Tips To Improve Your Colorado Big Game Applications

Tips To Improve Your Colorado Big Game Applications

Author Ryan McSparran

The Colorado big game application deadline is always the first Tuesday in April. It’s time to make a game plan and apply in this year’s big game draw!

Like many western states, the application and draw process in Colorado can seem daunting. But don’t let that stop you. Beyond the popular over-the-counter elk hunts, Colorado offers many limited license opportunities that are only available in the draw. These opportunities are absolutely worth the effort to navigate the draw process.

For more reasons on why you should be applying in Colorado, see our article on that subject here

Whether you’ve been applying and hunting in Colorado for years, or if you’re just beginning the journey – here are a few tips to help you make the most out of your Colorado Big Game Applications:


If you’re planning to hunt a unit and season that can be drawn as a second choice, don’t put it as the first choice on your application! This is a critical difference. Here’s why…

Anytime you can draw a tag as the second choice on your application, you have the opportunity to gain a preference point AND draw the tag – have your cake and eat it too. If you draw a license as a first choice that could have been drawn second choice – you essentially just wasted a preference point! And every preference point represents a golden opportunity (see tip number two below).

Here’s how it works:

In Colorado, you get four choices on your application. The state looks at everyone’s first choice and distributes licenses based on a preference point system. The applicant with the most points gets the license first – until all licenses are distributed. The first choice on your application is the only choice that utilizes the preference point system. In the second, third and fourth choice rounds, licenses are distributed randomly.

In many units and seasons, there are still licenses remaining after everyone’s first choice is considered. If that’s the case, the system will randomly distribute licenses to those who applied for that hunt code as a second choice – if there are still licenses remaining, they will then be distributed in the third choice round, and so on...

Because the first choice round utilizes the preference point system, that means if you draw a first choice license, your preference points automatically reset to zero. If you don’t draw a first choice license, you’ll automatically gain a preference point.

Therefore, if you’re planning to hunt a unit and season in Colorado that can be drawn in the second choice round – you should not put it as the first choice on your application. Instead, apply for a preference point as your first choice. Then, apply for the license as your second choice. In this scenario, you’d gain a preference point AND draw your license. 

How do you know which hunts can be drawn in the second choice round of the draw? There's no better resource than to become a member with our friends at They offer the best draw odds and unit filtering tools.

A word of warning

Applying for a license as a second choice can be a risk. For example, let’s say that after the first choice round there are 8 licenses remaining. But there are ten second choice applicants. That means you’d have an 80% chance of drawing that license. When you look at the second choice draw odds from last season, you can see how this played out. If less than 100% of the second choice applicants drew the license, you’re taking a risk.

If your second choice draw odds are less than 100%, you’ll have to decide if you take the risk and make a backup plan – or if you want to forfeit the preference point and apply as a first choice. Again, to find out what the odds are of drawing a tag second choice, we highly recommend using GoHunt.


Between over-the-counter (OTC) licenses and 2nd choice licenses, you have the opportunity to hunt every year while still building preference points. You have lots of options for using those points. Make a plan and work toward it…

Use Your Points More Often

In Colorado, you could save your points for a decade or more. There are outstanding units that take anywhere from ten to twenty preference points and beyond. In my own humble opinion, no elk (or deer, or antelope) is worth a 20-year wait. My advice would be to burn your points more often and have more fun hunting.

Whether you’re a Colorado resident or nonresident, there are many units and seasons that can be drawn with preference points in the single digits. Even just one or two points will open doors that represent a worthwhile increase in quality over OTC hunts. You could enjoy one of these limited hunts every-other year or every few years – and fall back on those OTC or second-choice options in between. 

Alternate Using Points for Each Species

Then, consider the fact that you can take this approach with elk, deer, antelope and more – if you stagger those opportunities, you could have a quality limited hunt nearly every year!

For example, if you’re ready to burn your elk points this year, keep saving deer and antelope points. You might use your deer points next year and your antelope points the year after that. By that time, you’ll have saved back up a couple of elk points. In those “in between” years when you’re not using points for a particular species, you can still pick up an OTC elk tag, a second choice deer tag or an OTC archery antelope tag.

A little bit of planning like this can really increase the quality of your hunts. For more tips on planning more successful hunts, we have an article on that subject here.

Again, use your GoHunt membership to find those units and seasons that look intriguing in that single-digit preference point range. If you're a GoHunt member, you can even see the historical draw trends in each unit to gauge point creep and how long it may take you to draw a particular tag. Make a plan for each species and go after it.

Hunting Gear for the Journey

We hope you have some great hunting adventures to look forward to this year! As you make those plans, please contact us if you have questions or need recommendations for hunting gear. We stock gear in our shop that we personally use in the field. No matter where you’re headed, we’d love to help you find the right gear for your next trip.

By Ryan McSparran

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