Guide to the 2016 Big Game Draw and How To Apply

The 2016 Big Game Draw Deadline is April 5th. Don’t be a procrastinator. Nothing makes a person more productive than the last ten minutes… but in this case the website probably won’t work the last ten minutes!

Apply online at the fish and game website HERE.

The following is a guide for Unit 25 in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area. I cover all the possible hunt options, how to apply for these hunts, and some commentary on my views on each hunt in 2016. If you have never applied for big game tags in Colorado, checkout this video produced by the state. It gives you a good overview of the process.

The one piece of advice I tell everyone is get in the routine of applying every year. At a minimum, apply for points so in future years you have additional options. This goes for all you guys that usually only hunt the OTC hunt units. I could write a book about it, but the short and sweet is that hunters that are hunting 1-4 point units/hunts are getting the most bang for their buck. High point hunts (10pp+) are over hyped and hunters who solely focus on OTC are missing opportunities. Get in that game!

When I give a minimum preference point number below, I am making an estimated guess at how many points it will take for a non-resident to have a decent chance of drawing a tag. This is based on historical statistics, and incorporates any changes I have heard about regarding future quotas. We never know the actual probability of drawing until the draw occurs, but these estimates are pretty good year-over-year.

Definitions:

OTC – Over the counter – You can buy these tags online or in retail locations. Make sure to buy the tag before the season starts! You can not buy these tags after the specific season has started. You do not need to apply through the draw for these tags.

Slam Dunk – Almost 100% opportunity at drawing this tag if you apply. Things can always change, but this means in past years I have had close to all my hunters get this tag that wanted it.

PP – Preference points. You gain these when you do not draw your first choice hunt on your application and pay to gain a preference point. In future years PPs give you a better chance of drawing hunts.

PP Gainer Hunt – These are draw hunts that you can usually draw, while retaining your preference points for future years. If you apply for these hunts with the hunt code as your first choice, you will certainly draw the hunt but will lose your accumulated points. If you put the species preference point code as your first choice and the hunt code as your second choice, you will likely draw the hunt and still keep your preference points. These are great hunts for hunters that are gaining points for a future, high-point hunt but want a decent hunt in the meantime.

Hunters with lots of accumulated points, BE CAREFUL! You want to make sure these hunts are not your 1st choice on your app. You will be blowing high points when you really don’t need to. On the other hand, if this may be your only hunt of these species in Colorado or don’t care about points, go ahead and put the hunt as your first choice.

Preference point codes:
Deer – D-P-999-99-P
Elk – E-P-999-99-P
Bear – B-P-999-99-P

September Hunts

    Archery Bear – Sept. 2nd to 30th. Code: B-E-012-U1-A

OTC
Given the ease of drawing the rifle tag for these same dates (below), I do not recommend this tag. Draw the rifle tag. You can always shoot a bear with a bow on a rifle tag in Colorado.

    Early Rifle Bear – Sept. 2nd to 30th. Code: B-E-012-O1-R

Slam Dunk
PP Gainer Hunt
0 PP – 100%
In the West, which species/dates/weapon is the “deal” hunt is always changing. A few years back it was antelope in Wyoming, then it was whitetail in several states, then there was a short window in Colorado for comeback muley bucks. The problem is we don’t usually recognize these deals until it’s over. However, right now for anyone wanting to do a spot and stalk western black bear hunt, one of those “deals” is this tag. The population of black bear is booming and tags have never been easier to get.

    Archery Deer Either Sex – Aug. 27th to Sept. 25th. Code: D-E-025-O1-A

Slam Dunk
0 PP – 100%
Very low harvest rate, but one of the best opportunities to chase monsters in the high country. Stalking to bow range in timberline terrain is tough. Be in good shape, ready for a challenge, and have fun.

    Archery Elk Either Sex – Aug. 27th to Sept. 25th.

OTC
One of our most popular hunts. Season is moved forward a week and full moon during later part of season. Hunters that have sharpened their early rut archery tactics will have good opportunities. Rut may or may not peak during the season.

    Archery Cow – Aug. 27th to Sept. 25th.

OTC
Get an either sex tag. Saving $150 just to have a bull walk by you can’t shoot… it’s your call and your wallet.

    Big Horn Sheep Hunt S59 – Code: S-M-S59-O1-R

3 PP and 9+ Weighted PPs (This is unique for Sheep and Goats, full explanation here: http://www.bighornsheep.org/HowColoradoSheepGoatDrawWorks.pdf
No non-resident tags in 2015
Small herd. In 2015 the herd had several nice rams. Sheep are in 2% of the unit’s land mass. You need to know where they are.

    High Country Buck Hunt – Sept. 3rd-11th. Code: D-M-012-E1-R

7-10 PP minimum (highly volatile due to a 10 tag quota)
8 PP – 33%
10 PP – 100%
One of the best opportunities in the West to both have a good opportunity at a 185″ buck and do it in the most beautiful high country there is. This is a wilderness hunt, you are going to earn a big buck.

All muzzy hunts are Sept. 10th through the 18th

    Muzzy Either Sex – Code: E-E-025-O1-M

4-5 PP minimum
3PP – 10%
4PP – 100%
One of our highest success rate hunts.

    Muzzy Cow – Code: E-F-025-O1-M

0 PP minimum – 100%
Apply if one member of a party has enough points for the either sex tag and other members have 0 or only 1-2 points. In this case do not apply as a group on the application. Apply individually.

    Muzzy Buck Code: D-M-025-O1-M

Slam Dunk
0 PP – 100%
Not a popular hunt, but could be fun for someone wanting to hunt big deer in the high country but won’t be able to draw a high country rifle tag.

    Muzzy Doe Code: D-F-025-O1-M

Slam Dunk
PP Gainer
0 PP – 100%
Existence proves that Colorado has no idea how to manage mule deer. We are way below carrying capacity of mule deer in Colorado, yet some how it makes sense to harvest the breeding females. If you are incredibly hungry, apply for this tag.

1st Rifle Season – Oct. 15-19

    Concurrent Bear – Code: B-E-012-U5-R

OTC as long as you have a big game tag.
This is a new hunt started in 2015 in an attempt by the Colorado Fish and Game to handle the overpopulation and associated problems of black bears in Colorado. A great idea on their part. The 1st rifle version of this tag is the latest bear tag that I recommend. You don’t have the same opportunity as the September hunt, but you still have a decent opportunity.

    Cow – Code: E-F-011-O1-R

0 PP minimum
0 PP – 90%
1 PP – 100%

    Bull – Code: E-M-011-O1-R

Slam Dunk
PP Gainer
0 PP – 100%
1st season elk hunts are the most popular elk hunts in Colorado. In high elevation areas like ours, it is a great time to hunt bulls in their summer range in reasonable weather. This hunt is the least weather dependent of the rifle elk hunts.

2nd Rifle Season – Oct. 22-30

    Concurrent Bear – Code: B-E-012-U5-R

OTC as long as you have a big game tag.
By late October, we see few bears. It can happen.

    Cow – Code: E-F-025-O2-R

0-1 PP minimum
0 PP 30%
1 PP 100%
Bull – OTC
More weather dependent than 1st rifle season. With later season dates this year the hunting should be good due to colder temps and deeper snow.

    Buck – Code: D-M-025-O2-R

Slam Dunk
PP Gainer
0 PP – 100%
The toughest rifle season to harvest a large deer. Big deer are typically holding to the thick stuff. The later season dates in 2016 might improve deer hunting due to snow and lower temps.

    Doe – Code: D-F-025-O2-R

Slam Dunk
PP Gainer
0 PP – 100%

3rd Rifle Season – Nov. 5-13

    Concurrent Bear – Code: B-E-012-U5-R

OTC as long as you have a big game tag.
Not recommended.

    Cow – Code: E-F-025-O3-R

0-1 PP minimum
0 PP 30%
1 PP 100%
Bull – OTC
Cold temps = elk out more during shooting light. Should be a good hunt, but be ready for cold temps and snow!

    Buck – Code: D-M-025-O3-R

0-1 PP minimum.
0 PP – 50%
1 PP – 90%
2 PP – 100%
Later season dates are presenting a golden opportunity to hunt muleys during the beginning of their rut with only 0-1 preference points.

    Doe – Code: D-F-025-O3-R

Slam Dunk
PP Gainer
0 PP – 100%

4th Rifle Season – Nov. 16-20

    Concurrent Bear – Code: B-E-012-U5-R

OTC as long as you have a big game tag.
They’re hibernating.

    Cow – Code: E-F-025-O4-R

0-1 PP minimum
0 PP 30%
1 PP 100%

    Bull – Code: E-M-025-O4-R

0 PP – 100%
Typically Slam Dunk, volatility towards 0-1 PP minimum due to low quota.
An almost guarantee of deep snow and great elk hunting. As long as you can deal with the elements, this will be a productive hunt.

    Buck – Code: D-M-025-O4-R

3-4 PP minimum.
3 PP – 30%
4 PP – 100%
Trophy hunt. 2016 will be better than usual, which is pretty damn good.


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By Cliff Gray

Cliff is a registered outfitter in the State of Colorado, guiding and outfitting over 80 hunters a year for elk, bighorns and mule deer in the White River National Forest and Flat Tops Wilderness Area of the Rocky Mountains. He has years of experience hunting big game in the Rocky Mountains via remote backpacking and horse/mule packing. He is a private pilot and a certified wilderness first responder.

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