Frequently Asked Questions


Many out-of-state hunters who wish to hunt big game in Colorado find the big game license application process to be confusing, intimidating, and sometimes frustrating. If you make a small mistake in the application process, your entire hunt can be ruined for a year, so it’s important to know what to do and do it right!


As a wilderness hunting outfitter specializing in deer and elk hunts, I am familiar with the process, though Colorado Division of Wildlife employees are, of course, the experts. Please consider this article as an aid in going through the license application process, but don’t take my word as the ultimate authority. That’s up to the fish and game department. WE OUTFIT IN GAME MANAGEMENT UNIT 43. If you have a Unit 43 tag, please talk to us–we can set you up with a great hunt. We have connections to obtain Unit 43 mule deer buck tags, and we offer these as part of our guided hunts for trophy mule deer bucks. Please call if you have questions.


From my perspective, however, here are some tips that should help you through the process.


Who must apply for a license? Some hunters have the misconception that they must apply for all Colorado licenses. That’s not true. There are many regions in the state that are open to unlimited bull elk license sales for the archery and second and third rifle seasons. Those are called “statewide” units. All other elk licenses are available by application and drawing only. First rifle season elk licenses, fourth rifle season elk licenses, muzzleloader licenses, all cow elk licenses, and private land licenses can be obtained only through drawing.


All deer, antelope, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, moose, and mountain lion licenses must be obtained through the application process. There’s a special bear season for the month of September that requires a drawing for a tag, but otherwise you can buy a bear tag over the counter that is valid during any season where you’re hunting deer or elk.


What percentage of limited draw licenses go to out-of-state residents? The Colorado Wildlife Commission sets the percentages of tags that go to state and out-of-state residents. Recently there was a movement by a group of resident Colorado sportsmen to grab a larger share of limited licenses, especially the coveted tags that require more than 5 preference points. The Colorado Wildlife Commission caved in to this intense political pressure, and now Colorado residents get 80% of those tags, while non-residents get 20%. Of course, you didn’t know about this proposal and didn’t comment on it, so you got shafted. I still invite you to send a comment to the administrator of the Colorado Wildlife Commission, Mike King. You can email him at For the tags that require fewer than 5 preference points to draw, non-residents get 35% of the tags and Colorado state residents get 65%.


What are landowner tags and Ranching for Wildlife tags? For any rule, there’s an exception, and there are exceptions to the application process, too. If you’re hunting with an outfitter who operates on a large Ranching for Wildlife private property, he will have tags in hand that you buy as part of the price of your hunt, and you won’t have to go through the application process. Another loophole in this rule is landowner tags. Fifteen percent of all Colorado limited licenses are distributed to large landholders as a reward for hosting wildlife on their property, which hopefully helps to keep some of these parcels from being developed. These tags are distributed as vouchers that can be redeemed in the form of a license at any license sales point in Colorado. Landowner vouchers can be freely bought and sold. Realize, however, that if you buy a landowner voucher, you’re simply paying a premium for the right to buy a license at the normal license price! You’re basically shortcutting the application process and getting a guaranteed tag, but you’ll pay for the privilege. There’s an active secondary market for landowner tags, and reach for your wallet if you want to buy one. Do a google search or ebay search and you’ll find them.


Do I get the right to hunt on private property if I buy a landowner tag? Yes. Previously, you simply got the right to buy a license, and didn’t get the right to hunt on that particular ranch. After a loud outcry, that rule was changed so you do get permission to hunt on the ranch that issued the tag. You can also use that license to hunt anywhere in the unit specified on that landowner tag, regardless if it’s public or private property. Of course, you must have permission to hunt on private property!


How do preference points work? Each time you apply for a limited license and you’re unsuccessful, you are given a preference point. You can accumulate quite a few preference points. There are many guys out there who have a dozen or more preference points for various species of game animals. Some hunts require few or no preference points to draw a tag. In many statewide units, you can draw a bull elk tag for first rifle season with no preference points, for example. A statewide muzzleloader bull elk tag usually takes two preference points for a non-resident hunter. Many units will yield mule deer buck tags with no preference points.


However, some licenses require massive amounts of preference points. All bighorn sheep, moose, and mountain goat units, special high-country mule deer and plains mule deer hunts, some antelope units, and some of the limited licenses units for trophy bull elk take between seven and a dozen years to draw. The Colorado Division of Wildlife magazine, Colorado Outdoors, publishes a special “preference point edition” each March/April issue that details each big game unit and pertinent information such as how many licenses are issued for that unit each year, how many Colorado resident hunters applied, how many non-resident hunters applied, how many preference points it took for a hunter to draw a license, and other interesting details. You can call or email the DOW and either get a yearly subscription or send a check or money order for $2.95 for the March/April preference point issue.


BE ADVISED that there can be sudden fluctuations in draw results, which can be the result of magazines and websites publishing such articles as “Unit ____ is totally under subscribed for third season mule deer tags! This is your best chance to bag a mulie scoring over 180 with no wait to draw! And by the way, we have landowner tags for that unit for sale!” Suddenly a unit that had a total of 2,100 tags issued with 1,500 leftover tags last year will have NONE this year, and you won’t know why.


When is the application deadline? The application deadline is usually the first Tuesday in April, but I usually tell my hunters that the deadline is April 1, so they get in their applications in a day or two early. “Snail mail” applications must be postmarked prior to the deadline, but can arrive a couple of days later.


When do we know if we drew tags? Drawing results are announced around June 10.


What if we want to hunt as a group? You can apply as a group, but you’ll be dragged down by the lowest number of preference points in the group. For example, if three guys have three preference points each and one guy has one preference point, your application will be treated as if you have one preference point. You need to appoint a group leader to make your application.


What information do they need? If you’ve bought a hunting or fishing license in Colorado in the last few years, you probably have a CID number, which is your personal number with the DOW. How do you find that number? A hint—go to their website and go to the Hunting nav bar, and drop down to “Draw Results”. You can input your name, zip code, and date of birth, and it’ll return with your CID number. If you don’t have a CID number, they’ll issue one when you make your application. You need the standard information INCLUDING your social security number, which I think is an invasion of your privacy. Why your social security number? Because if someone is behind on his child support payments, they won’t issue him a license. You MUST have a valid Hunter Safety Card from any state if you were born after January 1, 1949. There are no exceptions to this rule. Don’t try to hoodwink them on this. If you took a Hunter’s Safety Course and lost your card, get on to the state wildlife department website where you took the course and request a new one. It usually comes in the mail in a few days. If you haven’t taken the course and you were born after Jan. 1, 1949, you can’t hunt in Colorado. It’s that simple. Take the course and you’re good to go in any other state or province in the U.S. and Canada. If you try to fool them with a bogus Hunter Safety ID number, you may be subject to criminal prosecution. It’s not worth it.


How do I know where I want to hunt? You need to do your research and figure out your hunting spot. If you have a statewide rifle bull tag during the second rifle season, for example, you can hunt in any one of dozens of different units. If you plan to hunt during a limited-license season, such as first rifle elk season, you need to specify a game management unit and hunt within that unit. You can call the DOW or get on their website for the parameters of their units. Make sure your tag is for the area that you want to hunt! Sometimes a logical hunting area can be split by a highway or river, and just across the road you’ll see a nice buck that’s not in your GMU (Game Management Unit). Sometimes our clients show up with tags that aren’t even close to our hunting area, and they simply can’t be used.


What about leftover tags? The Colorado Division of Wildlife establishes a number of animals that they wish to see taken out of individual herds in specific areas. The best way to do that is to issue tags for female animals in specific numbers to meet their harvest goals. Often licenses in particular units, particularly cow elk tags, go “unsubscribed”. After the license drawing in early June, the DOW will put blocks of leftover tags for sale either by website, through licensing agents (Wal-Mart, feed stores, etc.), at their regional offices, or through the main office in Denver. They are sold on a first-come, first-served basis. Sometimes there are bull elk and buck mule deer tags left over as well, so it’s worth checking their websites to see if tags are available. Usually those leftover tags are available beginning on August 10, but check with the DOW because the date seems to fluctuate.


What is a private land tag? That’s a license whereby you are limited to hunting on private land only. You may not hunt on U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, or State of Colorado property. You must have obtained permission to hunt on private property prior to your hunt. Private land access can be difficult to obtain, so be careful about buying private land tags if you haven’t secured access in advance. Don’t confuse private land tags with landowner tags! (See above) Private land tags are issued by drawing only, but often there are leftover tags right up to the beginning of the season.


What about either-sex tags? Archery elk and deer tags are usually either-sex tags, and in some years, limited-license elk tags for the first and fourth rifle seasons are either-sex tags. You can shoot either a cow or a bull, your choice. This is the DOW’s attempt to reduce the herd to manageable numbers. This is a “Schedule A” tag—see below.


Somebody told me I can get a cow elk tag AND a bull elk tag. Is this true? For the past several years, the DOW has issued two schedules of elk licenses—List A & List B—and you can buy a bull tag in one season (List A) and a List B (cow) tag in either the same season or another season. You can get only one List A tag, but you can get an additional cow tag. This “two elk in one season” system depends on whether or not the DOW reaches its harvest goals, and will be announced in early 2006. You may apply for only one license per species through the drawing, and any additional tags must be purchased at license agents, through their website as leftover tags, or at regional offices.


I want to build preference points for a special hunt, but I still want to hunt. How can I do this? In the license application process, you’ll be asked for a first choice hunt code and a second choice hunt code. If you know you’re applying for a unit that’s very tough to draw, you can simply put in for that unit and hope for the best as a first choice hunt code. Then, figure out a tag that you might be able to draw with no preference points, such as a cow tag or a first-season bull tag for a statewide unit, and put that as your second-choice hunt code. You’ll most likely draw the second choice tag.



Youth game hunting license for persons under the age of 18 with showing of hunter education certificate. If under 16, must have youth game hunting license and be accompanied by adult 18 years or older.




Can I call you to help me through the application process? If you book a hunt with OutWest Guides we will be happy to help you with the application process. You can look through the rest of our website to see what we do—I think you’ll find that we do an excellent job of outfitting our clients for wilderness elk, mule deer, and blue grouse hunts. We guide our clients by horseback into the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness and Raggeds Wilderness areas and we have an excellent reputation for putting our clients on game and doing it right.


How do I fill out the application forms? Very carefully! If you’re doing it on a paper application and mailing the application in to Denver, make sure you’re dotting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s—in BLACK INK. Blue won’t work for some reason. It’s actually easier to make your applications online. If you haven’t filled out a required field, the website will kick it back to you, and that way you make sure it’s done right.


How do I contact the Colorado Division of Wildlife? Their website is . It’s an excellent site and fairly complex, so take your time to navigate it—there’s a lot of information! You can call them at (303) 297-1192. There are several regional DOW offices throughout the state, in towns such as Montrose and Glenwood Springs, and if you can’t get through at the Denver office, you can call the regional offices and get excellent customer support as well.

Colorado Division of Wildlife – NW Region


Grand Junction
Regional and Area Office
711 Independent Ave.
Grand Junction CO 81505 (970) 255-6100


Glenwood Springs- 50633 Hwy 6 & 24

Glenwood Springs CO 81601 (970) 947-2920


Meeker- 73485 Hwy 64; PO Box 1181

Meeker CO 81641 (970) 878-6090


Hot Sulphur Springs- 346 Grand County Rd 362; PO Box 216

Hot Sulphur Springs CO 80451 (970) 725-6200


Steamboat Springs- 925 Weiss Drive – PO Box 775777

Steamboat Springs CO 80477 (970) 870-2197



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