Elk Hunting in Colorado
Mike Malchow, submitted picture

You Can Go Colorado Elk Hunting on the Cheap

With a little planning on your part, you can save on the big-time costs often associated with big game hunts. 

When you think of Colorado elk hunting, big dollar signs typically cloud the day dreaming. If you've been applying for a tag out of state, you're probably well aware there are already many elk hunters in front of you. If you're one of those without enough preference points to get drawn, like me, you can still do it over the counter for less than you might think.

Over-the-counter tags are just flat out the way to go if you want to go hunt elk or mule deer this coming hunting season. If you look up the Colorado big game hunting guide, it breaks down just about all the hunting information you need to know. Yes, of course hiring a guide simplifies all of this, but there's just something about doing it yourself that makes the hunt that much more special. Besides, its adventures like these that make memories that last a last a life time.

Plane Ticket

To get started on this, the first priority of many is making the budget work. Now, the point of this article  to make elk hunting in the Rocky Mountains less expensive than hunting with an outfitter or a guide. So, there's going to be some penny pinching. First off, look for flights.

I'll be flying into Grand Junction and my round-trip ticket will be around $600.

Elk Tag

OK, so now I can get there, but I'm still not ready to go hunt elk. Next comes the tag. OTC tags are available on both an unlimited and a limited basis. I've chosen to go during the third rifle season. The dates for this are Nov. 3-11. The tag and hunting license, which also doubles as a fishing license, is $661, offering the choice of a bull tag or an either-sex tag. I'm going with bull elk tag because I'm going big. If rifle season isn't your bag, you can also get an OTC non-resident archery elk license if you're one of those archery hunters looking for a real challenge.

Camo and Gear

So, assuming you're with me so far, now it's time for the camo, camping and food. This isn't a place to spend ton of money. All you really need here is something that'll keep your warm and dry. The nights can get cold, so a solid sleeping bag is in order. A good tent is also a big deal. If you're hunter, though, these things might already be in your possession. For me, I'm bringing a very warm fleece vest, a mountain hardware puffy coat, and very light, but heavily insulated bibs. I'm also brining several base layers. Very good hard-soled boots are also in order.

At this point, you're just about ready take on some Colorado elk hunting. As I've heard many times, the best way to find elk in Colorado is to go where other hunters aren't. This means traveling great distances and going farther than the other OTC hunters are willing to go. This also means you need a GPS.

The elk population in Colorado is high but some GMUs have more elk than others. When the season is in swing, though, those elk won't be there long. Hunting pressure can force elk to move long distances. Hunting where you think the hunters are pushing elk will put the odds much higher in your favor. This isn't a whitetail deer hunt in Indiana and this isn't running around a national forest. Follow contour lines, look for areas where elk can get away from pressure and that's where you'll find them. In other words, choose your hunting area wisely.

Success Rates

According to most statistics, elk hunters' overall success is about 9 percent. However, out of all elk taken, generally about 50 percent come from over-the-counter tags. With that in mind, the odds are in your favor, sort of. Elk hunting isn't easy, typically requiring physical fitness and endurance. It requires a solid rifle and an accurate shot. Certain game management units have higher success rates, while others don't. First rifle generally has higher success rates than others. Archery has the lowest success rates of all. As you can guess, most of this is common sense. If you hunt where the most elk are first, you're better off. Again, if you plan for this, hunt where those hunters might be pushing elk and you'll be better off. Again, this will require the long hike and the most effort. However, it can also offer the most reward.

Processing and Taxidermy

So lets hope you got your elk. You packed it out. Now what? There are plenty of processing shops all over Colorado. Most will process your elk for a few hundred bucks and they'll even ship it to your house for a few hundred more. Now what are you going to do with the rack? Full shoulder elk mounts can get expensive, sitting around $500-$800. However, there are places out there that can do a Euro for less than $200 and have it done in 24 hours or less. So, this is what you make of it.

Overall, If you can spare up to about $2,000-$2,500, you can make Colorado elk hunting happen. The success rates are largely going to depend on your big-game hunting experience and your conditioning. If you're willing to put in the work, then may the odds be ever in your favor.