When my Colorado Big Game Brochure arrives in the mail each year, I find myself restricted to the fireplace on cold late winter mornings. I begin to daydream about the fall season and think about the opportunities to chase an elk, one of the most challenging big game animals in North America. Many new hunters do not realize the diverse weather conditions that can exist in Colorado on any given day in any given month and, therefore, affecting where and when to hunt. The dry early seasons can drive elk high in the timber and other places where hunters have not found them in the past. In some cases, the elk do not begin normal migration until after the regular rifle seasons has concluded. Hunters who have adapted hunting techniques to the dark timber are often rewarded with an opportunity for quality bulls. Heavy spring rains can make for an excellent forage base and excellent antler growth. If the spring is productive in rains and forage, the bulls are sure to be remarkable animals.
With the potential for the next elk season to provide an awesome opportunity, it is time to figure out the best places to hunt and how to apply for a license from the limited license draw system. I understand the limited license application system used in Colorado can be a bit daunting to the first time participant, but there is a great deal of help out there to assist you in finding the right unit, applying for a license, and planning for your fall elk hunting experience in Colorado. Colorado is a big state, with over 23 million square acres of public lands if you include national and state forests, State Trust Lands and State Wildlife Areas. The state has been divided into 185 Game Management Units (GMUs) to define our hunting areas in order to allow Colorado Parks and Wildlife to not only better manage the wildlife resource but also to limit hunting pressure by restricting licenses in some units. In any case, for the new elk hunter it can be a daunting task to determine where in the state to plan an elk hunt. I will address this topic in a future article in detail, but for now, take a look at the Plan Your Hunt guide as a good starting point.