What can you say about Colorado? The mountain scenery is spectacular, miles of wild country, abundant wildlife, and in terms of variety some of the best big game hunting in the West. At present, the Mile High State has hunting seasons on ten different big game species, everything from mule and whitetail, deer and moose, to pronghorn, sheep, and mountain goat. Hunting seasons for most species are generously long, and while hunting licenses and permits for some species (and during some seasons are limited and obtained by draw), Colorado remains one of the most popular hunting destinations west of the Mississippi.
Not all hunts in Colorado are by draw or limited, of course. This is particularly true for black bears. Currently on the books are Over-the-Counter and/or Limited Archery bear hunts, OTC and/or Muzzleloader hunts, OTC and/or Rifle Hunts, and new this season are OTC Private-Land Only Rifle Hunts in certain management units. There are also options to purchase Add-On OTC Archery or Muzzleloader Licenses for hunters who have an elk or deer license for the same method of take and at least one unit overlaps. The “Add-On” licenses are available in unlimited numbers. Options are also available to take multiple bears. Over-the-Counter Licenses generally go on sale in early August.
More detailed information on how to obtain various bear licenses and other license options are available in the 2022 Colorado Big Game Summary (viewable online), but suffice it to say that if a hunter wants to hunt bears in Colorado, obtaining licenses is far from impossible.
Also, finding bears shouldn’t be a major problem. In 1992, the citizen-approved Amendment 10 banned baiting practices and the use of dogs to hunt bears, as well as the spring hunting season. Bear numbers in Colorado have steadily increased just like the rest of the West. The statewide population is now estimated as high as 20,000, although no recent population study has been conducted so the count could be higher. The number of bear sightings and human conflicts reported to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) each year varies from region to region depending on weather, drought conditions, and food availability, and have decreased slightly but are still high. In 2019, the CPW launched a new system to track and quantify bear activity and conflicts around the state. Between 2019 and 2021 over 14,000 cases were reported.
That same year, 2019, the CPW has worked to reduce the number of bears in most areas of the state. Each region of Colorado has a set or desired population goal, but numbers in most areas have surpassed that goal. This is particularly true along the Western Slope. In 2019, the number of available bear licenses had increased by about 10-percent and in some areas the hunters were allowed multiple bears. To get more hunters hunting bears, the cost of non-resident bear licenses was also reduced from $350 to $103.60 and resident licenses reduced to $40.45.
To say bear hunting in Colorado is a good deal is an understatement. Not only are hunting licenses among the cheapest in the West and readily available, there are also plenty of bears. There is also an abundance of public land to hunt. Colorado is home to 11 national forests covering approximately 13 million acres. Nearly all are located in the western half of the state that offers the best bear habitat and subsequently the highest concentration of bears.
This doesn’t mean hunting bears in Colorado is easy. Getting into the best bear hunting areas can be physically challenging and a lot of scouting and patience are typically called for. In mid-August, Colorado bears go on a feeding frenzy looking for high fat and high-carbohydrate foods in preparation for winter. Depending on the timing and location, primary trees and plants include the serviceberry, chokecherry, pineberry, squaw apple, mountain ash, buffaloberry, and currant. The most important nuts include the gambel oak and pinon pine. Most of these foods will be found at mid-and-lower elevations. Once found, successful hunters typically look for high observation points that allow good glassing opportunities, set them up, and wait for their opportunity to make a stock or the bear to work within range.
Colorado is also one of the western states where the opportunity to take a color-phase bear is quite good because guides and outfitters routinely report 50-percent of the bears taken are colored. Some outfitters report higher percentages. The most common colors seem to be various shades of brown to cinnamon in most hunting areas, although blonde becomes more common in southern reaches of the state.
Although Colorado is a great destination for a do-it-yourself bear hunt for those who have the experience and time for proper planning and pre-season scouting, the state is blessed with experienced guides and outfitters for those who do not. These folks are not only local and know their hunting territories and where and how best to locate and hunt bears, they are well qualified to help plan all stages of a hunt. I have hunted Colorado a few times over the years, both guided and unguided, and although I have experienced success both ways, my success rates were always much higher when using the services of an outfitter. For the money, their experience, knowledge, and chances of success are worth their weight in gold. DIY hunts are always a challenge for non-residents who don’t know an area or game movements, who don’t have the time for proper planning, or who have limited experience hunting safely in remote areas. Bear hunting in Colorado is no different.
- Estimated Black Bear Populations-17,000-20,000+/-
- Spring Season-No
- Fall Season/Dates-Yes. OTC and/or Limited Archery-September 2-30, OTC and/or Unlimited Muzzleloader-September 10-18, September Rifle Limited-September 2-30, OTC and/or Limited Rifle-1st Season October 15-19, 2nd Season October 29-November 6, 3rd Season November 12-18, 4th Season November 23-27, and OTC Private Land Rifle Only-September 2-November 27.
- Bag Limit-One in most units, multiple in some units.
- Baiting Allowed-No
- Dogs Allowed-No
- Legal Hunting Weapons-Handguns, archery, and muzzleloaders, depending upon season. Crossbows only legal during rifle seasons. Check CPW current regulations for specific caliber and draw weight requirements.
- Color Phase Potential-Moderate to High
- Contacts-Colorado Parks and Wildlife, 1-(303) 297-1192, www.cpw.state.co.us
- Colorado Outfitters Association, 1-(970) 824-2468, www.coloradooutfitters.org.
Disclaimer: This information was collected in August 2022. Details can change rapidly in a state.