Colorado Mule Deer Leftover Tags

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With Colorado’s troubled deer population, there aren’t nearly as many leftover tags to choose from.  While the elk leftovers offered some truly excellent options, the deer leftovers are quite a bit poorer.  You can do well with a few of them, but you need to be aware of what you’re getting yourself into before you buy one of these tags.  That should be obvious, but I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard from that buy a tag without doing sufficient research ahead of time. 

So without further ado, lets take a look at what’s left after the draw.  I’m just going to focus on the Western Colorado units, you basically need private land access if you don’t want to hunt the very few and tiny overcrowded private parcels.  Yes there are some bigger pieces, but for the most part I focus on the western units. 

Archery tags:  Units 7/8/9/19/191, 15, 20, 25/26, 29, 34, 38, 444,

Muzzleloader:  Unit 7/8/9/19/191, 20, 29, 34, 38

Rifle:  2nd    9/19/19, 18/28/37/371, 20, 27/181, 29, 33, 34, 38

3rd 9/19/19, 18/28/37/371, 20, 27/181, 29, 34, 38

4th units 7/8, 29, 38

As you can see it’s mostly the same units each season.  Units 7, 8, 19 and 191 pop up a lot and unit 9 is private land only.  I’m not a fan of any of those units, and I’ll go into a bit of detail as to why.  I’m also no big fan of the rest of the Front Range units in 20, 29 and 38.  There are deer in each of these, but if you’re traveling from out of the area, I wouldn’t consider them without having some sort of private land access.  The only units west of the Continental Divide (where the best public land hunting is) with tags available during any season are 15, 18, 25, 26, 27, 28 33, 34, 37, 181, 371 and 444.

I’ll address each unit separately, and delve into which tags would be the most desirable for that unit.

As I’ve mentioned before, units whose rifle success rates are no better than their archery success rates are units to avoid.  That stat often indicates unsuitable habitat, poor access, poor populations or all of the above.  That’s what you have with the many of these Front Range units.  The deer density is about half of the deer density west of the Divide, there is often poor access to the what few public lands exist at medium and low elevations (where the deer typically are) and the lack of logging and fire have created situations with vast amounts of black timber in what little public land there is at higher elevations.

Unit 7 and 8 are typical of this problem.  Archers average 11% success on deer in unit 7, which is the same as the 5 year average for 2nd rifle season.   Somehow, unit 8 averages even worse in 2nd rifle than it does in archery season.   Unit 19 is only 1% better during 2nd rifle, a whopping 12.4% average.  Unit 191 is a bit different, as there is no high elevation country, and there is a ton of private land.   While 191 is no different than the rest of these units during archery and muzzleloader season, there is a large increase in success during rifle season (30%).  I suspect it’s mostly due to private land hunting, as my public pressure index statistic indicates that hunters are killing nearly 3x the number of bucks that should theoretically be available on public land.  If I haven’t been over that stat with you before, I basically just apply the deer density and sex ratio to the amount public land available to determine the number of available public land bucks, then divide the number of bucks harvested by the available bucks.   The public pressure index for 191 indicates hunters kill 280% of what should be out there, meaning the harvest is mostly on private land. 

What I’m getting at here, is that I wouldn’t be interested in any of these tags.  But if you were to put a gun to my head, and forced me to pick one of the available Poudre tags, I’d probably take unit 8 4th season, as success jumps up to 25% then.  The mule deer seeking phase of the rut is starting to kick in, plus weather factors make the deer a little more visible.  I wouldn’t actually hunt the Poudre Canyon or Red Feather Lakes country, I’d be in the northern portions of the unit, in the Sand Creek, Bull Mountain, North Fork Cache La Poudre or Eaton Reservoir country. 

Units 20, 29 and 38 all share a similar landownership pattern, none of which is particular conducive to good deer hunting.  They unit have most of the deer down low, in and around suburbs and semi rural mountain foothill country.  There is a little bit of Forest Service around these suburbs, but access is very difficult.  At the higher elevations, with larger blocks of land, there are very few deer to be found.  Once again, I wouldn’t want any of these tags, but I’ve hunted units 20 and 29 out of sheer convenience on leftover tags. 

As with units 7 and 19, the play here is to either hunt during the early seasons in order to hunt the high country bucks (and I have seen a few big ones up there), or to hunt as late as possible to take advantage of better deer movement and weather while hunting in and around the subdivisions.  Avoid those 2nd and 3rd season tags, go for the 4th season.   It’s ironic that while half heartedly doe hunting unit 29 last year after a good snowfall, all I saw were bucks on public land.

Ok, so I’m obviously not high on any of those tags, so let’s finally get to some real Western Colorado units with leftovers.

Units 444 and 15 are excellent deer units.  But the only tags available for these two archery tags.  And there really isn’t the type of high alpine country you’d want when bowhunting deer.  Instead, most of it will be medium elevation scrub oak and aspens.   But there’s no doubt, you’ve got a great chance at seeing quite a few deer here, including some excellent bucks.  As I wrote before application season, 444 is a real sleeper.  The buck:doe ratio has really skyrocketed as the DOW has withheld too many rifle buck tags for the past several years.  They would easily have justified in issuing morebuck tags while the population works on bouncing back from the winter of 2007 losses.  The DOW’s revenue loss is your gain, IF you’re up for a bow hunt.

Unit 15 has a lot of deer (about 16 deer per square mile), but you’ll have a hard time hunting them in archery season.  There isn’t a lot of low elevation public land, and the higher elevation stuff has plenty of water and no alpine country.  You can do some spot and stalk hunting, but there’s also a lot of black timber.  So it’s still going to be a difficult hunt, as evidenced by the 8% archery success rate.  If you didn’t select the leftover draw option, you might not have a crack at the unit 15 tag, as there are just 8 tags left going into the draw.  I wouldn’t expect many of them to be available on leftover day.

Unit 34 is the only Western Slope muzzleloader option.  As I mentioned previously in the elk article several earlier articles, it’s a mix of beautiful, open flats on top of the Flat Tops, and incredibly steep, rugged canyons coming off of it.  It’s great deer habitat, but they are tough to get at.  As with many of the Front Range Units, 2nd season doesn’t have any better success than muzzleloader season.  So if you’re tempted by the canyon country, I’d go with the 3rd season tag, as success is about twice as high as 2nd season.  Just like unit 15, there aren’t many tags going into the leftover draw, so you’ll have to hold your breath.  An archery tag is also available, but if that’s your preference, there are better options, like unit 15, 444, 25 or 26.

Like 444, and 15, your only chance at a unit 25 and 26 leftover buck tag is in archery season.  Those two units also have some leftover rifle doe tags that are list B, but the population is still struggling to bounce back from the 2007 losses.  Public land options go from the Colorado River, all the way up into the Flat Tops.  You can hunt alongside irrigated alfalfa, hot and dry cliff faces, high mountain amphitheaters and everything in between.  It’s still not a high success proposition, but you have a large variety of terrain that may suit your preferred hunting style.

The only chance you’ll have at a unit 33 tag, which sports one of the highest deer densities in the state, and a good mix of high and low elevation public land, is in 2nd season.  That’s my least favorite time to deer hunt, and it’s the highest pressure season, where hunter densities exceed 5 per square mile of public land.  However, this is one of your best options for a leftover rifle deer tag.  Success is just 30% during 2nd season (hey that’s 3 times better than some of the Poudre units), and the deer hunting certainly isn’t easy.  But there are good bucks to be had, and plenty of them.

And then there are the Middle Park units: 18, 27, 28, 37, 181 and 371.  You’ve got your choice of 2nd and 3rd rifle tags for either units 18, 28, 37, and 371 or 27 and 181.  Now normally I’d almost always be interested in a 3rd season tag over a 2nd season tag.  But, due to the limited options at low elevations, and the decent selection of medium elevation lands below the ubiquitous dark timber of the Middle Park units, 27 and 37 both have higher success rates in 2nd season.  They are both around 35%, making these some your highest success options with a leftover tag in a unit with significant public land.  Of these, I’d lean toward the 27 and 181 tag, hunting north of Kremmling on either the Milk Creek State Trust Lands or some of the extensive BLM lands near the Colorado River.  One other thing to note about all of these units:  the DOW has been monkeying with the buck tags as part of a buck survival study.  The sex ratio has now climbed to an incredible 44 bucks per 100 does.  There aren’t a lot of older deer here, but the sex ratio is good enough and percentage of bucks harvested is low enough that there certainly are some older bucks to be had. 

So, not all the leftover tags are junk, there are a few that deserve some consideration.  None of the units are without flaw, but most of these tags will beat staying at home.  As you can tell, I’d forget about those Front Range tags, and head west, regardless of season.  With even fewer leftover deer tags than last year, these will go quickly, so I wouldn’t risk not being in line well before 9am on Leftover Day (August 9th).  Don’t forget to scout before you select a tag.


hunter25's picture

Although it's a pain in the

Although it's a pain in the neck to have to go down and wait in line to get tthe leftover tags I will be doing it again this year like always. The only thing I want or need is some extra doe tags for our family to fill the freezer back up. I would wait till they open up on the internet the second day but I have watched the reults and they are always gone by then. They have less than 50 in the ub=nit I hunt and they sell out pretty quickly. I wish there was a draw for leftovers other than when you don't draw your listed choices. I can't get the buck tag I want and still try to get the doe tags I want in the same drawing. At least with the internet we have a very good idea what's left and if it's worth standing around to get them.

Good luck finding something to the guys that missed the draw and still want to hunt.

ecubackpacker's picture

Thanks for the "insider"

Thanks for the "insider" info. It would take out-of-state hunters years to realize which units to hunt in the different seasons. We're lucky to be able to have access to a bit of your knowledge on this subject.
It will be a long shot for me to make it out west this year, but this is info I can use next year in making my decision to hunt Colorado. If I do get to hunt Colorado this year, I now know which tag I'll try to get on 9 Aug. I plan on being there backpacking, so I should be able to pick up a leftover tag. Thanks again!