Colorado isn’t your average state when it comes to hunting. The terrain is rugged, the weather is brutal — and often dangerous — and when you speak of “big game” in Colorado, it is really big.
White tail deer, mule deer and elk are the most commonly pursued species in the Centennial State. When you talk about hunting in Colorado, a common term is “the high country” and that’s where hunters go in bunches not only for deer and elk, but for other magnificent game like bighorn sheep, mountain goats, bears, moose, antelope and even mountain lions. The numbers of game other than deer or elk are significantly lower, so licenses are few and difficult to get. But if you obtain a license, you are in for a treat of a lifetime if you do things correctly.
Colorado Public Land Hunting
There are numerous services and websites offering public lands information and maps for Colorado hunting. There are also numerous guide services, lodges and camps where experts can put hunters on game successfully and safely. That’s important when it comes to “high country.”
About 147,000 acres of private lands currently enrolled in the state’s Big Game Access program and numerous state-owned areas, National Forests and BLM lands are available to the public. Be sure and study rules, regulations and special requirements before planning trip. A large percentage of hunters in Colorado depend on guides for their trips.
Colorado Big Game Hunting
White tail deer, mule deer and elk are mostly in high country and it is important for hunters to be ready for the elevations. This isn’t your ordinary type of hunting. Hiring a guide isn’t cheap, either. Trips can cost from $1,000 up to $5,000, again, depending on the quality of the area and the game you are after.
While more people deer and elk hunt because of available opportunities, perhaps the most sought after big game animal is the bighorn sheep, easily identified by the curled horns of the rams that are sought after trophies. The hardy animals live in harsh terrain and can be fragile, so they are closely monitored by Colorado wildlife managers. The average population of big horns in Colorado is estimated at only about 6,000 and the population has dropped slightly in the past few years. Because of those facts, it can often take hunters five or six years to draw a tag, sometimes longer in the prime areas. The preferred habitat of bighorns is steep, rocky slopes with little vegetation.
Mountain goats are also prime hunting trophies. Hunting goats is extremely difficult because it almost seems like they can defy gravity and the terrain they inhabit is even more severe than that of bighorn sheep. Goats balance on narrow bands of rock on sheer cliffs, and think nothing of jumping from one precipice to another. Goats also remain at high-elevation year around, enduring brutal winter conditions above timberline at more than 11,000 feet. To be able to get a good shot, hunters must also travel to these areas and be ready to move with the mountain goats.
Mountain goats were transplanted in Colorado from other states in the 1940s. There is still debate if they were ever native to the state. Top areas include the Raggeds Wilderness near Gunnison, Collegiate Peaks west of Buena Vista, Gore Range in the central mountains, and the San Juan Mountains near Silverton.
And then there are bears. It’s estimated that the Colorado bear population is around 18,000 and they can exceed 350 pounds. The best spots to find them is also in the high country, around 6,000 – 9.000 feet in thick oak brush and aspen groves. Bear permits are managed by specific game management areas as well. Bear hunting isn’t easy. The success ratio for bear hunters is about ten percent, mainly because the bears live in such thick areas and their movements slow down in the fall, then stop in the winter.
Only a couple hundred Colorado hunters are lucky enough to grab a Moose tag each year. But those that do have a good chance of success. The average success ratio is about 90 percent. Top moose areas include North Park in the Grand Mesa; Taylor Park in the upper Rio Grande drainage and the La Garita Mountains south of Gunnison.
Hunting for Birds and Other Species in Colorado
Colorado is part of two different migratory routes, the Central and the Pacific flyways and even though big game gets most of the attention, migratory waterfowl like ducks and geese flock to the area. The waterfowl numbers in Colorado have remained above their 40-year average in recent years.
Hunting is good along the South Platte and Arkansas Rivers and reservoirs like Queens and John Martin. In general, lakes, reservoirs and warm-water sloughs within the Central Flyway are always good bets.
A final note: Because of the weather conditions in Colorado, your personal safety must be a priority. Also, closures of areas can change quickly, even in a matter of hours or a day. Your hunting destination or access route may be affected. Keep up with short and long-range weather forecasts. Prior to license purchase, scouting or hunting, it is your responsibility to learn about fires, closures alerts and plan alternative routes and areas to hunt. Check with local land management agencies (Forest Service, BLM, etc) before heading out.