8 Tips for Colorado’s Big Game Hunting Primary Draw

Time to start planning for the 2022 Colorado big game hunting season. Get the 2022 big game brochure and 8 tips to help you start your planning.
The 2022 Colorado Big-Game brochure is now available online, at parks and wildlife offices, and at statewide retail agents. This video provides a summary of some of the changes on tap for the upcoming license draw and fall hunting seasons.

Get Your 2022 Brochures Today!

The 2022-23 Colorado Sheep & Goat Hunting brochure and the Colorado Big Game Hunting brochure (bear, deer, elk, moose and pronghorn) are now available and Colorado Parks and Wildlife will start accepting primary draw applications on March 1, 2022. Between now and March 1, there are a number of things you can do to make sure you are ready to submit your application as soon as the process begins.

Primary Draw Basics – Important Dates

  • March 1, 2022 – Applications accepted and qualifying licenses available for purchase
  • April 5, 2022 – 8 p.m. MT deadline for applications & corrections
  • May 31–June 3, 2022 – Draw results posted online (bear, deer, elk, moose & pronghorn)
  • June 17, 2022 – Midnight MT deadline for license payment
  • June 3–24, 2022 – Licenses in the mail

8 Colorado Primary Draw Tips

Colorado’s big game draw is a challenging process. The limited licenses available through the draw are highly sought after. In 2021, Colorado Parks and Wildlife received more than 650,000 big game license applications. As a result of the popularity of hunting big game in Colorado, hunters need to do some homework if they want to have a chance of drawing the highly coveted limited licenses.

Primary Draw Basics – What Are Limited Licenses?

  • Limited licenses are a set (limited) number of licenses available for specific hunting units and dates for each species, and are issued through an application and drawing process in March (primary draw) and June (secondary draw).

Tip 1. Apply Early – Applications Accepted March 1, 2022

It is always better to get your application in early! Every year, our customer service team hears a number of complaints from people that waited until the last minute and were then thwarted by a technical issue. By applying early, you’ll avoid any issues that may prevent you from successfully submitting your primary draw application. If you run into issues, there will be time to work with customer service or a hunt planner to resolve them.

Tip 2. Check Your Preference Point Status

Visit Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s online store to check your available preference points for the 2022 primary draw:

  1. Visit http://www.cpwshop.com/
  2. Log in to your personal account.
  3. Click on “My Preference Points,” found as a link in the left-hand navigation. 

You need to know how many preference points you have before you select your hunt codes. If this is your first time applying for your first Colorado big-game limited license or if you drew your first choice license last year, you will have 0 (zero) preference points available for this year’s draw. 

Primary Draw Basics – How do you get preference points?

  • 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. You can also apply specifically for a preference point in the primary draw, but this article is focused on hunters that want to hunt (see the brochure for details on applying for a preference point). Preference points are only used during the primary draw. They do not apply for the secondary draw. To learn more about preference points, please read page 9 of the 2022 Colorado Big Game brochure.

Tip 3. Use Hunting Statistics to Improve Your Chance of Drawing

You can greatly increase your chance of drawing a big game limited license by using Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Hunting Statistics and targeting hunt codes that you can realistically draw with the number of preference points you have. If you do not have any preference points, you need to target hunt codes that are historically drawn with zero points.

Primary Draw Basics – What is a Hunt Code?

  • Hunt codes are an 8-character code used to designate species, sex, specific hunting location known as a Game Management Unit (GMU), season and method of take. To learn how to read hunt codes, see page page 10 of the Colorado Big Game Brochure.

See the example below of a limited elk hunting license that was successfully drawn using 0 (zero) preference points. The data in this example is from Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s 2021 Elk Drawn-Out Report. And while the number of preference points needed to draw a limited license changes from year to year, the drawn-out report gives you a good idea of what your chances look like for each hunt code. 

Preference Point Example: 2021 Elk Drawn-Out Report

Data-crunching is not for everyone. If you need assistance figuring out hunt codes that work with your preference point situation and you don’t like looking at Colorado Parks and WIldlife’s lengthy reports, you can call a CPW hunt planner. Call 303-297-1192 or 303-291-PLAN (7526) and they will help you through the process.

Tip 4. Purchase Your Qualifying License

To participate in the primary draw, you will need to purchase a qualifying license, available on March 1, 2022. Qualifying license purchases must be completed prior to applying for the big game draw.

Important note: 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.​​

Why does Colorado have a qualifying license requirement?
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 Colorado Parks and Wildlife meet their ten priority goals for wildlife management.

Which licenses count as qualifying licenses?

Resident and Nonresident

Resident Only (Annual)

Resident Only (Lifetime)

Tip 5. Take advantage of Youth Hunting Opportunities

Video: Youth Hunting Opportunities

Colorado Parks and Wildlife now offers young hunters ages 12-17 more opportunities to harvest a big game animal. One of the foremost goals at Colorado Parks and Wildlife is to turn first-time hunters into lifelong sportspeople. Offering more chances for success builds the foundation of solid hunting skills and passes down the appreciation of the outdoor lifestyle we cherish. If you are helping a young hunter apply, be sure to keep reading. 

Know the Basics

  • Youth ages 12-17 have an opportunity to keep hunting if they don’t harvest a deer, elk or pronghorn with their original license. See below for specific details.
  • To participate in the extended season, youth must first draw a limited license for: antlerless deer, or antlerless or either-sex elk or pronghorn. If the original license remains unfilled when the season ends, then the youth can hunt the same species during the extended season after they convert their original license to a female (antlerless) license.
    • Limited licenses can be purchased through the draw, the leftover draw, vouchers and/or from the leftover list​.
    • Youth with unfilled antlered tags for elk or deer and buck pronghorn may not participate in extended season hunting.
    • (NEW!) Youth can easily convert their unfilled limited either-sex elk or either-sex pronghorn license (where the season has ended) to a female (antlerless) license through the new Youth Extended Hunt License Conversion Request form online. Licenses can also still be taken into a CPW office in person to be converted.
  • Youth hunters must be accompanied by a mentor who is 18 or older and also meets hunter education requirements. Youths and mentors must be able to see and hear each other while hunting.

For more information on youth hunting, visit the Youth Hunting Opportunities page on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.

Tip 6. Avoid Making a Group Hunting Application Mistake

Only submit a group application if the hunting party will only go hunting if everyone is awarded a license. If hunters in the hunting party will hunt, even without everyone else drawing a license, please submit individual applications. Group applications do not increase the ability to draw licenses. For more information on submitting as a group, please visit Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s “Apply as a Group for Hunts” web page.

Tip 7. Be Aware of the New License Surrender Period

New this year, customers will have a brief period to surrender their license once the draw is complete. Once the draw is complete, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will send emails to customers who are successful in the draw and provide them with a short period when they can decide to surrender their license if they no longer want it, receiving preference point restoration to the pre-draw level, a refund of the license fee and removal of the license from the customer’s account.

The deadline for this surrender period is Mon., June 6, at 11:59 p.m. MT. If we’re unable to charge the credit card on file in your account by the primary draw payment deadline (June 17, midnight MT), your license will be forfeited, and you will lose both the license and any preference points you used to draw it. For more details, please see page 8 of the 2022 Colorado Big Game brochure.

Tip 8. Avoid Losing Your License Because of Fail to Pay

Every year, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has a large number of hunters that successfully draw a limited license and then lose the license because they miss the payment deadline. This year, the license payment deadline is June 17, 2022 at midnight MT.

Draw results will be posted online from May 31–June 3, 2022. If you successfully draw a license, make sure that you check your CPWshop account and confirm that your payment was successfully processed. If you have any questions, please contact Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s customer service at (303) 291-PLAN (7526) and they will happily confirm if your license has been processed successfully.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife provides a courtesy email and phone call to customers who fail to pay for awarded licenses. But, it is the customer’s responsibility to know the payment deadlines and verify that their awarded licenses have been paid for prior to the payment deadlines.

Have a Safe and Enjoyable Hunting Experience

Colorado Hunters

Help address hunting safety concerns by wearing hunter orange and pink. If you successfully draw a Colorado big game hunting license, remember that during your hunting season, Colorado Parks and Wildlife recommends wearing fluorescent orange or pink clothes whenever you are in the field, even if not hunting.

Archery deer, elk, moose and bear hunters are encouraged to wear hunter orange or pink during the overlapping archery and muzzleloader seasons to help address safety concerns. Wearing orange or pink is for hunter safety, as big-game animals don’t see these colors like we do. It is the animal’s ability to detect movement, sound, and smell that give hunters location away.

Hunters MUST wear fluorescent orange or pink during certain hunting seasons.

The law requires hunters to wear at least 500 square inches of solid daylight fluorescent orange or fluorescent pink material on an outer garment above the waist while hunting deer, elk, pronghorn, moose or bear with any firearm license. A fluorescent orange or pink hat or head covering, visible from all directions, is also required. Camouflage orange or pink does not qualify. Mesh garments are legal but not recommended. This includes all muzzleloader hunters. It also includes archery hunters who hunt during rifle seasons. Archers hunting during the limited Sept. rifle bear season, archers with an archery bear, deer, elk, pronghorn or moose license, and archers licensed for private land hunting through the Ranching for Wildlife program do not have to wear fluorescent orange or pink, but should consider wearing it to increase safety while in the field. Auction- and raffle-license holders do not have to wear orange or pink when hunting with archery equipment when no rifle seasons are open. If using a ground blind or pop-up blind, hunters should display orange or pink that is visible from all directions on the outside of the blind.

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