the only choice that utilizes the preference point system. In the second, third and fourth choice rounds, licenses are distributed randomly.
In many units and seasons, there are still licenses remaining after everyone’s first choice is considered. If that’s the case, the system will randomly distribute licenses to those who applied for that hunt code as a second choice – if there are still licenses remaining, they will then be distributed in the third choice round, and so on...
Because the first choice round utilizes the preference point system, that means if you draw a first choice license, your preference points automatically reset to zero. If you don’t draw a first choice license, you’ll automatically gain a preference point.
Therefore, if you’re planning to hunt a unit and season in Colorado that can be drawn in the second choice round – you should not put it as the first choice on your application. Instead, apply for a preference point as your first choice. Then, apply for the license as your second choice. In this scenario, you’d gain a preference point AND draw your license.
How do you know which hunts can be drawn in the second choice round of the draw? There's no better tool than to become an Insider member with our friends at GoHunt. They offer the best draw odds and unit filtering tools. In the meantime, you can go to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Big Game Statistics Page. Select the species you’re interested in and then click on the most recent Draw Recap Report. If you need help reading these reports, you can watch the help video on the Statistics Page.
A word of warning
Applying for a license as a second choice can be a risk. For example, let’s say that after the first choice round there are 8 licenses remaining. But there are 10 second choice applicants. That means you’d have an 80% chance of drawing that license. When you look at the Draw Recap Report on the statistics page, you can see how this played out last year. If less than 100% of the second choice applicants drew the license, you’re taking a risk. In this case, you’ll have to decide if you take the risk and make a backup plan – or if you want to forfeit the preference point and apply as a first choice. Again, to find out what the odds are of drawing a tag second choice, we highly recommend using the GoHunt Insider.
2. Make a Plan to Use Those Preference Points
Between over-the-counter (OTC) licenses and 2nd choice licenses, you have the opportunity to hunt every year while still building preference points. You have lots of options for using those points. Make a plan and work toward it…
In Colorado, you could save your points for a decade or more. There are outstanding units that take anywhere from ten to twenty preference points and beyond. In my own humble opinion, no elk (or deer, or antelope) is worth a 20-year wait. My advice would be to burn your points more often and have more fun hunting.
Whether you’re a Colorado resident or nonresident, there are many units and seasons that can be drawn with preference points in the single digits. Even just one or two points will open doors that represent a worthwhile increase in quality over OTC hunts. You could enjoy one of these limited hunts every-other year or every few years – and fall back on those OTC or second-choice options in between.
Then, consider the fact that you can take this approach with elk, deer, antelope and more – if you stagger those opportunities, you could have a quality limited hunt nearly every year! Just a little bit of planning like this can really increase the quality of your hunts.
Again, using your GoHunt Insider or the CPW Big Game Statistics Page, find those units and seasons that look intriguing in that single-digit preference point range. If you're an Insider member, you can even see the historical draw trends in each unit to gauge point creep and how long it may take you to draw a particular tag. Make a plan for each species and go after it.
Hunting Gear for the Journey
We hope you have some great hunting adventures to look forward to this year! As you make those plans, please contact us if you have questions or need recommendations for hunting gear. All the gear in our shop are items that we personally use in the field. No matter where you’re headed, we’d love to help you find the right gear for your next trip.
We offer free shipping on all online orders over $75. Or if you’re in the Denver or Colorado Front Range area, you can stop by our showroom at 8955 S. Ridgeline Blvd Suite #1100 in Highlands Ranch.
By Ryan McSparran
Ryan is an outdoor writer based in Colorado, and is proud to be a part of the team at Hunting Gear Outfitters.