Secrets to the 2020 Colorado Big Game Hunting Draw

Follow along as Bryan Posthumus, CPW's Northeast Region Hunting Coordinator, walks you through the basics of planning your big game hunt.

A successful big game hunt starts with knowing how Colorado’s big game licenses work. Follow along as Bryan Posthumus, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Northeast Region Hunting and Angling Outreach Coordinator, walks you through the basics on game management units (GMUs), hunt codes, resources to help you pick the right license, and tips on applying for deer, elk, and pronghorn licenses.

Related resources:

Please share any questions or advice in the comments below. Thanks and good luck!

42 Responses

  1. I got to spend a week in unit 067 last fall. There were 8 in our group (6 cow @3 bear)was able to bag 1 cow. good part was with my son and 2 grandsons as much fun. now think of what that cost us. all had your stupid small game ripoff plus regular licenses. Needless to say, we will not be back. You have priced us out of staters from what used to be a great time. Qualifying license should be illegal! Thanks for the memories – Richard j Black Minn. DNR (ret)

    1. Over-the-counter and leftover elk licenses do not require purchasing a qualifying license. For more info, please see –

      From CPW website: 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.

  2. Great Job Richard, I as well, feel the same, I was in area 33 this past year with a few other hunters and we have been coming out their for the last 30 years. I come from Mass. and have no interest traveling all the way across the country to hunt SMALL GAME yet forced to buy a license. We come to bow hunt Elk. I bow hunt an area that you draw a permit every other year because of the amount of hunters. So to get a preferance point you must buy a small game license at $82.78. just to apply. So I have to purchase a license that I have no chance of using because I’m not going to draw a tag. REALLY COLORADO? If you don’t want out of state hunting there then just stop selling to out of staters. I’m sure that the person running this was never a hunter. You should be ashamed of yourself. They were good memories.

    1. Over-The-Counter archery tags could be a great option for you. You can hunt every year and a qualifying license is not required. See pages 37 and 38 of the Colorado Big Game brochure.

  3. Like many other hunters who use to enjoy the Colorado Elk Hunts know has gone to the rich mans sport. We Non-residents pay 10 times what locals do, I can not afford this hunt for food. I started with a $250.00 cow tag. And last year I paid $500.00 cow tag with small game.What I see is less hunters and a high influx of CWD by not thinning the heard. I know my hunting group of 10 will not return. Its to bad.

  4. Do you need a qualifying license just to purchase a preference point? Some areas take several years to build up preference points so would cost a lot if this is required.

  5. The website cut me off before I could finish and post my reply. I agree with the others who say the “qualifying licenses” are ridiculous and a rip-off. I have hunted as a Colorado resident for 40 of the 43 years I’ve lived here and seen the quality of hunting and the quantity of elk and deer slowly dwindle to nothing in GMU 55. No big game but lots of wolf tracks and eaten-out carcasses First Rifle season last year. No bugling in the late summer as we used to hear from our cabin, now, only howling and yipping at night from the wolves and the coyotes. No bucks and bulls in velvet as we used to see when we hiked our property adjacent to the Fossil Ridge Wilderness Area – only wolf tracks and elk/deer-filled feces all over the place. We won’t be hunting Unit 55 anymore – the big game has moved out and the predators have moved in. We now have to hike without our dogs and have to carry sidearms to protect ourselves. What a shame!

  6. My husband met his hunting partners while hunting in GMU22 31 years ago. They came from different states and areas. It has been something they have saved for and looked forward to every year. Since I retired, I have joined them. The hunt camp has been a real joy. HOWEVER, our hunting CMU has been restricted with the private guide groups blocking entrance to public areas. Why Colorado would allow that is beyond me. Strike one. The price for an out-of-state tag has become so expensive that we hate paying it, and now there are charges for licenses we cannot and would never use. Strike two. Because of the decisions made by Colorado, the hunt success percentage is so small that the cost vs meat is ridiculous. Strike three. We are applying for one more hunt and then we will be leaving the state. You have effectively run us out of the enjoyment of meeting up with old friends and hunting in your state.

  7. I feel the same way as most comments we have elk hunted in colorado bow and muzzleloader for 16 years not coming back!!!!!

  8. Wow, I Just Read The Out Of State People That Will Be Giving Up Hunting In Colorado This Year. They Are Right This Is Getting To Be A Rich Man’s Game.I Undestand Where They Are Coming From. To Bad Colorado You Should Make Some Changes. A Colorado Hunter.

  9. Every State requires out of State hunters pay a premium to hunt game. Ohio, Mass., Arkansas, NY,etc. Most states in the East don’t have much public land. Colorado has the public land and variety of wildlife. Complaintants who demand cheep hunting should consider hunting in your discounted State for elk and mule deer.

  10. Have hunted Colorado for 40 years in the last 45. I agree with the comments here about the costs. The qualifying license is a joke. Now CWD is rampant in unit 3. And now we have to pay to test in that unit. So sad that this might be my last year too.

  11. Dave says I started hunting Colorado in 1973 and as I remember the elk tag was 65.00. our party of 8-10 were always excided for the next year to roll around but as all hunters know demand for good hunting states always come at a price. the price in Colorado has pushed thousands of out of state sportsman out of their state. I myself hunted the state for 43 years until the wildlife commission felt it necessary to impose a license that I will never use, the commission tried a plan like this several years ago it was a flop time will tell if they see the light in time. as for me and my hunting group Colorado is a non option

  12. My last hunt in Colorado was unfortunate, it was so crowded that it seemed that tag sales were oriented to maximize revenue. All the quality hunting states are in the position of rationing access. I get it. But requiring us to buy a small game license in order to get a preference point is just about the dollars. Given the reality of point creep for the most desirable hunts the cost is just too high.

    I want to hunt somewhere every year. Preference points are a way to manage my opportunities. Making the application on the lowest # in the group just means my partners wont apply with me. If I just apply then I’m confronted with maybe I get nothing, maybe I get 3 tags in different states. This just doesn’t work and Colorado is out of my rotation

  13. I have gone from Willie in 1952 to great grand dad in 2020

    So for the last 68 years I along with my family have hunted this state. With my extended family of 27 we have hunted for meat and get to gather as a family with 2 to 12 hunters each year .We have seen it go from foot to horse to truck to quads to suvs and $250,000 motor homes, on marked trails for foot,horse and horse and
    wagon, beat out then washed out by the people using them reguardless of the condition of the ground.
    Our Hunts have gone from rifle to muzzle loader to bow ,now to trailcam and camera this year.
    We yield to the prices,sportsmen,off road racers,spoiled kids and colorado’s outdoors management.
    Last year’s expense and rule changes will go for a side of beef this year.

    My stories to great grand kids will start “A long time ago…” not with “DO you want go with me…”

  14. I have hunted Colorado big game for 3 years as a non-resident and for 44 years as a resident. I understand that the costs of doing business have and will likely continue to increase however, the recent licensing requirements and cost increases far exceed both reasonableness and the quality of hunting that remains. I live in unit 67 and know it well. I have not seen an elk in 6 years in this unit and a party of 8 friends from OH and PA have hunted it every year and have seen but one cow and one calf in 4 years. Public lands are being over used and abused year-round and private lands are fundamentally off-limits for the average hunter. This is not what any of us are looking for. Thank you for the great memories but it’s time to find something else to do!

  15. I read lots of complaining – Happy to see some of the large numbers of people drop out. I walk in and walk out, God willing always will. No other state offers the opportunities Colorado does, with a large herd of elk, healthy Muleys, bear add ons , etc., – numerous Eastern states have resident elk now; You can always stay East and hunt Tennessee or Kentucky
    Mr. Posthumous, fantastic video! Proud to have you serving in CPW and hunting by the same reg’s I do.
    Thank you and thanks CPW for taking the time to make the video, even in light of COVID19 challenges

  16. We need Hunters to contact our Governor, Senators, and Congress , about the unnecessary cost that Hunters have had to Pay over the last 2-3 years . Over 70 years old have Hunted over 50 years and the cost is RIDICULOUS. Dave

  17. If I’m only applying for Elk preference point this year, do I still need to purchase a Qualifying License and a Habitat stamp?

    1. Applicants must purchase a qualifying license even if applying for a preference point as a first choice option.

      1. The cost of processing an applicant and posting their preference point status does not come close to what the CDOW is charging. I worked as the Big Game Biologist for Wisconsin and dealt extensively with licensing and the costs involved. I also dealt with your wildlife health employees as CWD hit Wisconsin. Actually, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Licensing Section helped develop your online program. These costs to hunters and fishers will only diminish participation in the long run.

  18. For those of us that have been in and built wildlife programs (35 years as a wildlife biologist with several agencies) I find it a real rip off that there is a requirement to buy a small game license we will never use, just to get preference points. State agencies have been trying to recruit new people to hunt, yet price gouging have made veterans like myself and our family really question the motivation of CDOW to keep adding costs to an already expensive hobby. I was the biologist involved with the development of Unit 142 along with Tom Speeze and Bob Holder, thinking we would enhance opportunity for hunters. Low and behold it now takes 20 plus years to get a tag and preference is being given to short term residents over any (now) non-resident who has donated thousands of dollars to the department.

  19. It appears as these departments fill up with more and more non-hunters and fishers they get farther and farther away from the history of where we are today and who has supported the Wildlife and Fisheries world since the early 1900’s. The response I received from CDOW was weak at best.

    1. Bill, I am a hunter and I understand your frustration. These changes were enacted by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission. The Commission strongly encourages public participation in the decision-making process. It’s important that sportsmen and women pay close attention and are involved in these discussions. Visit the CPW website to learn when meetings are happening and what is being discussed. For non-residents, the meetings are streamed live and comments can be submitted by email. For the process to be successful, public participation is essential.

      For details on qualifying licenses, take a look at the November 2018 commission meeting

      More from the CPW website:
      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.

  20. I would have thought a person applying for a license would have known the price. Sounds like they don’t like the price once they are unsuccessful. Trust me I am not as happy when I don’t bag the game I am hunting but it is hunting and as we get older we cherish the time spent in the outdoors and trust me there is not an elk behind every tree One of our favorite hunts is a week spent for grouse mainly because of the beautiful weather and the fact you can pack a grouse out a lot of miles and get toughened up for big game hunts, necessary when you’re 72.

  21. I too am having a tough time rationalizing big game hunting in Colorado going given the price gouging of non-residents, requiring tag purchases that have nothing to do with elk hunting (turkey, small game, etc), charging for preference points, etc. I’ve hunted elk, mule deer, bear, turkey and fly fish throughout CO since being in high school, have a masters from Colorado State, am the chairman for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation chapter here in KS, etc., so it’s hard to send this note. On top of that, here we are in the midst of a global pandemic with one side of the government implementing stay at home orders, yet let’s keep turkey season open, don’t forget to apply for camping stays, etc.

    At this point, I may take up big game western hunting again when I retire and possibly move to a western state. Then I’ll be able to rationalize the cost of hunting again as a resident, hunt on public ground, ground that is owned by all US citizens – even those who are “non-residents today, and not have to pay the excessive fees charged to non-residents.

  22. Obviously, the licensing process and the complaints fall into two areas. One is cost, which is getting outrageous for the average American, it’s no wonder that you seldom see kids or young people participating. Two is the complicated process to apply for and purchase a license. Most businesses would simplify the online experience not complicate it with qualifying licenses and stamps. If you need to raise more revenue add it to the dang price of the license! Your current system creates further ill will with all the hunters and emphasis the “gouging” of especially out of state hunters. Your current system makes it very obvious! After 18 trips out west in the past 25 years our group of 6 has also decided to stop coming to CO after 2020. It’s apparent that the National Forest lands in CO which belong equally to all Americans are destined to be enjoyed by rich out of staters and residents of CO. Beautiful country we’re going to miss it. Makes you wonder about the future of hunting in America.

  23. Colorado was once the best DNR in the country. It is a joke of what it used to be with all that price gouging (Additional purchase requirements!) going on now. The requirement to buy the qualifying license is ridiculous. I can understand the previous buy of a $5 or $10 fur bearer license and then get the big game license. Heck offer a 30 day fishing license so it is at least something someone can use. I too have hunted as a non Resident in Colorado for many years. I understand the raising of prices for the non resident license (although I think they are steep) I still have paid that, and would pay it still. But the constant requirements for other purchases that I will NEVER get ANY use out of is finally the straw! You want to require an additional fee for Nonresident then do so, but the extortion of a requirement purchase I will not pay. Myself and the others in our group will find another state to spend our fall hunting. The shame of this is that I will now lose all my pref points by not buying a required purchase W50 Nonresident small animal $82 license. You would think a $500 nonresident big game fee for a license would be enough!

    Semper Fi..!

  24. Question – for 2020, it looks like the state of Colorado will refund application and license fees for the spring turkey hunt as Corvid 19 is causing significant travel issues. Given this, if we apply for a turkey tag as a qualifying license in order to apply for the big game draws, it appears this a strategy to avoid being charged for the qualified license now required – only extra work of applying and requesting a refund, correct?

    1. The only way to avoid a qualifying license is to purchase an OTC or a leftover license.

      Right now CPW is allowing spring turkey hunters to return their licenses for a refund and a preference point restoration. After the big game application deadline, if hunters decide to return their spring turkey license, CPW will allow them to purchase a qualifying license to keep their big game applications active. If they do not wish to purchase a qualifying license, their big game applications will become void and there will be no refunds on the application fees.

  25. I’m laughing out loud at the keyboard warrior comments. Give me a break.
    First, I’m sorry that “when you started hunting Colorado” everything was dirt cheap and elk were running into your bullets but times have changed. Change with it, or stay home and hunt whitetail from your treestand.
    Newsflash, costs increase over time. You should be thankful that Colorado isn’t like almost every other western state and charge for a truly “useless” non resident hunting license that’s good for nothing. I realize you never hunt west of Colorado but Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Idaho all charge for a sunk cost, non resident hunting license anywhere from $80-$150 IN ADDITION to your permit fee. At least CO is nice enough to offer it as a small game permit, because according to these comments, you aren’t killing much. The small game will at least be some meat you can drive back home to your family.
    The fact you are complaining about a $500 elk tag is laughable as well. You spend more on McDonald’s every year, I’m sure. If it was something you truly give a crap about, you would be willing to spend 5X that for a permit. And yet, last time I checked, no one is making you apply, are they? It would be like me complaining about the cost of a $550 Kentucky non resident elk permit.
    Next, if you can’t figure out the application process, you aren’t taking this seriously enough. You probably shouldn’t be traipsing around the hills with a weapon anyway. Stay home.
    And newsflash, everyone forgets that, while big game animals live on public land, owned by the public, for public use, the animals themselves are owned by the state. Stop playing the “public land animals should be cheap to hunt” card. It’s not logical.
    All that being said, CO still offers OTC permits for elk that require no qualifying license. Let me be the first to burst your bubble about that……OTC permits are going to go away soon. *Gasp* Let that sink in a minute. You can still drive to CO and buy an OTC elk tag. It will end. Soon. I promise. Rather than think of all the ways you’re getting a bad deal, maybe consider the opportunity you still have, because, as most of you have noticed…thing’s change.

  26. Doug, can my two grandkids buy a left over tag thru the secondary draw or some other method? If so, what is the cost for youth cow tag? What’s the process? THANKS!

    1. This a great year to get youth hunters in the field. The secondary draw processes all youth application choices before processing adult applications.

      The secondary draw application deadline is July 7, 8 PM MT.

      Lists of available licenses can be found here –
      Elk license list –

      ■ Resident …………………………………………….. $7
      Per species, per draw & nonrefundable
      ■ Nonresident ……………………………………….. $9
      Per species, per draw & nonrefundable

      ■ ELK License Fees
      Resident adult ………………………………….. $55.43
      Resident youth …………………………………. $15.68
      Nonresident bull/fishing combo* ………… $670.25
      Nonresident either-sex/fishing combo* .. $670.25
      Nonresident cow/fishing combo* ……….. $503.12
      Nonresident youth/fishing combo* ……… $102.78

  27. I live in Colorado and hunting is getting worse. Colorado likes to brag about all the public land but what’s not said is all the private land which borders public areas and with no or very limited ways to access this land. So your left to hire a guide for thousands of dollars or go to areas which can get access but then over crowded since others are doing the same. Also.. otc is same time as deer so you have elk n deer hunters at same time…. SUCKS…. Colorado just cares about the mighty dollar

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