As I’ve mentioned before, there’s not much of a reason to not check the leftover draw option box if you are unsuccessful in your drawing here in Colorado. You can always ask for an OTC tag instead of applying for a leftover, but I wouldn’t miss the chance to get the first crack at the leftovers. So, Colorado is sending out its list of leftover licenses to choose from amongst the unsuccessful applicants right now. So, this seems as good a time as any to go over the list of available bull and either sex elk tags. Don’t worry, even if you are not in the leftover draw, many of these licenses will still be available on leftover day (August 9th).
I do not have the official leftover license list because I ended up with a second choice cow muzzleloader tag. This list is derived from the drawing summary instead, but in the past it has matched up precisely with the leftover list. I’m not going to get into private land only licenses. I will mostly just focus on the rifle tags available for public land units.
The vast majority of the bull and either sex tags that are available are for the 4th rifle season. It’s only a 5 day season in mid November. For various reasons, mostly weather related, it’s not very popular. However, this is a great season if you like to have a little bit of snow on the ground for tracking, but you do run the risk of hunting units where the elk are either higher than you are capable of accessing or they have been pushed below all the public land.
If you don’t want to hunt 4th season, there are just a handful of options available, so I’ll get into those first. There are no muzzleloader bull elk leftovers (except in 461, but there’s no public land).
Of the entirely limited draw only units with available archery tags you have units 56 and 561 down near Salida. These are solid options. There’s truly nothing wrong with these tags, other than it’s big country. None of it is technically wilderness, but given the lack of roads, the amount of high altitude alpine tundra, the number of 13 and 14,000 foot peaks throughout all that continental divide country, it may as well be wilderness. The success rates aren’t any better than a typical OTC unit, but the sex ratio and % of bulls harvested is certainly better than average. And there’s a better than average elk density. If I were a serious archer, I’d think about these tags.
Also available in archery season you have the three Gunnison area units that were removed from the OTC list last year. The archery tags were removed from OTC because archers were running the elk into difficult to access wilderness areas and private lands before the rifle hunters could have a chance at removing a significant number of them. Now that these units (54, 55, 551) have been removed from OTC, and the tags cut in half from a typical number of hunters during the OTC years, the tags are no longer very popular. I suspect it’s because few Front Range Hunters want to commit to a 5 hour drive each weekend. There is still plenty of public land to hunt, and lots of wilderness.
So you see, just looking at the archery leftovers there are really no flies on any of these available licenses. Yes, there’s a lot of black timber to hunt, yes it’s archery, yes you’re confined to just one unit, no there’s not much for ATV and truck based hunting, but if you only had a week to hunt, you might consider one of these over quite a few of the OTC areas. In comparison, one of the worst licenses available: the unit 7,8,9,19,191 archery license, which averages maybe 5% success in a 2 elk per square mile DAU has no leftovers. You could do a heck of a lot better with a unit 54, 55, 56, 551, or 561 archery license.
The most popular season in the state is 1st season. The weather is usually great, and if it snows, it melts quickly, you get first crack at the elk after they’ve been left completely alone for two whole weeks, they are still mostly in the high, public land country, you can occasionally get in on the tail end of a little rutting activity, or at least some squeaky young bulls willing to give away their position and it’s almost always the top success rate season. There’s really a lot to like, but frankly I don’t hunt it much anymore. Indicative of that popularity is the lack of decent 1st season leftover bull tags. You have just 3 options: 59, 79 and 191. I don’t think I’d waste my time on any of those in 1st season. There’s plenty of public land in 59 and 79, but 191 is pretty spotty. 59 has public land from Pikes Peak and throughout the Rampart Range, but the elk density is low, and there’s a lot of timber, without much for openings. It’s also extremely popular with weekend recreation traffic. 79 has even more public land, but it’s the ugly little sister of unit 76. While the state averages over 30% during 1st season, 79 trudges along averaging just 11%, despite bordering a trophy unit. I’m not actually sure why, as there are plenty of roads (too many?), a fair elk population, lots of public land, very few private refuges and lots of suitable habitat. But that abysmal success rate indicates something is wrong.
During 2nd and 3rd season you have a huge list of OTC bull options, so in order to consider one of the few leftovers here, there’d have to be something really intriguing. Of the available tags: units 7 and 8, unit 19, unit 191, unit 39 3rd season, unit 54 either sex 3rd season and 79 2nd rifle both the unit 39 and 54 tag are interesting. 54 would be your only shot at an either sex tag, though you could simply purchase a cow tag in addition to your OTC bull tag in many other units. Once again, there’s a ton of public land, plus plenty of high and low elevation options. But 39 is a unit managed as crowd controlled unit, which usually has some excellent bulls. However, all that black timber, and few low elevation options, with no real middle elevation country with good visibility is probably the reason for the lack of interest by the public and the lower success rate (goes from 30% in 1st season to 15% in 3rd season).
Now, for the real variety: 4th season. This is a typical list, this isn’t just some fluke year with a bunch of leftovers in 4th season. For either sex licenses: 11/211, 15, 16, 17, 18/181, 21/22/30/31/32, 27, 28/37, 33, 34, 35, 36, 43, 44, 45, 47, 54, 82, 161, 171, 214, 231, 371, 444, and 471. For bulls only: units 7/8, 19, 41/42/52/411/421/521, 53, 59, 74/741, 86/691/861, 191, 511, 561, and 581. There’s a lot to sort through here, so we can take a few different tactics.
For starters, most of those are OTC tags during 2nd and 3rd season. On a statewide basis, the top success rate is typically 1st season, and then followed by a significant drop off is 4th season. But that 4th season success rate is an average. Not all units increase in success after 2nd or 3rd season. It can be all over the place, and that success rate is a reflection of access to the elk. But before I delve into which units have the landownership, success and terrain conducive to a 4th season hunt, I’ll first need to take a closer look at those units that aren’t available in 2nd or 3rd season with an OTC tag: The Poudre units (7/8/19/191 we’ve covered and bashed in previous articles), but 561 and 581 are interesting to me here.
561 I’d be interested in, as there is enough middle to low elevation public land that isn’t black timber to hunt elk in, plus fair enough access to the higher country if the weather holds out. Success actually increases in 4th season here, indicating access to the elk coming down from the high country improves. 581 doesn’t change much between 1st and 4th season. But there’s no real high country for the elk to come down from, nor is there much for public land outside of some large parcels of BLM near Canon City and some Forest Service near Lake George. There are huge problems with private refuge situations in this unit, so I’d pass.
Now let’s look at the OTC units, and try to figure out where you’d most benefit with a 4th season bull or either sex tag. Remember, since they are OTC you can always hunt them 2nd or 3rd season, so there’s no reason to pick a 5 day license (4th season) over a 9 day license (2nd or 3rd) unless it is going to buy you something better (or if it conflict less with your other hunts).
The following units are not significantly better in 4th season than the 2nd or 3rd season OTC bull tag, so you don’t really benefit much over the OTC tag: 11, 47, 74, 371 and 471.
The following units are better than the OTC seasons in 4th season, but not better than 1st season, so the increase in success is may be due to the availability of either sex on the license: 211, 17, 18, 21, 22, 27, 28, 30, 31, 32, 33, 35, 36, 37, 43, 45, 54, 82, 171, 214, 231 and 444.
The following units are 4th season bull only units where success is better than 2nd or 3rd season, but no better than 1st season: 7, 8, 41, 42, 52, 53, 59, 86, 411, and 521.
The following units have higher success in 4th season than 1st season, and are a great value as a leftover: 15, 16, 19 (still sucks, just 11%, but meets the criteria here), 34, 44, 161, 181, 421, and 861.
So, I’ll let that soak in, and next time I’ll go into greater detail with these top value leftover options. I’ll also make sure to get the deer leftover list examined before the leftover draw is due.