Colorado Big-Game License Drawing: What You Need To Know

If it's your first time or you’ve applied before and need some tips, here’s information that will help you successfully navigate the big game license draw.

Whether this is your first time applying for a limited license or you’ve applied before but are seeking some additional tips, here’s some information to help you successfully navigate the big game license draw.

Although Colorado offers a variety of over-the-counter (OTC) hunting licenses, many big-game tags, called “limited licenses,” are only available through the annual drawing.

What’s New – Colorado Big Game Brochure

Colorado Big Game brochure cover

By now, you should have picked up a copy of the Colorado Big Game brochure. The brochure, which is available online and at statewide license agents and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) offices, includes everything you need to know to help you get ready for the upcoming big-game seasons. Pay particular attention to page 1. Here you will find a list of everything that’s new for 2017, including changes to the license refund policy and a summary of game management units (GMUs) that have been added for elk, deer, pronghorn, moose and bear. The brochure also offers a detailed explanation of how to buy and apply for big-game licenses.

Apply Early and Online

CPWshop screenshot
Apply online at

Although every big-game brochure includes a paper application, it’s best to apply for limited big-game licenses using CPW’s online purchasing system. Applying online is fast and convenient, and all major credit cards are accepted. Best of all, online applications are automatically checked for common submission errors. Be sure to submit your online application well before the April deadline to avoid delays. Helpful tip: If possible, apply for and purchase licenses using a desktop or laptop computer.

CPW Hunt Planner Can Help

Hunt planner Bob
Call a Hunt Planner
(303)291-PLAN or (303)291-1192

Do you still have questions about applying for a big-game license? CPW offers a team of Hunt Planners and call-center representatives to assist you. Knowledgeable and professional, these folks are the best in the business at leading you step by step through the license-application process and helping you plan the hunt of a lifetime. Give them a call today at: (303)291-PLAN or (303)291-1192.

Tip: Additional hunt-planning resources can be found on the CPW website.

Avoid Group Hunt Mistakes

Big game hunters

Colorado allows you to apply as a group when applying for big-game licenses. This means that you and a few of your closest friends can all hunt together this fall—if you plan accordingly.

But here’s the catch: You must select a group leader and everyone must apply using this person’s customer identification number (you played “Follow the Leader” as a kid, right?). Everyone must enter the group leader’s CID number in the “Group Leader CID” box on the application.  

In addition, every person in the group must enter the same hunt code, GMU, species and season. The only variation allowed on a group application is species sex (i.e. one person can apply for a cow elk license, while others apply for bull elk tags). If one person in the group makes a mistake or enters the wrong information, everyone’s application may be rejected. Also, keep in mind the smaller the group the better the chance of everyone drawing a license. Group tags are allocated based on preference points and draw success hinges on the person with the fewest number of points. So, make sure you know the preference-point requirements for the licenses you select and choose your hunting partners wisely.

It’s a Matter of ‘Preference’

Colorado’s big-game license drawing is based on a preference point system.

Here’s how it works: Each year that you apply in the limited drawing but are unsuccessful in drawing a first-choice license, you earn one preference point for that species.

You continue to earn one point each year that you apply but are unsuccessful (pretty simple, right?). Some licenses require zero preference points (you may draw one of these licenses the very first time that you apply), while other tags may require upwards of 20-25 points to draw. Hunters who have accumulated the highest number of points have the greatest chance or preference in drawing a big-game license—hence the name “Preference Point.” Once you successfully draw a license as the “1st Choice Hunt Code” on your application, your preference points return to zero for that species and the process starts over.

Tip: You can also accumulate preference points every year simply by entering the “Preference Point Hunt Code” as the first choice on your application. For elk, the preference point hunt code is E-P-999-99-P. Entering this as your first choice allows you to build preference points, while also giving you the opportunity to apply for—and possibly draw—a license for your second, third or fourth choices. Keep in mind, preference points are only used when you successfully draw a license as your first-choice selection on the application.

Multiple Choices = More Opportunity

Once you’ve entered a valid hunt code or the preference-point hunt code as your first choice, make sure you enter additional hunt-codes for your second, third and fourth choices on the application. Selecting more than one license gives you the greatest opportunity of drawing a tag and hunting this fall.

Here’s an astounding fact: Less than 10 percent of hunters who apply for elk put in for more than one license on their application. Why limit yourself to only one selection when you have three other chances to draw a license?

If you’re applying for elk and deer, you literally have eight chances to draw a license for each species, as long as you enter hunt codes for all four of your choices. This is a great way to stack the odds in your favor.

Who Wants Leftovers?

Check “Leftover Draw” as the  “if unsuccessful, send me” option.

By selecting this on your application, CPW will mail you a list of leftover licenses in late June, giving you the option to apply for any remaining licenses before they go on sale to the general public in August. This gives you first shot at any leftover licenses, and it’s just one more way to stay ahead of the game. Also, it does not use your preference points. Selecting Leftover Draw during the application process gives you up to eight chances to draw a big game limited license.

NOTE: If the big game draw has closed, you still have options. Please read, Colorado Big Game Hunters, You Have Post Draw Options.

Written by Jerry Neal. Neal is the editor of Colorado Outdoors Online and is an information specialist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

3 Responses

  1. Don’t like preference system for drawing big horn sheep, moose and mnt. goat. Should be by preference points only. With the new payment system many more will be applying. In three years, when these applicant are eligible for weighted draw, this draw system will be even more unfair. Get this changed.

  2. What’s the purpose of forcing non-residents to purchase a small game license to enable you to apply for an elk license, even if you don’t draw a tag and or if you are only applying for preference points only? Seems to be CPW’s way of generating more revenue even though I have no intent to hunt small game.

    1. Non-residents hunt in Colorado for a number of reasons, including the size and quality of the big game herds. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission added a qualifying license requirement for applying for the big game draw in November 2018. It is similar to other western states who require customers to purchase a base hunting license prior to applying for a draw. In addition to the qualifying license revenue, Colorado will receive additional federal match funds. And the use of these funds will help CPW meet its ten priority goals for wildlife management.

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