Colorado Bighorn Sheep Draw Recommendations 2019
I guess this is becoming an annual thing around here! Below you will find my thoughts on Colorado’s bighorn sheep areas in 2019. I have also posted an article on my 2019 Colorado goat unit recommendations here. The below post covers all the sheep units that I am familiar with and/or have guided in over the past couple years. All these units are close to home for us. If you don’t see the unit you are interested in, it’s because that unit sucks… Well just kidding, it’s because I don’t feel I have any valuable insight for that particular area. You can apply online starting March 1st through the CPW’s website. If you are interested in booking a hunt with us, visit our sheep/goat hunt page.
One of the closest to home, I’ve historically spent a lot of time in the Western drainages that hold most the sheep in addition to the more remote northern sections that hide a nice ram every once in awhile. The unit overlaps with the G6 goat unit where we also do a lot of guiding. The frustrating thing about S2 is that is requires serious scouting. Logistically, it is time consuming and physical to jump around drainages so you need to key in on the sheep during the pre-season. This is why a lot of immature rams get harvested here. Folks get back into one of the holes and shoot the best ram within that vicinity instead of focusing on the broader unit. Sheep density is low in unforgiving country. The GMU reopened in 2016. There are several nice rams wintering in the unit now that will be huntable in 2019.
Location – North of Hwy 70, Vail. Sheep bordering Eagles Nest Wilderness. Limitation of hunting within ½ mi of Hwy 70 can be trickier than most people assume. Scouting for sheep movement is key.
Type – Decent access. Steep country if you don’t want to concentrate on the lower sheep or if the better rams move up.
Quality – Heavy scouting to find older age class rams. A governors tag ram was taken late in the season several years back. A very nice ram has been MIA for a couple years.
Success Rate – Short history since it reopened. Historically this unit has been hit or miss, year-to-year.
Draw – This is a fair value draw for the right type of hunter, one ready physically for the Gore Range. For a hunter that won’t be in mountain shape, this isn’t the unit. Historically, a single tag makes for a non-competitive environment. In 2019, the CPW is adding a non-resident tag here. The hunt should still have limited competition between the two hunters, unless a mature ram becomes accessible early in Fall. Should be a good opportunity for a non-resident.
S11 takes in parts of the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness and hits Independence Pass on its Northern border. Stunning area with a mix of road-less hunting area and road access. This is one of the better units along the Hwy 24 corridor. 6 tags makes for a competitive hunting environment. CPW has overestimated the sheep population in here for several years.
Quality – There are older age class rams in this unit, but not like it once was. Several different pockets of sheep. The more accessible bands are pretty picked through.
Success Rate – High success rate hunt, but still not easy to find a big, mature ram. Frustrated hunters tend to end up harvesting young sheep.
Draw – I view this as a good value draw, roughly half as many applicants per tag as S2. The hunting here is better than S2, with a much denser sheep population. Just don’t have the expectation of being the only sheep hunter on the mountain. Accessible mid to older age-class rams will get harvested quickly.
Across Hwy 24 from S11, S12 covers from the Arkansas River up to the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness area. Great early archery season in August. We always have capacity to dedicate a large portion of August to helping a guided archer kill the largest ram in the unit. This unit has one of the largest populations of sheep in Colorado.
Quality – There are older age class rams in this unit. Bands move to tough terrain due to intense archery hunting pressure early in August.
Success Rate – High success rate hunt, but still not a slam dunk on mature rams by any means. The river sheep are hit or miss, but as a general rule rifle hunters need to be ready to go wherever the sheep go.
Draw – This hunt is slightly overvalued in the draw for a resident, way overvalued for a nonresident. It is roughly 2-3x as difficult to draw as S11 on rifle tags, but does have the opportunity to hunt a larger population of sheep and some bigger rams. On the archery front, this hunt is valued about right vs S44, an easier-to-draw but more difficult hunt.
This herd has been dwindling over the past two decades. There are still decent rams in the unit. Hunters better have their big boy pants on for this hunt. Be open to backpacks and camping at high elevations if you want to harvest a good ram. The non-resident tag was dropped from this unit in 2019.
Location – East Maroon Bells. Boundary of unit changed in 2016.
Type – High and steep. Highly dependent on scouting to harvest a decent ram.
Quality – Slammer ram taken in 2014. Not a huge sheep population or historically a consistent producer of monster rams. Young ram taken in 2016.
Success Rate – Dependent on hunter’s physical/mental preparedness. There is one road accessible area that you have a chance of catching sheep in. Outside of that, this is a back-country backpack deal.
Draw – The closest comparison is going to be S2, low sheep population in rugged country. At roughly 2x better odds, this unit is a better draw value. Hard to compare to a S11 or S12 because the population dynamics are much different. If you are looking at a true back-country experience, this is the unit where you are competing against your own limitations, not other ram hunters.
South of S11, contrary to what CPW claims, the sheep population in S17 has declined in recent years and quality is not near as good as it once was. The accessible historical harvest areas are void of anything worth shooting, so you need to be ready to hunt the harder to access areas.
Location – Southwest of Buena Vista
Quality – Expect to work very hard to kill a representative ram.
Success Rate – Historical success rate by non-guided hunters is abysmal. From 2014-2016, non-guided hunters harvested zero rams while guided hunters harvested 3 rams averaging around 155-160″.
Draw – This one is tricky to value. The unit is one of the easiest rifle tags to draw out of the bunch, and you still have a good chance of harvesting a decent ram if you work hard. It is roughly 4x easier to draw than S12, and 50% easier to draw than S11. It is slightly overvalued vs S11, but about right vs S12. I would suggest this hunt to a hunter in good physical shape, but who feels they need to draw their ram tag sooner rather than later due to age, future hunts, etc…
East of Basalt up the Frying Pan drainage. This is a cool unit, one of my favorites. However, contact me early if you would like me to guide you here. The district ranger office is tough to deal with, and I can’t guide it until I have a temporary special use permit for the specific hunt. That can be a long process. Unlike most of the other units, a lot of the sheep country here is dense, from pinyon/juniper up to thick dark timber.
I knew three of the tag holders in 2018 and kept tabs on their hunts. The Lake Christine fire on the Western edge of the unit did affect the sheep. During archery season, few of the archers even saw rams let alone harvested one. During rifle season, one of the rifle hunters was able to harvest a nice ram outside of the historical harvest areas.
Location – Basalt Mountain to the East past Ruedi Reservoir
Quality – Fantastic quality. Governors raffle tag harvested out of this unit in 2016. Lots of mature rams.
Success Rate – Archery success is low, mainly due to the terrain. Rifle success has been great, but I know some of the recent rifle hunters and they are not weekend warriors when it comes to sheep hunting.
Draw – For archers at the very top of their game, this is the best value tag of the bunch. Archer success rate has been historically low, but this unit has many quality rams. The terrain is just unforgiving to guys that are not meticulous about how they hunt here with a bow. The one downside is having to deal with 5 archery tags in a relatively small area of sheep concentration. For rifle hunters, again this is one of the best overall values of the bunch. It doesn’t feel like a great rifle sheep area because the terrain is so tight, but access to big rams is there.
Unit S47 is very comparable to S11 and S17 on the density and quality front, but is more forgiving in terms of a hunter’s physical requirements.
Location – North of Salida
Quality – Representative quality. 150-165″ expectation.
Success Rate – Success rate varies as the sheep do move around the unit. If rams end up closer to the Arkansas River, success rate ticks up.
Draw – For a hunter that is concerned about physical limitations but also wants to have a decent chance at drawing a tag sometime soon, this is a great value in the draw. Draw odds are going to fall somewhere in between S17 and S11.
In 2019, one of the two ram tags here will be a non-resident tag. Our staff and I spend more time here than anyone. The sheep are low density, but there are a couple mature rams to be hunted. We killed one of the bigger rams in the unit in 2018, but think we can do even better in 2019. The terrain is not intense, but you do need to be open to a back-country style hunt. The better quality is in the road-less wilderness. Unlike a lot of the other sheep units, this topography is good horse country. If you want to kill the biggest ram in the unit, give us a call.
Location – Flat Tops Wilderness Area
Type – Unsuccessful hunters in the past have underestimated the remoteness of this area. This hunt is a tough backpack hunt. Horses are typically a valuable asset. Glassing spots are few and far between. The sheep vanish in this unit if you don’t know where to look. More than any other unit, historical harvest sites are of little value.
Quality – Decent sized rams are attainable, there no slammers in the unit right now. Expectation should be a representative mature ram.
Success Rate – Guided hunters should not have an issue harvesting a sheep, but you need to be open to a true wilderness hunt. Unfortunately, some hunters have taken young sheep over the last few years.
Draw- This tag should be fairly valued for resident hunters in 2019, but the non-resident tag allocation might affect odds some. This unit typically draws with odds similar to a unit like S11. S11 has more sheep but also 3x the pressure from other ram hunters.
West of Leadville, this is a big mountain unit but it does have decent access to most of the sheep areas. In 2016, hunters did really well and pulled a lot of quality out of the unit. However, there are still some nice rams here.
Location – North of Independence Pass and West of Leadville
Success Rate – This unit has decent success rate, but it varies year-to-year. These sheep move around some, so scouting pays off.
Draw- I view this hunt as comparable to the S11 hunt in terms of quality, access, sheep numbers, etc… Hence, with slightly better odds for residents and way better odds for nonresidents, I view this as one of the top values out there.
This is a great hunt, but you pay for it in the draw. I keep tabs on these rams as they are near my home. A group of sheep, including a couple decent rams, were killed by a semi-truck in 2018. Even given that incident, the area holds a lot of quality for one annual tag holder.
Location – Glenwood Canyon
Type – Located next to our primary outfitting area. Some of the sheep are highly visible from I-70, part of the year. Nasty, nasty terrain in the areas more prone to having shooting opportunities. DIY hunters should make a concerted effort to know where they are at all times, and recognize there is a lot of other human activity in the area.
Quality – There are big rams in this unit, 170”+ ram should be the goal.
Success Rate – High success rate hunt. Scouting mandatory to figure out bigger sheep and how the sheep move.
Draw – Over-valued, but what are you going to say? Big sheep, right off the road.
Email me directly at cliff@FTGuides.com with any questions.
By Cliff Gray
Cliff is a registered outfitter in the State of Colorado, guiding and outfitting over 100 hunters a year for elk, bighorns, goats, bears and mule deer across wilderness areas in Colorado and British Columbia. He has years of experience hunting big game via remote backpacking and horse/mule packing.
Cliff is a private pilot, certified wilderness first responder, and an official measurer for both Boone & Crockett and Pope & Young records programs.