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Lesson 3
Lesson 3

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Applying For A License - ​​As Easy As 1-2-3

by Justin Gindlesperger

As the sun starts its slow procession, murky pre-dawn darkness begins to fade. Tall switchgrass sparkles with morning dew as a meadow comes into focus. In the dark timber beyond the meadow’s edge, a shrill bugle pierces the morning stillness. Ghostly shapes start to take form in growing morning light. We all imagine scenes like this while we’re planning our upcoming hunts, and as we learned in the last article, it takes planning for a successful hunt. At this point in your planning, you are now able to find the areas you want to hunt. You can read the statistics to find areas where you’re reasonably sure you can get a license. There’s one more thing you need to do before you can get after that big bull in the meadow. It’s time to apply for your elk license. Go get the latest Big Game Brochure, online or from any license agent or any Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) office. And let’s get started:

What You’ll Need: Gather The Personal Information

(Editor's note: It will be helpful, as you work through this lesson, to have a copy of the big game brochure at hand. Or, open a new browser session and go to the Big Game Br​ochure so it's available for quick reference.)

Big Game BrochureWhat do you need before you start on the application? First, you’ll need identification. There are spaces for your driver’s license and social security number—if this information is not already on file. Second, a valid hunter education card is required for anyone born on or after January 1, 1949. Next, you’ll need a Customer Identification number (CID); this is a unique identification number provided by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. If you’ve applied for or purchased a license previously, you already have one. Look at the top of your previous licenses (blue in color), including small game and fishing licenses, for your CID. If you received a Big Game Brochure in the mail, look on the label—your CID is printed above your name.

Don’t have a CID? Don’t worry, you’ll get one through this process. Just fill out the bottom portion of the application with your personal information.

Next, you’ll need to get an application. Applications are available in paper format in the brochure (available at all CPW offices and licensing agents). CPW offers an easy-to-use online application process; your application is received within minutes of you submitting it.

Last, you need some form of payment. With the paper application, you can mail a check or a money order. Don’t mail cash! Online, you’ll need a credit card to complete the application.

The Application: Paper and On-line​

Sample Elk ApplicationThe application process for all big game species is the same, but for the purpose of this article we’ll focus on elk. Find the application for the upcoming season, in the left-hand margin and has an ‘E’ at the beginning of each hunt code. If you’re applying online, select elk as the species for which you are applying.

Elk season is broken down into 4 regular rifle seasons, a late rifle season in December, a muzzleloader season and an archery season. Archery is first and runs from August 28th to September 26th. Muzzleloader is September 11th to the 19th. Rifle season begins in October and is divided into four separate seasons. The first season is October 16th–20th, second season runs from October 23rd–31st, third season from November 6th–14th, and fourth season November 17th–21st. In some hunting areas, the late rifle season runs the entire month of December and is for cow elk only.

At this point, you are ready to change the Game Management Unit(s) you determined during your hunt planning work into a hunt code and specific season date to hunt. Each hunt code designates a specific species, sex, season, and method of take. The first step to find your hunt code is to look at the Unit Tables in the brochure. Each species has it’s own unit table, so be sure you’re looking at the elk seasons.

Under the heading, ‘Unit’, you’ll find the Game Management Unit (GMU) that you want to hunt. The next column titled, ‘Valid Units’, will tell you how many other units you can hunt in a specific season with the same license. Some unit codes may list several units in the box, others may list only one. You’ll also see columns labeled ‘Method/Season’ that tell you method of take and the specific season; ‘Date,’ which indicates the dates of the season; ‘Sex,’ the sex for which you are hunting and finally the ‘Hunt Code’. You may notice either a ‘+’ or an ‘*’ next to sex for certain hunt codes. The ‘+’ indicates licenses that require 6 or more preference points in order for a resident applicant to draw that license. The ‘*’ indicates licenses that were remaining following the draw in the previous license year. These were considered the leftover licenses for that license year.

Let’s say you want to hunt in GMU 77 during the first rifle season for either a bull or a cow. The hunt code for this is E-E-075-01-R. That’s ‘E-E’ for either sex, a bull or a cow, ‘075’ because you can hunt in any of 5 units with the same tag (75, 77, 78, 751, 771), ‘01’ for the first rifle season, and ‘R’ for rifle. The unit table for this hunt looks like this:


Valid Units




Hunt Code


75, 77, 78, 751, 771


Oct. 16–Oct. 20

Either Sex


After you filled out your hunt code in the first space, you notice there are 3 more spaces following. You’re able to apply for up to 4 different hunt code choices. If a license for the hunt code you want to hunt is no longer available, your additional choices provide you with some alternatives to draw a limited license. ​You also need to be aware of the different types of licenses available. For elk, Colorado offers either-sex, which allows you to harvest either a bull or a cow, bull tags, and cow tags. As discussed above, the ‘E-E’ designates an either-sex license. Bull licenses are designated by ‘E-M’ and cow licenses by ‘E-F.’

Another option for hunters is to buy an unlimited license. You will also hear them called over-the-counter licenses (OTC). Unlimited licenses are available at any CPW office or licensing agent and through the on-line license purchase system (TLS), usually mid-July. Walk in, pay your money, and walk out with a tag! It’s that easy. There are several types of over-the-counter tags available, make sure you read the full details of the unlimited elk license section in the big game brochure and understand which units are the unlimited units. 

Other types of licenses include private land only (PLO), which requires landowner permission before you apply, Ranching for Wildlife (RFW), and youth tags reserved for youth applicants (ages 12-17). RFW hunts are reserved for residents of Colorado only.

At this point, you may be asking how many elk licenses you can buy. There are 3 different classifications of licenses: List A, List B, and List C. You can have more than one elk license if at least one is a List B license. You are only able to obtain a single license that allows you to take an antlered animal of any species. If you apply for an either sex license for the first season, and are not successful in the limited drawing, you may purchase an over-the-counter license for the second or third rifle seasons. The only difference from the previously mentioned are List C licenses. 

A hunter may obtain any number of List C licenses. List C licenses include specific antlerless, private-land only licenses for GMUs 54, 55, 551, 391, and 461; either-sex plains rifle licenses; any license with the hunt code E-F-002-E1-R, E-F-682-P5-R, E-M-682-P5-R, E-M-682-P6-R, or E-E-082-P5-R; special licenses offered by CPW as auction or raffle licenses; replacement licenses for any animal that tests positive for chronic wasting disease; reward program licenses—such as Turn In Poachers; youth outreach licenses; and any youth, donated, or mobility impaired RFW license.

If you’re creative and really use the licensing system to its full potential, there’s a possibility that you will be able to hunt the same GMU with multiple elk licenses, or more than one elk season, and still get a preference point to use in a later year! I typically take to the field for archery season with an over-the-counter, unlimited license valid in a number of units across Colorado. Even though I don’t have to submit an application, I still do in order to get a preference point using the Preference Point Hunt Code as my first choice; I can invest in points that I can use in the future. Plus, I’m able to use my 2nd choice to get a cow license as a list B license and take to the field again in rifle season.

Another option would be to apply for a limited license, then purchase a leftover license cow elk for the same GMU and the same season. For example, GMU 006 has limited either-sex licenses for 1st rifle season. By looking at the unit table, you see that there were cow licenses leftover for 1st season in last year’s draw. If that happens again this year, you could get one of the leftover licenses and head into elk country with two elk licenses in your pocket!

Online Applications 


If you’re applying for your license online, the program will walk you through the process. Start by clicking "Buy & Apply for Licenses". The online process will ask if you’re a resident and for identification. If anything is incorrect, including hunt codes later on in the process, the program will not let you continue until all the information is correct.

When I’m applying for my licenses, I start by filling out the paper application in order to make sure I have all the information I need, then I proceed to the online program. On the right hand margin of the elk license application, there is an application checklist that lists some of the more common oversights. Later on we’ll talk about the most common mistakes that hunters make when applying for licenses. 


Not sure if you’re a resident? In order to be considered a resident, you must have lived in Colorado, continuously, at least six months prior to application or purchase of a license. Individuals on active duty and full-time students are exempted from this requirement; Students, however, must have been enrolled for six months prior to applying for, or purchasing, a license. View the latest brochure and read about the residency qualifications. 

Preference Points

The draw in Colorado is awarded on a point system. Those with the highest number of points get preference on the license of their choice. If you are applying for a license as part of a group, the group’s ranking in the draw will be based on the member with the fewest number of points.

So, how do you go about getting a preference point? If you are unsuccessful in drawing your first choice on your application, you are awarded a single preference point. Another option is to apply directly for a preference point as your first choice, then you can choose other licenses as your 2nd, 3rd, or 4th choice. (The hunt code for a preference point for elk is E-P-999-99-P.)

If you are awarded a preference point through the draw or apply for one directly, you’ll be charged $25.00. Hunters who have not held a previous hunting or fishing license in Colorado, or are applying for a preference point but not applying for a hunting license, are charged the $25.00 to cover the administration costs of the preference point system. You can opt out of this charge by selecting the appropriate box on the application above the hunt code lines near the top of the application. Keep in mind that you won’t be awarded a preference point if you check this box unless you qualify in another way.

Hunters who have purchased either an annual fishing license, small game, a resident combination fishing/small game, or a furbearer license in the previous license year still qualify for a preference point even if they opt out of the $25.00 fee. Also, hunters who purchased a license in the previous year, or a current limited license purchase for the same species, can opt out of the $25.00 fee and still receive a preference point. So, if you bought an elk license last year, you can still get a preference point. Conversely, if this is your first draw and you only want to apply for a preference point, you’ll need to pay the $25.00 (which is then subtracted from your refund).  Refer to the current Big Game Brochure​ for details.

So, What If You’re Unsuccessful?

The application has several check-boxes for you in case you do not draw the license you want. The choices include leftover draw, refund, either-sex archery, antlerless archery, or an antlered elk license for the second or third regular rifle season. If you choose leftover draw, you’ll be mailed a list of leftover licenses—licenses that were not awarded in the draw. A refund will refund your license fees, save the $3 application fee. The other options will get you a license of the corresponding type.

How Much Is This Going To Cost?

In addition to the cost of the license, anyone between the ages of 18–64 is required to purchase a Habitat Stamp. If the Habitat Stamp is purchased concurrently with the license, the cost is $5 and is required with the first 2 licenses purchased. A lifetime habitat stamp is available for $200. (Just a note: your license will not be mailed until you purchase a Habitat Stamp, so it’s a good idea to purchase it at the same time you apply for your license. There’s even a check box on the application to help you with this.)

Other than the Habitat Stamp and the elk license fee, there are no other fees. (Some states require you to purchase a separate general-hunting license.) Once you purchase your elk license and Habitat Stamp, you’re all set!

Important Dates

Refer to the Big Game Brochure​ for the application deadline and Mark Your Calendar!

Once you mail or submit your application, the waiting begins. But how long do you have to wait? Licenses for successful applicants are mailed mid June. If you’re unsuccessful, refunds for elk licenses will be in the mail between end of May and the beginning of June. 

Common Mistakes

Every year, hunters are not awarded their elk licenses because of the mistakes they make on their applications. A big advantage of applying online is that most mistakes (other than entering the incorrect GMU) are eliminated prior to submission. Drawing some of the most sought-after tags is hard enough; eliminating your chances by making simple mistakes is like shooting yourself in the foot! 

Some of the most common mistakes of the paper applications are:

  • No hunt code, or entering an incorrect hunt code.

  • Not entering the entire hunt code.

  • Penmanship (If the computer and/or license agent can’t read it, it gets rejected)

  • Failing to mark the “resident since” box when applying for resident tags and providing the date since you became a resident. Marking the box without this date will cause your application to be rejected.

  • Hunter Education Card box not marked.

  • Social Security Number not filled in (if not already on file with the CPW).

  • When applying as a group, the group must have the same hunt codes in the same order of preference, or the group will be rejected. Group applications must also have the same Group ID number. Be sure all members are using the same number!

  • Address or date-of-birth not filled in if you are a new applicant without a CID number.

  • Putting someone else’s CID number in your CID box. (Don’t accidentally use your son’s CID number, for example—he will get your license!)

While this will not get you rejected, there have been instances where phone numbers are not updated. A couple of years ago, a guy drew a sheep tag and it was returned due to a mailing address error. The CPW could not contact him to inform him that he had drawn a sheep tag because his telephone number was invalid. He found out later that his tag simply went unused. His one and only chance . . .

​Last year, I was planning an elk hunt for my dad, my best friend from college, and myself. Since I was the one who lived in Colorado, I was the one put in charge of planning all the details: food, camp supplies, transportation to our hunting area, and lining up a friend who owns horses to haul everything in and out. I found a great area through my summer scouting the previous year and the tags were pretty easy to get—each year everyone who applied as a 1st Choice to this area drew a tag. I called my dad with great excitement to tell him what to do. 

“Ugh! This sounds complicated" he said. "Can I give you my information and you can just apply for me?”

“Dad", I replied, "it’s real simple. Just go online and fill out the application. You can’t make a mistake. Here’s the hunt code . . ."

“Why do they have to make it so complicated?! It’s not like that in Pennsylvania” he added.

Don’t let the application process scare you. Just as proper preparation will set you up for a successful hunt, you can’t hunt without an elk license. Come September, the bulls will start bugling and hundreds of hunters will take to the field. Will you be among them?