Colorado Big Game Draw 2023: How To Get Your Best Elk, Deer, and Antelope Tags

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Looking for the latest Colorado big game draw information?

This article reflects 2023 details. Head to our Colorado Application Details article for up-to-date information.


Each March as winter gives way to spring, hunters nationwide begin to daydream of autumn plans and grand adventures in pursuit of Colorado’s big game. The application period to apply for Colorado tags is upon us, and now is the time to consider your options. In Colorado, the sheer number of options for elk, deer, and other big game tags can be intimidating for even experienced hunters. However, a few facts and effective research tools can help guide you along the way.

Colorado elk hunting is widely known for its over-the-counter (OTC) hunting opportunities. These unlimited elk tags are available for purchase at over 650 approved vendors including Colorado Parks and Wildlife offices, online, or by phone. These are true walk-in type purchases; pay the fee and you’ve got a tag in your pocket.

In addition, there are also a large number of tags that are only available via a lottery-type drawing. Draw hunts have a limited number of tags available per hunt code, and each hunt code is only valid for specific geographical units, season dates, and hunt methods.

Huntin Fool has put together a guide to Mastering the Colorado Draw System, watch below:

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How Colorado Preference Points Work

For elk, deer, and antelope draw hunts, Colorado uses a preference point system in the draw lottery to increase chances over time. Preference points are like a place in line: first in, first out. The applicants with the most preference points draw before those with fewer. The points are specific to a species, i.e. hunters accumulate elk preference points separately from deer preference points. Hunters obtain an additional species preference point each year if they apply for a draw tag and are unsuccessful in drawing their first choice.

Preference points are key in Colorado. Even if you don’t plan to hunt this year, you should consider submitting an application for preference points if your budget allows. Even one or two preference points can unlock a significant number of hunts that you’d otherwise not be eligible for in the drawing.

For bighorn sheep, moose, and mountain goat, a preference / “weighted” point system is used in the draw lottery. Weighted points are like raffle tickets: the more you have, the better your chances. However, having the most weighted points doesn’t guarantee you’ll draw. Effectively this makes the goat, moose, and sheep drawing much more random in comparison to the deer, antelope, and elk preference point drawing.

Two hunters hike up a steep trail in a burn area.
Photo: Steven Drake

Key Application Period Dates

Beyond points and point systems, it’s critical to understand that there are specific application periods in which you must apply to be eligible. Application periods can vary slightly by species, and for the 2023 season these are important Colorado dates and deadlines:

SpeciesApps BeginApp DeadlineDraw ResultsPay By
Elk, Deer, Antelope, Moose, BearMarch 1April 4, 8PM MTMay 30 – June 2June 16
Bighorn Sheep, Mountain GoatMarch 1April 4, 8PM MTApril 18May 2
Secondary Draw (Leftovers): Elk, Deer, Antelope, BearJune 21June 30, 8PM MTJuly 7July 21
Over-The-Counter/Leftover/Reissued (OTC) LicensesAugust 1August 1, 9AM MTNATime of Purchase
OTC license sales for elk, bear, and remaining leftover tags begin on August 1 at 9AM MST. (*These deadlines are current assumptions based on historic application deadlines, however, the 2023 official dates are not yet released. This will be checked and updated once released by the state.)

Three hunters stand in a group. One is looking at his phone and one is pointing in the direction ahead.
Photo: Steven Drake

Research Tools Needed for Planning a Colorado Hunt

Before submitting your big game applications each year, you should research the specific units, hunt codes, and seasons that best meet your goals and interests. Colorado is known for its rugged and varied landscapes that offer an impressive number of hunts on both private and public lands. In 2023, there are more than 2,100 limited entry hunts available in the drawing for elk and deer alone. Deciding what to apply for can be intimidating and time-consuming, but using the right research tools will give you a huge leg up.

onX Hunt

We’ve launched our Western Application Research Folder, which brings all the best planning tools in the onX Hunt App into one place. Study Layers that include Historic Wildfires, Elk and Deer Distribution Maps, Boone & Crockett Trophy Big Game Records, Current Drought Conditions, Wilderness Areas, and more. You’ll still have access to the Public / Private Land Boundaries, Hunting Units, and key tools you’ve relied upon for years.


Toprut is an online tool that allows hunters to research historic draw odds, harvest data, and application trends in an easy-to-use and simple web interface. In addition, Toprut’s draw odds information is the best in the business and utilizes unpublished datasets and full draw simulations to provide the most accurate draw odds possible—especially when the complexity of point systems makes the math difficult.

And unfortunately, difficult can also describe the experience of consuming and researching the state-provided draw reports. For example, past Colorado elk preference point reports have been over 900 pages long! Toprut gives you the ability to sort, filter, and quickly visualize year-over-year drawing trends that help you immediately identify the hunts for which you should be applying. onX Hunt Elite Members receive free access to Toprut.

The most accurate draw odds, harvest data, and application trends for hunters.

Toprut is designed to help hunters research, plan, and apply for hunts and tags every year.

  • View draw odds for all 10 western states.
  • Explore comprehensive information on elk, deer, antelope, moose, sheep, mountain goat, and bison.
  • Research using advanced filtering based on residency, species, weapon, and preference points.
  • View success rates, harvest data, and applicant numbers to monitor trends.

Huntin’ Fool

For 25 years, Huntin’ Fool has been helping hunters go on more hunts with better information. Anyone planning Western hunts will want to utilize Huntin’ Fool’s boots-on-the-ground research and planning tools, including the monthly e-magazine, packed with hunting research, stories, gear insights, and more. Get access to the Draw Cost calculator to review costs associated with drawing a tag in each state, and make the most of the opportunity to chat with the 25,000 hunters in the Huntin’ Fool Member Draw Database. Get first-hand knowledge and valuable land info from people who have previously held that same tag. onX Hunt Elite Members receive free access to Huntin’ Fool.


You can’t draw a tag if you forget to apply for one. HuntReminder’s simple, effective service is designed to help hunters set text message and email reminders to apply for the tags they’d like to draw. If you tend to procrastinate on your applications until the final minute or need help keeping track of different tags, HuntReminder is a critical tool to round out your application season experience. Enjoy state and species filtering, nationwide coverage (690 tag applications across 44 species in all 50 states), and intuitive reminders to help you apply for the right tag, on time. onX Hunt Elite Members receive free access to HuntReminder.

Never Miss an Application Deadline Again
onX Hunt Elite Members get free access to HuntReminder, Toprut, and Huntin’ Fool to plan for application season.
A hunter in blaze orange stands at a fenceline holding his rifle and looking at his phone. Snow covers the ground.
Photo: Steven Drake

Submitting Your Application

Once your application research is complete and hunt choices are selected, it’s time to apply. Applications for limited entry tags are accepted online at Here are some additional important facts and reminders to know prior to submitting your applications:

  • To apply in the limited entry drawing, you must first purchase a nonrefundable qualifying license. For example, a resident or nonresident small game license or small game/fishing combo license. For a complete list of qualifying license options, see page 6 of the 2023 Big Game brochure (
  • For adult residents, a qualifying small game license costs $31.41. For adult nonresidents, the cost is $86.50. For a complete list of all fees and tag costs see pages 5 and 6 of the 2023 Big Game brochure.
  • In addition to the qualifying license above, you’re also required to purchase 2023 Habitat Stamp at a cost of $10.59.
  • There’s also a per-species application fee of $7.13 for residents and $9.17 for non-residents.
  • For deer, elk, antelope, and bear there is no additional fee for preference points. You’ll automatically be awarded a point if you fail to draw your first choice, or you may apply for points only. If you do apply for points only, you are still subject to the fees noted above.
  • For bighorn sheep, moose, and mountain goat, there is a mandatory preference point fee if you do not already have three preference points for the given species; this fee is $50 for residents, $100 for nonresidents.
  • For bighorn sheep, moose, and mountain goat, there is an optional weighted point fee per species if you wish to accumulate additional weighted points if you already have three preference points; this fee is $50 for residents, $100 for nonresidents. (For more information on points for sheep, moose, and goat, see page 9 of the 2023 Big Game brochure.)
  • The 2023 application deadline for the primary draw is April 4th at 8PM MST. Get your applications in early to avoid the last day rush!

Whether you’re fueled by the thought of an elk tag, spot and stalk antelope, or visions of monster mule deer, Colorado’s big game draw has something to offer. March is when your Colorado season should truly begin — now is the time to get your research done, your plan together, and your applications filed. And a summer filled with e-scouting, dropping Waypoints, and exploring wild places is always a summer well spent… especially when a Colorado fall awaits. The 2023 hunt year has begun.

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Toprut is an online tool to help you research, plan, and apply for hunts and tags each year. The company provides information including hunt quotas, applicant totals, harvest information, and drawing odds. In addition, they offer unit profile information including public land boundaries, land ownership percentages, and terrain statistics to help you quickly evaluate your hunt options in a single, easy-to-use interface.