How to Hunt Elk in Colorado on Public Land

How to Hunt Elk in Colorado on Public Land

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With a total elk population of 280,000, more than 22.7 million acres of public hunting land and a generous license system, do-it-yourself elk hunters can find plenty of public land hunting opportunities throughout Colorado. Public land hunting, however, can be difficult as many hunters will travel to Colorado for several years before harvesting an elk. Following a systematic approach to hunting elk on Colorado public land can increase your odds for success.

Items you will need

  • Topographic map

  • Backpack

  • GPS

  • Binoculars

Scout the elk habitat. Use aerial maps, topographic maps and Google Earth to outline the public land within the game management unit. Take a summer scouting trip to your public area to familiarize yourself with the terrain and to locate a concentration of elk. Mark the location of the elk sightings on the map and note the time of day. Every piece of scouting data collected before the season will increase your odds for a successful public land hunt.

Locate remote trailheads and campsites. Colorado public lands see traffic from hikers, backpackers, mountain bikers, horseback riders and hunters. This combination can push elk concentrations into areas with less pressure. Use a backpack and a GPS to hike deep into the wilderness to escape the crowds. Set up a camp site in the backcountry where you intend to hunt. Minimize the time spent hiking to and from camp by carrying a tent in your backpack.

Use your binoculars to pattern the elk. As the hunting pressure increases, elk movements might change, and new elk might move into your area. Mark Seacat, Montana hunter, says, "Elk pattern off pressure. You have to know where the elk will go Sunday after being pressured on Saturday." Find a high vantage point where you can see a lot of land and observe the elk movements. Find an elk that is in a position to move closer and perform a stalk.

Keep calling to a minimum. Colorado elk have experienced years of hunting tactics and have heard a multitude of calls. Stalk to within about 200 yards and then use soft cow calls to raise the curiosity of a bull. Aggressive calling, such as loud bugles, can push a herd of elk and a dominant bull out of the area.


  • Read the Colorado Division of Wildlife elk hunting regulations and any specific regulations for the public land. For example, some public lands prevent campfires or backcountry campsites.


  • Prepare for the terrain. Colorado elk habitat is found at high elevations. Most elk hunters are not used to the thin air, and nothing can ruin a public land hunt faster than fatiguing because of the altitude.
  • Familiarize yourself with the Colorado Division of Wildlife Interactive GMU map and
  • Be prepared for extreme weather changes.
  • Field test your equipment before the season.