Tips for Hunting Elk on Colorado Public Land

Colorado is one of the top locations for elk hunting.  With two of the largest elk herds in the world, Colorado is the place to go for a top hunting experience.  The problem is…..everyone knows it!  And if you don’t have the money to pay for a guided hunt or the privilege to hunt on private land, you face the option of hunting for elk on public land…..along with everyone else and their brother.  Here are some helpful pointers when it comes to hunting elk on public land in Colorado:

Hunting on Colorado Public Land
Hunting on Colorado Public Land
  1. There is a lot of land! The good news is that Colorado offers a LOT of public land to hunt on!  Over 23 million acres of public land are available for big game hunting in Colorado.  A great resource provide by the Colorado department of resources is the Colorado Hunting Atlas.  This provides a great look at what is available to you. National Forrest land often provides some of the best elk hunting in Colorado with a number of different forests allowing hunting.  One word of caution!  Always know where you are when hunting in Colorado.  There are stiff penalties for trespassing and it is up to the hunter to know where they are located at all times.
  2. Now that you know the areas, it’s time to pick where to focus in on. Here a very simple, yet important principal applies: To shoot elk, go where the elk are.  There is a lot of land that is available for hunting….but that doesn’t mean the animals are there.  What will also help you is your purpose or goals for your hunt.  If you are going for a cow or just your normal bull, play the odds and pick a place that is known for having a lot of elk.  You will likely encounter more hunters, but you will also increase your chances of seeing elk.   However, elk can be anywhere.  You may be able to pick a more remote or less popular area where you may very well be the only other hunter around.  These can be refreshing and exciting times as a hunter, but your chances of seeing an animal are much smaller.  Of course, that big trophy bull may be holed up in one of those remote spots….but chances are, he isn’t!
  3. Know elk behavior and habitat. This isn’t your typical whitetail hunt.  One of the biggest challenges for hunters coming to Colorado to hunt elk is to get out of the whitetail mentality.  Where whitetail are and how they act or respond will often be completely opposite of elk.  When in doubt my motto is: go further in and higher up.  A number of times I have not seen any elk at lower elevations and then when hiking up in elevation I run into elk.  Snow and cold have relatively little effect on elk during the most of the standard hunting seasons.   I have also found that most hunters are going to stay at the easier lower elevations.  The further in you go and the high up, the more you increase your chances of having all that public land to yourself.
  4. Understand hunter pressure. If you are going to be in a place where there are other hunters, then use that to your advantage.   Try and position yourself in a place where the elk will go when pushed by other hunters.  Listen for shots and where they are coming from.  If you can assure yourself of your location, try skirting the edges of private land where elk would go when hunting pressure increases.  You may be stuck in a place where there is a high number of hunters but when life gives you lemons….you get the idea!

There are definite challenges with hunting on public land, but the rewards can be amazing!  If you have never experienced hunting elk high in the mountains of Colorado, then there is a big part of the hunting experience you are missing out on!

Part of the 23 million acres avalialbe for  Hunting in Colorado
Part of the 23 million acres available for hunting in Colorado