2020 Colorado Big Game Hunting: What’s New

The 2020 Colorado Big Game Brochure is now available and with the release of the brochure comes several significant changes for the Colorado big game hunting seasons.
2020 Colorado Big Game Hunting “What’s New” video. Video by © Jerry Neal/CPW.

The 2020 Colorado Big Game Brochure is now available and with the release of the brochure comes several significant changes for the 2020 Colorado big game hunting season. If you plan to apply for a limited-license or if you are an over-the-counter (OTC) archer, you will want to pay close attention to some important changes that affect this year’s hunting seasons.

Changes Affecting Limited-License Hunters

For the 2020 season, hunters will have increased opportunities to draw a license with the new secondary big game draw. This means the “unsuccessful options” that were available in the past have been removed from the draw application process. Details of the new two draw process are outlined below. A word of caution: Your best chance to draw a license is always during the primary draw when the largest quantity of licenses are available.

Primary Draw

CPW will begin accepting primary draw applications on March 1, 2020. Hunters can apply for deer, elk, pronghorn, bear, moose, mountain goat and Rocky Mountain and Desert bighorn sheep licenses during the primary draw. The application deadline for the primary license drawing is 8 p.m. Mountain Time on April 7, 2020. Hunters are encouraged to submit their applications early. Applying early will guarantee that you avoid bottlenecks that can occur from the online traffic surge created by hunters submitting applications at the last minute.

2020 Preference Point Issue cover

Tip: Understand Preference Points

If you’re new to the limited-draw process, purchase Colorado Outdoors Magazine’s 2020 Annual Preference Point Issue for an explanation of preference points and easy to read preference point lists for each species. The raw data that is used in the Annual Preference Point Issue can also be downloaded for free from the CPW website.

Secondary Draw

CPW’s new Secondary Draw replaces the “leftover” draw and removes the “unsuccessful options” from the application process. The Secondary Draw is open to anyone — even if you missed the deadline for the Primary Draw. Elk, deer, pronghorn and bear licenses not issued through the primary draw will be made available through the Secondary Draw. A key difference from the Primary Draw is that the Secondary Draw does not use or award preference points. However, application fees and qualifying licenses are still required. In addition, youth hunters are given first preference on all hunt codes. CPW will accept applications online or by phone for the Secondary Draw beginning June 5, 2020. The Secondary Draw application deadline is July 7 at 8 p.m. Mountain Time. Please see page 4 of the big-game brochure for more details. 

The Qualifying License Requirement

Continuing this year, hunters must purchase a qualifying license to participate in the big-game draws. Qualifying licenses include spring turkey licenses and small-game licenses. Colorado residents may also choose combination small-game and veteran lifetime combination licenses. All qualifying licenses are available beginning March 1, 2020 and must be purchased prior to applying for all big-game licenses. All annual small-game, fishing, combination licenses and Habitat Stamps are now valid for 13 months — from March 1 – March 31 of the following year.

information icon

When and why did CPW start requiring qualifying licenses?
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. The use of these funds will help CPW meet the ten priority goals for wildlife management.

Increased Bear Hunting Opportunities

archer with bear
Hunter Testimonial: “I normally don’t buy bear tags but I’m glad I did for 2019 archery season.” While elk hunting, T. Becker came across this black bear, initiated a stalk, and harvested him with a 20-yard shot.

In an effort to meet harvest objectives, Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists and wildlife managers have increased bear hunting quotas across the state. For the 2020 big game season, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is offering expanded bear hunting opportunities for all hunters and reduced license fees for resident hunters. Non-resident bear license fees were significantly reduced for the 2019 big game season and those prices are in place again for the 2020 season. Also new for this year, all archery and muzzleloader elk and deer hunters can purchase an “add-on” OTC bear license.

bear paw symbol

Look for the bear paw symbol!
Find additional information about “add-on” licenses in the Colorado Big Game Brochure on page 20 for deer licenses, page 35 for elk licenses and page 66 for bear licenses.

New to bear hunting or considering a 2020 Colorado bear hunt? Read 10 Tips for Colorado Bear Hunters and avoid the most common mistakes that hunters make when pursuing Colorado bears.

Mandatory Chronic Wasting Disease Testing

Mandatory testing is free and it helps wildlife biologists monitor the health of Colorado’s deer herds and better track the spread of chronic wasting disease. In 2020, CPW will require mandatory submission of CWD test samples (heads) from all deer harvested during any of the rifle seasons from specific GMUs.

Mandatory Deer CWD Testing Game Management Units

Mandatory Deer CWD Testing Map
Mandatory chronic wasting disease (CWD) testing game management units are shaded in pink.

Game management units 1, 2, 6, 10, 16, 17, 21, 25, 26, 30, 31, 32, 34, 35, 40, 43, 44, 47, 48, 49, 50, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 63, 66, 67, 68, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 110, 111, 118, 119, 123, 124, 128, 129, 133, 134, 135, 136, 141, 142, 143, 144, 145, 147, 161, 171, 201, 411, 444, 471, 481, 500, 501, 511, 512, 521, 551, 561, 581, 591, 681, 682, 711, 741, 751, 771 and 791.

There will be no charge for mandatory testing. Read Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Colorado Chronic Wasting Disease Response Plan ​to see how our agency is addressing the problem. For more information, visit our website: cpw.state.co.us/cwd

Voluntary CWD Testing

Hunters not included in mandatory testing may choose to have their deer, elk or moose tested for CWD. Testing cost is $25. For more information about where and how to submit a CWD sample, please visit cpw.state.co.us/cwd.

Changes to Over-the-counter (OTC) Archery Elk Licenses

Successful Colorado Archery Elk Hunter.
Successful Colorado Archery Elk Hunter.

Hunters in the southwest region should be aware that archery elk licenses are now fully limited for antlered and antlerless elk. CPW has reduced license quotas to address declining elk populations in some GMUs. For a detailed explanation of how and why Colorado Parks and Wildlife made this change, please read Archery elk licenses now limited in Southwest Colorado.

2020 OTC Antlerless Elk Archery License Map
2020 OTC Antlerless Elk Archery License Map
 2020 OTC Antlerled & Either-Sex Elk Archery License Map
2020 OTC Antlerled & Either-Sex Elk Archery License Map

Need Help? Call a Hunt Planner!

Don’t get tripped up by the little details. If you need help figuring out where you can hunt with zero preference points or you need help setting up your CPWshop.com account, planning a hunt or applying for licenses, call center agents and Hunt Planners are available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., (303) 297-1192).

Resources For Planning Your Colorado Big Game Hunt:

Mountain Goat
Mountain Goat

Colorado Bighorn Sheep & Goats

For anyone interested in hunting bighorn sheep and mountain goats in Colorado, please read the “What’s New” pages in the 2020 Colorado Sheep & Goat Brochure. For video tips and tactics, please visit the Sheep & Goat Hunter Resources page on Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.

Thank You!

Colorado Parks and Wildlife thanks you for hunting Colorado, and encourages you to have a safe and successful fall season. 

Live Life Outside

40 Responses

      1. How much is the annual senior small game fishing combo? Could not find the cost listed anywhere on the CPW web page.

      2. Senior small game/fishing combo – $29.75(Residents age 65 and older). Please see page 5 of the brochure – listed under “Qualifying Licenses” heading.

  1. I tried to go online to buy a senior small game and fishing license for seniors. I can’t find it as a option? Maybe I’m having a senior moment?

    1. Not a senior moment 🙂 Licenses go on sale March 1. Here are the specifics from CPW FAQ page.

      When should I buy a qualifying license? When are they available?
      All qualifying licenses can be purchased starting March 1.
      Qualifying license purchases must be completed prior to applying for the big game draw. A qualifying license purchase and application for the big game draw can be completed in the same transaction but the qualifying license must be added to the cart first.​​
      Residents applying for the lifetime resident veteran combo or lifetime resident first responder combo may submit their application form and qualifying information at any time; please allow 14 business days for processing. Applications received after March 27, 2020 cannot be guaranteed to be processed by the Big Game Application deadline.

  2. Hope your qualifying license makes up for the loss of hunters purchasing main tags! Non res bull tag $650+ have talked to many people who said will not apply. We had 8-10 people who rotated years average of 6 would go every year.

    1. A qualifying license is not needed to purchase a leftover limited license or over-the-counter big game license (both go on sale in August).​ For more information about Big Game Hunting Qualifying Licenses please visit the CPW website – https://cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/Qualifying-Licenses.aspx

      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. The use of these funds will help CPW meet their ten priority goals for wildlife management. For more info, please see https://cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/Qualifying-Licenses.aspx

    2. Same here. I just want to buy a preference point since I can’t hunt this year and they expect me to spend $83 for the “privilege” of getting a preference point only. That should be illegal.

  3. Thank you for the video. As a parent of a new hunter (not a hunter myself), I get very confused by the brochure and website. The video helps a lot. Would you please make more videos for inexperienced hunters? I have a hard time understanding the licensing rules, strategies, options, combinations, and how to select the correct hunt.

  4. The leftover draw was first come, first served until the licences ran out. How does the secondary draw determine who gets one of the sometimes very scarce licenses?

    1. The secondary draw means increased opportunity. The old leftover draw only offered deer and elk licenses and was only available to customers who participated in the primary draw. The new secondary draw offers two more species: bear and pronghorn licenses, in addition to deer and elk licenses and is open to all customers whether they applied in the primary draw or not.

      The secondary draw provides preference for youth hunters. Youth hunters have 100% preference in the secondary draw. What does this mean? The secondary draw processes all youth application choices prior to processing adult choices. A hunt could be completely drawn by youth before the adult application stage of the draw. Find more info on the secondary draw here – https://cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/Secondary-Draw.aspx

  5. I think it is wrong to charge non-residents a small game license fee before they can apply for big game. It’s already expensive and now you add an additional charge??? No wonder hunter numbers of non-residents are dropping?? The CPW just doesn’t realize that many other businesses rely on the out state hunters to purchase food and lodging and other local offerings.

  6. your qualifying license is bull. I can sit here in minn with over 100 dollars invested Colorado just to gain preference and not even leave the farm! been hunting your state since 1987 and you have priced us out of staters out of hunting there.did not even receive a book this year.thanks for nothing.very disgusted !!

    1. A qualifying license is not needed to purchase a leftover limited license or over-the-counter big game license (both go on sale in August).​

    1. Detailed information about preference points can be found on page 9 of the 2020 Colorado Big Game Brochure.
      ONE PREFERENCE POINT IS AWARDED PER SPECIES APPLIED FOR to hunters who apply properly and are unsuccessful in drawing a license for a first-choice hunt code in the primary draw for big-game species in this brochure. You may apply for a preference point as your first-choice hunt code.

  7. As a longtime non-resident big game hunter of Colorado and Wyoming, the “qualifying license” requirement is just legal extortion and a vulgar abuse of authority. I love elk hunting in Colorado and we used to bring in groups of eight hunters or more from Wisconsin every year. We are now done with Colorado!!! We love hunting, the outdoors, the mountains & people of Colorado and we may have even tolerated an $83 increase in the cow tag license, but cannot possibly tolerate this statutory blackmail for a license we will never use in order for our group to apply for cow elk tags that we probably won’t draw. What a pitiful reflection on CO Park & Wildlife policy makers!

  8. Doug I received your reply saying the senior small game fishing combo is on page 5. I saw that also. My question was/is can I buy this online. When I go online through my acct the senior package is not an option. If I can’t purchase this online then do I go to walmart or to a DOW office instead?

    1. Sorry about that. The license will not be available for purchase until March 1, 2020 (online or at license retailers).

  9. Of the Units that were OTC and now by draw only in southwest colorado, will this not just lead to directing pressure to other nearby OTC units and reduce overall hunter experiences there? Has the Colorado dept of fish and game factored in the Lion populations and impact they are having on elk in these units that now require a draw? I know bear populations seem to be a target of control, but why not more focus on what are truly big game killing machines…….

    1. More details are available on the CPW website. This topic was discussed at the November 14-15, 2019 Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission meeting (meeting link) and more recently at the January 15-16, 2020 meeting. Details can be heard online here –

      (starting at 2:35).

  10. Out of stater’s are not the only ones angered by the “qualifying license” tax. It’s a backhanded way to increase revenue because Colorado requires voters to vote for a tax increase, which we don’t do! The increases in fees are ridiculous, Government at work, inefficient and ever increasing revenue to build their fiefdoms! I know, I’ll get the same response that fees aren’t charged in the secondary draw, blah, blah, blah. You’ve ruined a fun father son sport by feeing us to death!

  11. CPW needed the increase to fund a $527000.00 grant to the Palisade Plunge, a bicycle path from the top of Grand Mesa to the town of Palisade. Check out the Grand Junction Daily sentinel, Palisade Plunge.

    1. The Palisade Plunge is funded through a partnership that includes the Colorado State Trails Program. Funding does not come from license revenue. To learn more, please visit the Colorado the Beautiful Grant Page for information regarding the grant cycle timeline, application summaries, and grant application instructions. For more information regarding the trails program, please visit cpw.state.co.us.

      There is also additional info in this press release.

      To learn what CPW is doing with your license dollars, please visit How We Conserve and Manage Natural Resources.

  12. I agree with many here, i have lived in this state over 30 years and have NEVER hunted small game and now i have to buy a license for something i will NOT use. and the pay for points is just another way to empty the check book. I love to hunt this state but this is the first year that i have to ask myself do i love it enough to buy things i dont want and wont use.

  13. yall can forget applying for this “secondary draw”. it will most likely go to kids. like kids dont have enough opportunities. hey, i understand getting kids involved, but taking too much away from others isnt fair. and adults will abuse these opportunities in large part. kids wont hunt if adults dont hunt.

  14. Having to buy another licenses just to apply in ridiculous. I will have to really just to hunt in CO. I probably will not.

    1. Hi Kevin, this is not a simple topic. The qualifying license helps CPW meet its conservation and management goals. With Colorado’s rapidly growing population, wildlife management is more important than ever. To better understand why CPW has a qualifying license and how the funds will be used, please visit the Qualifying License page on the CPW website.

  15. this would have been my 28th colorado elk hunt – we usually have 4 to 8 out of state hunters but with the new license requirement this has priced all of us out of the hunt – I wish many hunters would skip a few years and the commissioners would see how much revenue they are losing and the elk population would become a problem too

  16. Qualifying license may not be a simple topic but the answer is plain enough. GOUGE THE OUT OF STATE HUNTERS!!!!!

  17. Started accumulating preference points for an elk hunt with 3 buddies. Stopped buying them when they required Qualifying License last year to gouge out of state hunters. I have read your pitiful response. Won’t be purchasing points again this year. Actually, it bothers me so much that I don’t even want to hunt Colorado after this stunt.

  18. Maybe it’s time for Pittman-Robertson funds to be distributed differently. The “justification” that CO or all thes western states need more matching funds so the license fee needs to go up is a perverse way of thinking. Western states are grabbing way more than their fair share proportionally to the number of hunters or hours afield in midewestern and eastern states because of this ridiculous methodology and rich man only pricing. Time to start lobbying for change.

  19. I have family and friends that come out and hunt Elk in Colorado. In the past we would draw every other year. We all put in for and collected preference points. Excellent time for all. We didn’t draw last year and I guess that happens. So now this is the 3rd try. I feel bad when they tell me that 1 preference point just cost them $100 and they aren’t even going to step one foot in the state. I don’t think $100 is fair for the outta state hunters. I would think it would be fair to just raise the price of the non resident license so at least they are truly paying for a license they are going to use. They said that they will still come out for one more time since they are so far into it. If they decide it’s the last time I will not be trying to convince them to come back.

    As far as the small game license that I haven’t used? Well maybe this next year I will and do what they want and shoot anything that moves. That goes against everything that I love about hunting and being in the woods. I think they will see the results as non residents use up their preference points.
    Change isn’t always good!

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