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Lesson 9
Lesson 9

​​​​​​What Now? "Plan B" Licenses: Unlimited and Leftover

by Jim Bulger

Bull Elk © W.Lewis/CPWYou can check the limited license draw results on the draw results & preference point page. If you drew the unit you applied for in April, it’s time to start scouting, planning and getting ready for the fall season. Go back and review all of the lessons we have covered so far in Elk Hunting University (EHU) and get that planning process in motion!

If you did not draw a limited license, and especially if you did not apply for a limited license this year, you still have options. This short lesson is for those of you who need to go to “Plan B”.

The lessons we have covered thus far in EHU still apply to a Plan B hunt this fall. The fact that you did not draw a limited license (or didn’t apply) can actually be a good thing, in that it will cause you to find a new area to hunt. Maybe that will take a bit more work, but can provide you with more options as you plan future hunts. Plan B is still a good plan; you just need to get over the disappointment of “Plan A” not working out. The worst decision you can make is to not hunt elk this year because you did not draw a limited license. There are plenty of units with a lot of elk that can still answer your “call of the wild” this fall.​


You have two license-type options for fall: unlimited (also called over-the-counter licenses) and leftover licenses. We talked about both types of licenses in previous lessons or you can view the Big Game License Options page. I will not rehash those points, but I want to highlight the process for a moment to insure you have a good understanding of when licenses become available and what you have to do to purchase one. Do a bit of homework now so you are ready to buy one when these licenses become available.

If you want to hunt using an unlimited license (archery or rifle), get the current big game brochure, and read the sections on unlimited licenses. Carefully read about the units that are not included in the unlimited license Game Management Units (GMU).

Choose a unit (GMU) that meets the unlimited license criteria and do your research of the area. A good idea is to find an unlimited unit near the one you may have listed in your draw application. You can get familiar with the general region, local communities, and terrain as you plan for this and future hunts. Another approach is to look for an unlimited unit that is in a completely different area of the state. (This will also broaden your knowledge of potential units for coming years.) Far too many hunters hunt the same unit every year because they just do not know other places to try, and feel there isn’t enough time to locate and scout a completely different area. ​Colorado is a big state and has a lot of options for elk hunters! Unlimited rifle season hunters are looking to be in the field during the second and third rifle seasons. Archery hunters can still see the early fall with almost a month-long season.

Cow elk near Bailey, Colorado © D.Hannigan/CPWRead or review Lesson 6 - Scouting Tips; use the concepts Mark discussed to determine where you will have the best opportunities to find elk during the time-frame you plan to hunt. If the weather remains warm and dry in late October, the elk will still be high, at tree line, and early hunting pressure may have caused them to move deeper into cover and farther from roads, trails, and access points frequented by other hunters in the early seasons.

An important feature of the unlimited license is that it will allow you to hunt more than one game management unit! Limited licenses and leftovers are restricted to the unit that you drew—but you could hunt two or three different units using an unlimited license. Perhaps during your planning you could find several units that are next to, or close to, each other, expanding your hunting area considerably. (Refer to the big game brochure for unlimited license release sales date. Licenses will be available at all license agents (retail sellers), CPW offices, and online.)

Leftover licenses are those limited licenses which were not sold during the application/draw process. They can be sold for any limited draw unit that has remaining limited licenses (list available July) and are sold on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Online purchases begin a day later than in-person sales. Non-residents have an opportunity to buy via telephone and mail order the same as though they were standing in line at a license agent’s store or at a CPW office. This gives license agents the opportunity to be an active part of the sales process.

Bull Elk © US Fish & Wildlife AgencyThe leftover license list is made available online and at CPW offices providing hunters some time before they go on sale to consider choices. Read about the leftover license sales process beforehand so you have all the correct information for the day licenses become available. If you have questions, call a CPW Customer Service Representative; they will help you prepare for purchasing your license.

You can use the same scouting and hunt preparation philosophy we have discussed to determine the most promising units for your leftover license purchase. If you are not successful with buying a leftover for the GMU you chose, you can still purchase an unlimited license. Take a look at the charts within the big game brochureyou may be able to purchase more than one elk license if you do some homework and choose qualifying units.

Colorado is one of the few western states that give elk hunters more license-buying options than just a draw license. Staying home when one could be in the woods enjoying the hunt, finding new places, developing new skills, and spending precious time with friends or family is not going to keep the hunting heritage and traditions alive. Those who sit on the sidelines soon leave the game for another pastime. Go find a place, purchase a license, and get ready for the time of your life!