Colorado Big Game Licenses Applications Opened on March 1, 2023

Colorado big-game hunters are encouraged to submit their applications early to avoid complications or delays.
bull elk
Bull Elk. Photo courtesy by Wayne D. Lewis/CPW

Hunters hoping to draw a big game license in Colorado in 2023 are urged to review the changes in license requirements and fees in the 2023 Colorado Big Game brochure.

Hunters are encouraged to submit their applications early to avoid complications or delays. Get prepared ahead of time so that if problems do arise, Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff members have ample time to assist you.

2023 Colorado Big Game Brochure cover

Download your copy of the 2023 Colorado Big Game Brochure

The Colorado Big Game brochure is a must-have resource for planning a hunt and it’s available at all Colorado Parks and Wildlife office locations and online. We encourage all hunters to apply early and check their online accounts to ensure their contact information and credit card information is up to date. Hunters will receive email updates on their draw results and the status of their payments.

Colorado’s 2023 Primary Big Game License Draw is open from March 1 through April 4 at 8 p.m. MT.

Primary Draw Application Basics

primary draw flow chart
Primary Draw Application Flowchart – click above to enlarge the diagram.

Important Info for Hunters this Season

2023 big game application dates and deadlines
2023 Dates and Deadlines

Qualifying licenses

Hunters must purchase a 2023 qualifying license to participate in the big game draws. All qualifying licenses are available beginning March 1 and must be purchased, or put into your online shopping cart prior to applying for all big game licenses or preference points. A 2022 license is not a qualifying license for 2023.

Which licenses count as qualifying licenses?

Resident and Nonresident

  • Annual Spring Turkey License
  • Annual Youth Spring Turkey License
  • Annual Fall Turkey License (valid for the secondary draw ONLY)
  • Annual Youth Fall Turkey License (valid for the secondary draw ONLY)
  • Annual Small Game License
  • Annual Youth Small Game License

Resident Only

  • Annual Resident Combination Small Game/Fishing License
  • Annual Resident Senior Combination Small Game/Fishing License
  • Resident Disabled Veteran Lifetime Combination Small Game/Fishing License
  • Resident Disabled First Responder Lifetime Combination Small Game/Fishing License
  • Annual Small-Game License for Resident Senior Lifetime Fishing License Holders

To learn more about Qualifying Licenses, please visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.

Limited license allocation and preference point requirements changes

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Tip: 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.

The three-year preference point average used to determine the high-demand deer, elk, bear, and pronghorn hunt codes that fall into the 80/20 allocation split has been modified to a rolling three-year average updated annually, with a one-year lag. See “Nonresident License Allocations” on page four of the 2023 Colorado Big Game brochure for more information.

If you need assistance figuring out hunt codes that work with your preference point situation, you can call a Colorado Parks and Wildlife hunt planner. Call 303-297-1192 or 303-291-PLAN (7526) and they will help you through the process.

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Note to hunters: Colorado Parks and Wildlife harvest data from 2022-2023 will be available in mid-March. Use the links below to go directly to stats pages for each species.
B​ea​r​​​ Hunting Statistics
Deer Hunting Statistics
Desert Bighorn Sheep​ Hunting Statistics
Elk​ Hunting Statistics
Moose​ Hunting Statistics
Mountain Goat​ Hunting Statistics
Pronghorn​ Hunting Statistics
Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep​ Hunting Statistics

Mandatory testing for chronic wasting disease (CWD)

Colorado Parks and Wildlife will require mandatory submission of CWD test samples (heads) from all deer harvested during rifle seasons from specific hunt codes. Hunters that harvest a deer in the specified hunt codes will be required to submit their deer head to a Colorado Parks and Wildlife submission site for testing. There will be no charge for mandatory testing. Visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website for more information about where and how to submit a CWD sample.

Voluntary CWD testing for 2023

Testing fees for voluntary submissions will be waived for all moose statewide and all deer from hunt codes that were not selected for mandatory testing but are within the same GMUs that were selected for mandatory testing. Voluntary submissions are accepted annually statewide. See page 22 of the “Deer” section of the 2023 Colorado Big Game brochure for a list of the mandatory GMUs and page 13 for more about CWD.

License surrender period

Customers who are successful in the primary or secondary draw will be provided 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. See page 8 of the 2023 Colorado Big Game brochure for more details.

Youth preference draw reminder

Colorado Parks and Wildlife offers young hunters ages 12-17 great opportunities to harvest a big game animal. Taking advantage of the youth-preference-eligible hunt code means youth hunters get more opportunities to get out in the field, hone hunting skills and increase their chances of a harvest. If youth enter more than one hunt code on their application, all hunt codes must be youth-preference-eligible hunt codes and/or youth-only hunt codes to qualify for youth preference.

To participate in the extended season, youth must first draw a limited license for: 

  • Doe pronghorn 
  • Antlerless and either-sex elk
  • Antlerless deer

Any hunt code with a “K” in the season is a youth-only hunt code, such as D-F-043-K2-R. See “The Draw(s): Youth Draw Preference” on page 17 of the big game brochure for more information on youth hunting.

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Tip: Youth ages 12-17 have an opportunity to keep hunting if they don’t harvest a deer, elk or pronghorn with their original license. To make sure you are applying for a youth-preference-eligible hunt code, visit the Youth Hunting Opportunities page on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.

Archery clothing

Archery deer, elk, moose, and bear hunters are encouraged, though not required, to wear fluorescent orange or pink during the overlapping archery and muzzleloader seasons to help address safety concerns. The overlap for these seasons is Sept. 9 – 17, 2023. See page 15 of the big game brochure for more information.

Plan your hunt

If you have questions about setting up your accounts, planning your hunts or applying for licenses, call center agents and hunt planners are available Monday – Friday from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. MT at 303-297-1192.

Be sure to read the “What’s New” pages in the big game brochure and the sheep and goat brochure to get a full list of game management unit (GMU) specific changes for 2023.

Written by Joey Livingston. Joey is a statewide public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

4 Responses

  1. Once upon a time I could buy an OTC license and go hunting. NoW the bueurcratic bloat has me navigating a friggin’ flow chart!? And you wonder why there are fewer hunters…. What a mess. WAY TOO COMPLICATED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. I’m finally calling it quits for hunting in Colo. I can no longer afford to purchase permits. Permit costs have far exceeded my increase in income as a retired person on a fixed income. The qualifying permit is bullpucky, another gouge for hunters.

  3. I agree the additional license fee is BS. I’ve tried 3 times to obtain the senior small game license for $25 and then go for the elk tag draw. Failure, just decide how much you want for each individual license and charge it! I’ll check in again next year and if you are still requiring multiple licenses, I’ll decline again.

  4. Drew a non resident Muzzle loader tag with 3 points. Drove out from WI and helped take in a camp. Two nights before the season opened received a phone call my mother had a stroke and was in serious condition. Went into Fort Collins Game and fish next am to cancel my License and was told I couldn’t get my points back because I didn’t give them a 30 day notice. Great way to thank a non resident who pays for several high price tags. CROOKS!

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