Hunting season is on the horizon and hunters are gearing up for exciting adventures. However, hunters aren’t the only ones rushing to the outdoors this fall to enjoy everything Colorado has to offer.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) wants to remind hunters, hikers, bikers, leaf peepers, wildlife viewers and OHV users that most of Colorado’s outdoors is multi-use and intended to be shared.
Hunters play a key role in supporting wildlife management efforts in Colorado and nationwide. Today, the revenue generated from hunting and fishing activities constitutes about 70 percent of our wildlife management funds.
Hunters and nonhunters alike should show respect and courtesy to all users engaged in outdoor recreation activities.
How can nonhunters prepare for hunting season?
The majority of public lands in Colorado are open to multiple types of recreational use. There is no need to limit your outdoor activities in the fall; however, nonhunters should recognize that there are hunters on the landscape and additional precautions should be taken.
A general knowledge of hunting season dates and safety tips can help keep you safe.
Big game season dates:
- Rifle bear season – Sept. 2-30, 2023
- Archery season – Sept. 2-30, 2023
- Muzzleloader season – Sept. 9-17, 2023
- Rifle seasons
- 1st season – Oct. 14-18, 2023
- 2nd season – Oct. 28 to Nov. 4, 2023
- 3rd season – Nov. 11-17, 2023
- 4th season – Nov. 22-26, 2023
For safety reasons, big game hunters using a firearm must wear fluorescent orange or pink when in the field. While not required, it is recommended that other recreation users wear these colors as well, especially during the muzzleloader and rifle seasons.
A friendly reminder that it is illegal to intentionally interfere with hunters, including causing animals to flee, denying access to public areas or injecting yourself into the line of fire.
Hunters’ role in wildlife conservation
Colorado manages its wildlife using the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, the cornerstone of modern wildlife conservation across the United States. This revolutionary model was formed around the turn of the 1900s when sportspersons realized that market hunting was having an undeniable and potentially irreversible effect on North America’s wildlife. This model created a structured system where fees from hunting and fishing activities are used to support conservation, defined as the planned and regulated use of our resources to prevent exploitation, destruction or extinction.
For almost two centuries, this model has been a large part of the reason why Colorado’s wildlife is so healthy and abundant. This model is still the most successful wildlife management model in the world.
Hunters also play an important role in CPW’s management of chronic wasting disease (CWD). Their participation in mandatory CWD testing initiatives is vital to wildlife managers’ ability to assess the disease’s prevalence and make data-driven management decisions..
“One of the only CWD management tools we currently have at our disposal is the hunting community itself,” said CPW Big Game Manager Andy Holland. “Hunters play a vital role in controlling CWD by harvesting select deer and other cervids more likely to carry the disease and submitting samples for analysis. This helps CPW understand the disease’s prevalence and distribution in the state and evaluate if management strategies are working.”
What can hunters expect this season?
Last winter, the northwest region of Colorado experienced one of the harshest winters in decades, with relentless snowstorms and bone-chilling temperatures. Wildlife in the area endured a challenging period as food became scarce and they faced some of the most severe snow conditions residents had seen in the past 70 years.
CPW’s swift action to reduce license numbers for the area should positively impact wildlife populations in the coming years. Hunters with a tag in the Northwest can expect good hunting opportunities, with fewer hunters in the area and many deer and elk to be found in their usual hunting locations, although at lower densities.
Hunters in other areas might see additional hunting pressure due to reduced license quotas and shorter over-the-counter season dates in the Northwest, pushing others to hunt new areas. As always, hunters should watch weather forecasts leading up to their hunting seasons.
Much of eastern Colorado experienced an unusually dry winter last year, which resulted in minimal winterkill, and as spring arrived, residents witnessed an influx of much-needed rain. The precipitation has been a significant boon for wildlife on the plains, considering the region’s 10-year drought.
Pronghorn herds were less robust than they were five to six years ago, which is expected when accounting for the long-term impact of drought on their populations. Hunters can see that reflected in the number of female licenses available on the Eastern Plains.
Hunters should remain dedicated to responsible hunting practices and wildlife conservation and understand that their role in supporting wildlife management is vital to preserving Colorado’s rich natural heritage.
This fall, the overall hunting forecast remains positive for hunters despite the challenges posed by the severe winter of 2022-23.
A reminder that if you purchased a small game license as your qualifying license earlier this year, you can hunt rabbits, squirrels, grouse, pheasants, doves and more within their respective seasons as listed in the small game brochure. Caliber restrictions apply west of I-25 during regular big game rifle seasons when hunting small game. To hunt furbearers or waterfowl, you must have a furbearer harvest permit or state and federal waterfowl stamps in addition to a small game license.
Planning your hunt
Find locations to hunt using CPW’s Hunting Atlas. This resource allows you to find public land, save topographic maps, view big game migration corridors and concentration areas, and view OHV trails.
Additional licenses are still available! Licenses leftover from the draw are available for deer, elk, pronghorn and bear and you can purchase over-the-counter licenses for bear, elk, pronghorn, and whitetail deer. Licenses returned by other hunters (reissue licenses) are available every Wednesday morning. Check the CPW website every Tuesday for a preview list of reissue licenses before they go on sale the following morning at cpwshop.com.
If you have questions about setting up your accounts, planning your hunts or purchasing licenses, call center agents and hunt planners are available Monday – Friday from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. MT at 303-297-1192. Hunting resources are available at cpw.state.co.us/bg/hunting.
Read the “What’s New” page in the big game brochure to get a complete list of game management unit-specific changes for 2023.
Written by Joey Livingston. Joey is a statewide public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.