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Plan Your Hunt
Plan Your Hunt
A successful big game hunt starts with knowing how Colorado’s big game licenses work. Follow along as Bryan Posthumus, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Northeast Region Hunting and Angling Outreach Coordinator, walks you through the basics on game management units (GMUs), hunt codes, resources to help you pick the right license, and tips on applying for deer, elk, and pronghorn licenses.

To see an overview of some of the major changes affecting the 2020 big game seasons, watch the "What's New 2020 Big Game" video.

​​​​​​​Im​​portant D​ates​

  • ​April 7, 2020, 8pm (MT) - Bear, deer, elk, moose, pronghorn, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, desert bighorn sheep and mountain goat limited license application deadline (Primary Draw) ​

  • July 7, 2020, 8pm (MT) - Bear, deer, elk, & pronghorn limited license application deadline (Secondary Draw)

  • August 4, 2020, 9am – Leftover limited licenses go on sale

  • August 6, 2020, 9a​m – Over-the-counter licenses (unlimited & add-on bear) go on sale (no application necessary)​

​For more information on license options and availability, please visit the Big Game Licenses Option page.​

Start With Hunter Education

Hunter Education certification and your card number are required before applying for or purchasing a Colorado hunting license if you were born on or after 1/1/49. Colorado honors hunter education certifications from other states and provinces.

Read more or find a class on the hunter education pages.

Lost Your Card? Find out how to get a replacement.

Choose the Animal You Want to Hunt

Colorado offers nine big game species. The Big Game brochure contains regulations for deer (mule and whitetail), elk, pronghorn, moose and bear. The Sheep & Goat brochure contains regulations for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, desert bighorn sheep and mountain goat. Both brochures have an identification page that helps identify animals by gender. Brochures are available online or in print from 650 sales agents throughout the state.

Decide Where to Hunt

Colorado is divided into hunting areas called game management units (GMUs). Familiarity with your hunting area increases your chance for success. It is important that every hunter know the boundaries of their hunting license area, including private land boundaries. Check out the state maps and unit descriptions in the brochure or online. Scouting your hunting area ahead of the seasons can improve your harvest success.

Each year, a limited number of licenses (sometimes called quota) are allotted to each GMU and called limited licenses. These licenses are obtained through one of our application and draw processes (March and June). Other licenses, called unlimited, are available for sale over-the-counter (without first applying) in early August and are not restricted by a quota.

Pick Your Hunting Season

In general, for deer, elk and bear hunting, archery season starts in early Sept. and lasts almost a month. Muzzleloader season starts in the middle of archery season, and four rifle seasons follow that.

The first rifle season is limited to elk and bear hunting only. The second, third and fourth rifle seasons are for elk, bear and deer hunters, who will be in the field at the same time.

The Colorado Big Game Hunting Planner lists season dates, fees, and application dates and deadlines. The five-year season structure overview is a useful long-range season date planner.

Select Your Method of Take

Colorado offers distinct big game seasons for archery, muzzleloader and rifle hunting. Legal requirements for the various hunting methods and transporting them in the field are in the brochures.

Select Your Hunt Code(s)

You need a hunt code to apply for or buy a license. The hunt code includes the species, sex, game management unit, hunting season/dates and method of take. How to read a hunt code and the tables where they are listed in the brochure are on page 10.

Prior to applying, all applicants will first need to purchase or hold a qualifying license, available starting March 1.

When submitting an application in March/April or June/July, you may submit for each species, per draw, per year. For each draw application, you may fill out up to four hunt code choices. The application processing fee applies per species, per draw.

If you draw a license, CPW automatically charges the license fee to your credit card on file in your online account.

There will still be leftover limited licenses and over-the-counter (OTC) unlimited licenses available in early August. Hunters should check the leftover list for opportunities.

Obtain and Understand Preference Points

A preference point is earned when a hunter does not draw their first choice on a big game application or applies for a preference point only in the primary draw. Accumulated preference points can help hunters to be successful in future draws, because points add up per species until an applicant draws a first choice license.

For Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, moose and mountain goat points, there is a cost for preference points and after three are accumulated, they become weighted preference points.

Preference points are not needed to enter the secondary draw, purchase big game leftover limited licenses (on sale starting August 4, 2020 at 9:00 am MT) and over-the-counter (OTC) licenses (on sale August 6, 2020 at 9:00 am MT) nor will you use any of your accumulated points for these license purchases.

In fact, ninety to ninety-five percent of Colorado’s GMUs require no preference points — or just a single preference point — in order to draw a limited license in those units. Preference points are earned when you apply for a limited license and are unsuccessful in drawing a license for your first-choice hunt or when you purchase a point through the application process. Many hunters collect points and also hunt each year. Researching the number of points required for the GMUs you want to hunt is useful before applying.

Study the Statistics

Colorado publishes several statistical reports that contain the license quotas, application stats, post-draw stats, number of preference points used to draw each license and harvest estimates.

Learn how to read the reports online. If you are so inclined, studying the statistics of the unit(s) you are interested in hunting prior to applying can refine the choices you make on your application.

Available Over-the-Counter Licenses

Colorado offers an unlimited quantity of over-the-counter (OTC) bull elk rifle licenses during the second- and third- rifle seasons because we have the largest elk herds in North America. OTC licenses do not require an application or preference points to purchase. OTC archery elk and pronghorn, and add-on bear licenses are also available. See the big game brochure table of contents page which lists the maps and page numbers where over-the-counter licenses are available under each species. Over-the-counter licenses go on sale in early August of each year.

Set Up Your Online Account

To apply for a hunting license in the draw(s), you will need to first set up your online account. See the Online Account Instructions for information about accessing your past CPW account or setting up a new online account.

Please try to avoid having duplicate accounts so all your purchases and preference points remain with your Customer Identification Number (CID#).

Apply for the Draw(s) or Purchase a License

Residency status determines most CPW fees. To apply for or purchase a license online, you’ll need the following information handy:

For help with applying and understanding the draw process, see:

If applying as a group, you’ll need the group leader’s CID.

Leftover limited, over-the-counter and add-on bear licenses are also available at over 650 sales agents around the state.