Colorado Mule Deer Hunting: Tips, Gear, Locations & Regulations

Two mule deer stand in a field in Colorado

Colorado Mule Deer Hunting Guide for 2020

 

Some of the earliest scribbles humans marked on cave walls stemmed from their hunting exploits. Cave walls became places where early humans drew spears, antlers, and harvests.

Thousands of years later — not much has changed. Instead of cave drawings, we have Facebook photos. But, one thing you can’t digitize is the hunt. And for many of us, we still crave it. It’s almost like after thousands of years of chasing beasts, we have evolved a natural instinct to hunt for antlers. Colorado mule deer hunting can be a great way to satisfy this primal urge.

We know what you want: a monster mule deer — 190 rack with two drop tines. Nothing would look better on your wall. A true trophy.

Just a dream right?

Well, not so fast.

If you are willing to work for it, you can fulfill these aspirations. Colorado public lands still hold a handful of 200″+ mule. I wrote this post in the hopes that I can help you fulfill your Colorado mule deer hunting goals.

Colorado Mule Deer Hunting Regulations 2020

This is not an all-inclusive set of rules and regulations, so always make sure to check the 2020 Big Game Regulations Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) puts out. It doesn’t matter how experienced you think you are, do yourself a favor and read the regulations cover to cover.

But for the heck of it, I’ll give you a rundown of what’s included within its pages.

Colorado Mule Deer Hunting Seasons 2020

All mule deer hunting licenses in Colorado are limited. Which means draw only with a handful of leftovers. The draw application date is in early April, and you can enter the draw online at the CPW website.

Archery

  • Sept 2 – 30 

Mule deer hunting with a bow is one of the toughest, most rewarding hunts you can do. Plus, large velvet mule deer can be taken all of the archery season.

Muzzleloader and Early Season Rifle

  • Sept 12 – 20

Right in the middle of early-season archery comes the infamous muzzleloader season. It can be an opportunity to get into early-season mule deer. You’ll be in for some good weather at this time of year, too.

Rifle

  • 2nd season: Oct 24 – Nov 1
  • 3rd season: Nov 3 – Nov 11
  • 4th season: Nov 18 – Nov 22

These wide-ranging seasons provide tons of opportunities here to fit your hunt into your schedule. Mule deer typically start their rut around the 2nd – 3rd season. As such, that is my favorite time for Colorado mule deer hunting as the biggest bucks make their presence known by trying to mate with the does.

Landowner Tags

  • Various seasons

CPW allots landowners a certain number of these tags. Some charge a steep trespass fee and others may just let you have one. It is likely you will have to do some cold calling and door knocking to score a pass. A good tool to help you find one is called ONx Maps. They will give you the contact info of landowners.

Colorado Mule Deer Hunting Application Deadlines and Fees

The application deadline for putting in for the draw is April 2. Do not wait until the last minute to put in for your tags as this can lead to making poor decisions. Trust me, I ended up with a buck tag I didn’t want because I waited until 11:00 p.m. the night before the deadline.

There is an application fee of $7.00 for residents and $9.00 for non-residents per species, per draw. Keep in mind that as of 2019 you must purchase a qualifying license before you can enter the draw.

RESIDENT FEE

  • Spring turkey: $29.75 (youth: $15.75)
  • Annual small game: $29.75 (youth: $1.25)
  • Small game/fishing combo: $49.75
  • Veteran’s lifetime combo: Free*

* Resident only, 60% disabled or Purple Heart recipient

NONRESIDENT FEE

  • Spring turkey: $151.75 (youth: $101.75)
  • Annual small game: $81.75 (youth: $1.25)

The draw, which takes place in late May, determines if you got your tag or not. If you are unsuccessful you will be awarded a preference point. The more preference points you accumulate the better your chances are in future draws.

If you successfully draw your Colorado mule deer hunting tag, you will have to pay for your license.

Colorado Mule Deer Hunting License fee structure is as follows:

DEER

  • Resident adult: $39.75
  • Resident youth: $15.50
  • Nonresident adult/fishing combo*: $396.75
  • Nonresident youth/fishing combo*: $101.50

One final fee is your annual habitat stamp. Habitat stamps cost $10.00 and you must have one to hunt anything in Colorado.

Following the draw, any un-drawn tags are compiled onto a leftover list. Even if these are the scraps leftover from the draw, you can still get really good tags when these are released. The leftover list is released in early July and tags become available on August 6th on a first-come-first-served basis.

One other way to acquire a Colorado mule deer hunting tag is to win one!

Keep in mind you must have passed a hunter-safety education in order to apply for a license. Here is my recommended course.

Again, make sure you brush up on all the ins-and-outs of Colorado mule deer hunting regulations before you plan any hunt and also right before you go on the hunt.

My Honey Holes: Places to Hunt Mule Deer in Colorado

One philosophy I don’t subscribe to is the general lack of help that other hunters are willing to give the public. I see this all the time on social media groups. People ask for general advice when it comes to hunting, only to be lambasted and made fun of.

Well, I am here to buck that trend and lend a helping hand to those looking for information. My reasoning is that everyone, no matter how seasoned you are, deserves a little help. Planning a Colorado mule deer hunt can be daunting.

Where do you even start?

Well, first off, you need to find a location to put in for the draw. While it is true pretty much every unit managed for big game holds mule deer, I have narrowed it down to 5 big game areas that I like. I encourage you to research and scout these and other units as often as possible if you are dedicated to a successful hunt.

A good way to do this scouting is Spring and Summer shed hunting. Check out my Shed Hunting Colorado post for more details.

To increase your draw odds, don’t be afraid of going for a doe tag your first time out. The meat is much better on a doe anyway, and it will give you the experience you need to hunt a monster buck in the future.

Billy Creek State Wildlife Area GMU’s 62/65

Units 62/65 are located in SW Colorado and are great places to find mule deer in numbers. Billy Creek SWA is a great starting point as it’s a fantastic, easily accessible hunt. Surrounded by the Cimarron Range and the mighty San Juans, this area is chock full of quality deer. Don’t hesitate to venture from here into the national forest, as Owl Creek Pass and other areas offer amazing opportunities.

 

Bears Ears/Routt National Forest – GMU 4

Home to one of the largest elk herds in North America, Routt National Forest is also home to trophy mule deer hunting. There are plenty of places to camp here backcountry style, and the well-maintained county roads provide easy access points. You can not go wrong hunting anywhere in this unit. This is a bit of a tougher style hunt, and you better prepare yourself well before you get here. The nearby town of Craig is a good place to stop and shop for supplies on your way up.

Summerland Park/Grand County GMU’s 18/181

Located right out of the Town of Grand Lake, this area holds many big game opportunities. Colorado mule deer are regularly found in this area, and I have personally been successful hunting here in GMU 18. I would focus on the Summerland Park area and Arapaho National Forest on early-season hunts. In later seasons, I try and find areas that are to the West of here toward Kremmling. There are many lodging options nearby and camping opportunities abound.

Bogan Flats / Marble GMU 43

Sandwiched between the towns of Paonia and Carbondale is Marble, CO. This is where the sage hills meet the high country. Lots and lots of deer in this area. To top it off the scenery near here is unmatched. This makes for a great place to scout early in the year. Start near Bogan Flats campground, and explore the area. You are sure to find your own honey hole before too long.

Gear I Recommend for Colorado Mule Deer Hunting

Colorado’s climate can be unforgiving. Furthermore, the miles you will put in to locate a mule deer will be numerous. Make sure you are fully prepared before embarking on a DIY backcountry hunt. Here are a few items I recommend bringing with you.

Scent Crusher Tote with Ozone Generator, Destroys Odors within 30 mins., Heavy Duty 40 Gal. Tote, Great for Permanent Storage or Traveling, Padlock Compatible

Scent Crusher Tote

This is one of the best hunting products I have ever owned. People like to downplay the effect that scent has these days and oftentimes I hear people say, “just stay downwind.”

Well, this tote is big enough to hold all your day-time hunting gear like my daypack, clothing, etc. It takes 30 mins to remove the scent from any items you put in it. If it gives you an extra edge on landing that trophy mule deer, then it will have done its job. Plus, it’s rugged enough to take in the field and big enough to double as long-term storage.

Hunters Specialties Doe Estrus Scent Wafers

This stuff flat out works. It leaves behind the scent that the bucks want to smell, not yours. These are relatively inexpensive but can make all the difference, especially when walking through dense vegetation. Grab yourself a few of these before you head out.

Sitka Optifade

This is the pack I wore last year and it worked out well for me. It held everything I needed and is super lightweight and comfortable. You can haul out a quarter or two with it as well. It’s really easy to strap a bow to this pack. It also allows for a hydration bladder, which is critical because you don’t want to hear water sloshing around when you are stalking that buck.

Black Diamond Bomb-Shelter Tent

This tent is built for the most extreme conditions that nature can throw at it. This 4-season single-wall tent is easy to set up in any backcountry setting. It’s lightweight enough to pack in with you and durable enough for rough environments. It’s a 4-person tent that is big enough for 3 people and their gear snugly. It can keep you warm in harsh temps and is versatile enough to set up and tear down in minutes. These reasons make it the perfect Colorado mule deer hunting tent.

Big Agnes Blackburn Sleeping Bag 0 Degree

Never buy another sleeping bag again. This Colorado-made ultra-lightweight mummy bag is perfect for those wilderness Colorado mule deer hunts. Big Agnes is a pricier brand, but it pays you back with a good night’s sleep out in the woods. Having the right gear can make all the difference — especially when it comes to surviving the hunt.

Here are some other useful gear write-ups that may be helpful:

  • For the best hunting boots check out my gear review here.
  • For best skinning knives check out my review here.
  • For my recommendations for the best spotting scopes click here.

Colorado Mule Deer Hunting Tips

Patience – Don’t have high expectations when it comes to how fast you get it done. The likelihood is you are going to have to work for this hunt. Just because there isn’t the mule deer you are looking for one day, doesn’t mean there won’t be one the next. Keep at it, and don’t get defeated early on.

Scouting – This might be the best thing you can do to increase your success. Get out there in the unit you are hunting and learn the terrain. Deer migrations fluctuate month to month, but picking some good spots in advance will drastically increase your success rate.

Talk to CPW – Call the local office where you intend to hunt. They will have a wealth of knowledge, deer hunting 101 courses, and dedicated hunt planners. CWP can help you pick an area and plan your hunt. Give them a call!

Glassing – Thoroughly glass (viewing areas using binoculars or a scope) areas before going into them. Big bucks like to hide in deep cover. Here is a good strategy – walk a lot of miles and use a quality spotting scope to look over large areas. Mule deer camouflage well, so be patient and thorough while hunting. Later in the afternoon and evenings, I like to post up where I think they are going to be and glass until the last shooting light. Big bucks can come out at the last minute — be patient.

If you have any questions regarding mule deer hunting in Colorado feel free to shoot me a message. I am a hunting and fishing guide in Colorado and I would love to lend you some advice! Furthermore, if you have some advice of your own, feel free to comment down below to share with other hunters.

Like this post? Then check out our 2021 Colorado Shed Hunting Guide as well.

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