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Lesson 3
Lesson 3

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

by Justin Gindlesperger and Jason Duetsch

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 (Folleto de Regulación de Caza Mayor), online or from any sales 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 (green 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.​

The Application​

All customers, existing and new, will need to have a unique identifier and password to create a profile in the purchasing system. For more information on how to create an account, see our Plan Your Hunt page.

​​All applicants, including youth, must purchase a qualifying license to apply for the big game draw.
Qualifying licenses are spring turkey, annual small game, annual resident combination small
game/fishing and veteran’s lifetime resident combination small game/fishing. Licenses must be valid
for the current license year. If you are ages 16-64, one Habitat Stamp from the application year (or
lifetime) is required and will automatically be added to your qualifying license purchase, if applicable.​

​The application process for all big game species is very similar, but for the purpose of this article, we’ll focus on elk. 

Elk season consists of 4 regular rifle seasons. Late seasons may occur after the regular seasons and muzzleloader and archery season occur before them. 

At this point, you are ready to determine the hunt code associated with the Game Management Unit(s) and dates/seasons you decided on during your hunt planning work. 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 its 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 a column labeled ‘Dates,’ which indicates the dates of the season; ‘Sex,’ the sex for which you are hunting and finally the ‘Hunt Code’. You may notice a ‘+’  next to sex for certain hunt codes. The ‘+’ indicates hunt codes for which an average of at least 6 preference points are needed for a resident to draw that license. 

Let’s say you want to hunt on public land in GMU 171 during the first rifle season for either a bull or a cow. The hunt code for this is E-E-006-01-R. That’s ‘E-E’ for either sex, a bull or a cow, ‘006’ because you can hunt in any of 5 units with the same tag (6,16,17,161,171), ‘01’ for the first rifle season, and ‘R’ for rifle. The unit table for this hunt looks like this:


Valid Units



Hunt Code


6, 16, 17, 161, 171 

Oct. 12 - Oct. 16

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 may offer 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 online license purchasing system. They are only valid for certain units and seasons. Walk in, pay your money, and walk out with a license! It’s that easy. There are several types of over-the-counter licenses 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 strongly encourages 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; either-sex plains rifle licenses, special licenses offered by CPW as auction or raffle licenses; 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! 

If you are applying for a big game license through the draw, you must apply for your license onl​ine. The program will walk you through the process. Start by clicking "Buy & Apply for Licenses". If anything is incorrect, including hunt codes later on in the process, the program will not let you continue until all the information is fixed.​ Make sure your contact information is correct!


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 for that species. 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). 

It’s also worth noting that to obtain a preference point for certain big game species (moose, Rocky
Mountain bighorn sheep and mount goat) you will be charged $50 (resident) or $100 (nonresident)
if you opt in to pay the preference point fee. If you opt out, you will not be charged the fee and
you will not be awarded a preference point.

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 $10.13 and is required with the licenses purchased. A lifetime habitat stamp is available for $304.11. 

Other than the Qualifying License, Habitat Stamp and the elk license fee, there is only one other fee which is required to process your application. This fee is $7 for residents and $9 for non-residents (per species, per draw and nonrefundable).

Important Dates

Refer to the Big Game Brochure​ (Folleto de Regulación de Caza Mayor​)​ for the application deadline and Mark Your Calendar!

Once you 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 around July. ​

​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 licenses were pretty easy to get—each year everyone who applied as a 1st Choice to this area drew a license. 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?