Besides enjoying hard-earned wild game meals, hunters are known for their stories. If they're talking about antlered or horned male animals, their size is almost always a subject of conversation. The Boone and Crockett Club is known for creating a formula back in 1932 to score antler size. Hunters have been scoring their biggest deer, elk, moose, and more ever since. States have been tracking record-breaking animals for years, too. Thankfully, the Boone and Crockett Club has compiled all the state-based data into handy resources for hunters to peruse. Colorado's list features everything from whitetail deer, elk, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, Shiras moose, un-antlered species, and more.
Although I haven't shot any record-breaking wildlife in Colorado, I still treasure the heads and horns of my self-made European mounts from my successful big game hunts. My admiration for my mounts stems from overflowing personal significance and the desire to preserve these beautiful creatures that didn't choose to give their lives to sustain me and my family. Holding a huge amount of respect for wildlife is necessary for a hunter to come to terms with causing death while simultaneously reveling in the joy of what may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The levels of personal importance, desire to remember the hunt, and one's gratitude and respect for wildlife are often implied by a hunter telling stories. Hunting stories from Colorado are no exception; recording antler size is just one small facet of a much larger experience. That said, it's still fun and informative to record, compare, and analyze animal sizes over time while practicing some healthy competition.
Here's a list of Colorado's state record big game animals. Who knows? Maybe you'll be on it someday!
Colorado is known for its robust herds of elk and highly accessible elk hunting. The largest typical elk ever scored in Colorado was shot in Dark Canyon. In fact, John Plute's 1899 bull was the largest ever recorded in the world for over 30 years. A shoulder mount of the bull can be viewed in person at the Crested Butte Museum on Elk Avenue; I can say from experience that it is mind-blowingly huge.
According to the Boone and Crockett Club, Plute's bull scored 442 3/8. His set of antlers has eight points on the right side and seven points on the other. The inside spread of his main beams is 45 4/8 inches. I could almost fit inside there! Can you imagine packing a bull like that out of the woods at the turn of the 20th century?
Nontypical Mule Deer
Steve Herndon is credited with the largest nontypical mule deer ever shot in Colorado. He harvested his record-shattering buck back in 1954 near Norwood, Colorado. This monster muley featured 14 points on his right antler and 23 points on his left. The greatest spread between two points was 37 5/8 inches--that's more than 3 feet! This buck's total score? A whopping 306 2/8. For comparison, mule deer that score over 170 in Colorado are considered exceptionally large.
Nontypical Whitetail Deer
Although whitetail deer hunting is less popular than mule deer hunting in this Rocky Mountain state, the eastern plains are chock-full of the species along major river corridors. Right along the Kansas border, Cheyenne County is no exception. Michael Okray shot the state record there in 1992. His nontypical buck featured 14 points on the right side and 15 on the left for a total of 29 points. His deer scored an incredible 258 2/8.
Whitetail deer have a much longer archery season than do other big game species in Colorado. If you love to hunt deer with archery equipment but want longer than one month to fill a tag, consider applying to bow hunt whitetails.
Jackson County, Colorado, is known for its monster pronghorn antelope. Having driven around there myself, I have pulled my car over multiple times to gawk at the breathtaking bucks easily spotted from the roadside. That county is exactly where Ryan Gold shot the state record pronghorn in 2018. The length of both its horns (not antlers) was 17 2/8ths inches. Its score of 90 is still being assessed by official judges, though.
Technically, the current state record is still from 1965. From nearby Weld County, Bob Schneidmiller shot a pronghorn scoring 91 4/8. Its right horn measured 15 1/8 inches and its left one measured 15 2/8. However, its prong length was about 2 inches larger than Gold's buck at 7 inches on both sides.
There's only one moose subspecies that calls Colorado home: the Shiras. Although they are the smallest bodied of the four North American moose subspecies, they're still Colorado's largest big game animal. They're also terrifying to accidentally come within 10 yards of when you're too busy turkey hunting to be scanning for moose.
Mark Litzelman had a very lucky COVID-19 year while hunting in Clear Creek. He shot the new state record Shiras' moose, scoring an impressive 196 6/8. Its antlers feature the greatest spread of 53 4/8 inches with 13 points on its right side and 12 points on its left.
Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep
Colorado boasts two bighorn sheep species: the Rocky Mountain bighorn and the desert bighorn. While getting a tag for either one of them can take longer than 15 years, there are slightly more opportunities to hunt Rocky Mountain bighorn than desert. About 300 sheep tags are distributed annually in this state.
Our state record Rocky Mountain bighorn was shot by West Ward in Costilla, Colorado, in 1998. It scored 197 7/8 with the greatest spread of 22 2/8 inches and a tip-to-tip spread of 15 inches.
Just like antlered and horned species, predator species are scored based on skull measurements. The largest cougar ever shot in Colorado scored a 16. It was shot by Brian Williams in Archuleta. It was 9 4/16 inches long and 6 12/16 inches wide. Having only seen a small mountain lion in the wild here, I can only imagine how large-bodied the record must've been.
The most interesting part? Williams beat out President Theodore Roosevelt for that No. 1 spot. Back in 1901, Roosevelt shot the previous state record with a mountain lion scoring 15 12/16. Williams kicked him out of first place exactly 100 years later. Now that's a cool hunting story!
READ MORE: SMALL GAME HUNTING IN COLORADO: WHAT AND WHERE TO HUNT
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