Colorado has the largest population of elk in the world with numbers reaching around 300,000 in some years. It is no surprise Colorado offers the best elk hunting in the world and huge success rates with harvest rates close to 50,000 elk during the most prosperous years.
With millions of acres of public land that are prime elk habitat full of water, vegetation, browsing, and sleeping areas, Colorado has all the perfect elements for elk to thrive and for elk hunting to be successful.
In ancient times, the plains of North America (including Colorado) were home to large elk herds. After the the plains became more populated with humans and agriculture, the shy and secretive elk adapted and started living in the higher country. Colorado’s Rocky Mountains were a great hideout for the elk herds that were escaping the pressures of human encroachment.
Elk are ultimate survivors, which makes them a challenge to hunt. They are very complex creatures and can become very secretive and cunning when pressured. Elk know the complex environment they live in and can use it to their advantage very well. They can also travel long distances in a relatively short amount of time.
In the summer months, the elk herds usually live in the higher mountains where the temperatures stay cool and the vegetation is green. Much of the high mountains of Colorado are so rugged that they are extremely hard for humans to access, which give elk great places to live free of human encroachment.
During the fall months (which is hunting season) the elk start to migrate to lower elevations due to weather and mating season (called rut). The fall time is when elk mate so they tend to congregate in the lower valleys in larger herds. This is when the males compete and fight to see who is the top bull and who will become herd master and get to breed with the best of the cow elk. Many elk hunters use the elk fighting as a hunting strategy and make noises and sounds of bull elk to lure other bull elk in to fight.
The winter months are a time of survival for the elk herds as the high mountains get deep snow and most of the browsing food is gone for the year so the elk are forced into the valleys and lower mountains. Even in the lower elevations, much of the browsing food can get covered during big snow storms. In bad years, many of the elk can starve. In years of big elk populations, the DOW (Department of Wildlife) will issue more winter hunting tags, which creates a good opportunity for hunters and also helps thin out the herds and keeps them from eating all of the available food and the entire herd starving.
Planning a Colorado Elk hunt
Planning an Elk hunt can be a huge task. Hiring a good elk hunting guide can save you hundreds or thousands of hours of work and drastically increase your success rate, but it can also be very rewarding to plan your own elk hunt from start to finish.
The first step to planning a Colorado elk hunt is reviewing the Colorado DOW regulation book to figure out the dates and areas for hunting. This will tell you where and when you can hunt elk. Most Colorado elk tags must be applied for in the spring for the upcoming fall hunt. The tags are then drawn using a lottery system.
The next step should be to scout the areas you want to hunt. This can be a monumental task because elk will go deep into the rugged and confusing mountain terrain. This is an area where an elk hunting guide can save you a lot of work. However, if you have the time, scouting can be a great experience that will take you into the mountains and areas you might not normally see.
Talk to people about where they have had successful elk hunts. Where have they heard of elk being taken?
Study read everything you can find about elk and elk hunting in Colorado from the library, internet, and magazines.
These are just a couple of the main steps to planning a Colorado elk hunt, but very important ones.
Colorado Elk Hunting Regulations
Elk hunting in Colorado is managed by the DOW (Department of Wildlife), which is a federal entity and has state branches that mange hunting for each state in the United States. Hunting tags must be purchased through the DOW and carried on the person at all times during the hunt. Once an elk is taken, the tag must be attached to the animal carcass. Most hunting tags must be purchased months before hand but some “over the counter” tags can be purchased the day before the hunt.
The amount of hunting tags available varies from year to year. Biologists working for the DOW do studies on the elk populations and determine how many tags can be sold and still maintain an optimal population of elk.
Elk hunting in Colorado can be a very rewarding experience. With the right preparation, you can go home with enough meat to feed your family through the winter or a trophy to add to your collection. Even if your hunt does not result in a harvested animal, you will have an adventure to talk about at your next family gathering.