In March 2021, Colorado has finally proposed a Senate Bill, SB 21-150 Reserve Big Game Hunting Licenses for Residents, to ease resident hunter frustration as a result of a tag allocation bias inflicted on resident hunters for decades —-when compared to other western states. This Bill appears to be an effort to help resident big game (deer and elk) hunters and resident youth hunters in Colorado but the bill still needs to be amended drastically to better serve residents. Currently, Colorado has nonresident big game tag allocation caps of 20% and 35% for limited big game tags such as mule deer and elk. 20% of elk and deer tags are given to nonresidents in the limited units that take 6 or more preference points to draw, all other limited units give “up to” 35% of tags to nonresidents. See page 4 “Nonresident License Allocation” of 2021 Big Colorado Big Game Brochure.
The Secrets to Colorado Elk and Deer Tags in Colorado’s big game draw.
Problem #1: When you read the above-referenced page 4 “Nonresident License Allocation” of 2021 Big Colorado Big Game Brochure you will notice that the CPW is still using the tag draw data from the 2009 draw results to determine which units give 20% or 35% of the tags to nonresident deer/elk hunters. The amount of limited deer/elk units that now require 6 or more preference points has surely doubled since 2009 and the CPW will not update the drawing process! Many more limited units should be at 20% vs 35% for nonresident hunters. Example: Unit 40 archery elk in Colorado has gone from 3 preference points to draw in 2009 to 8-9 preference points since 2017. But since the CPW does not update the system, 35% of tags in unit 40 (Glade Park) are still going to nonresidents, when the legal amount should be 20%. This is robbing many resident hunters of the opportunity to hunt in unit 40 and in many other units just like it. Preference point creep is through the roof in many of the Colorado units, many units like 2, 201 go up one preference point every year.
Problem #2: These are not hard caps in place for the limited deer and limited elk hunts, the current caps only apply to the 1st draw. There are 4 draws choices in the CO big game tag draw system. If all the tags are not drawn in Choice 1 they rollover choice 2, 3, etc. Linked is a document that shows two limited elk hunts in unit 41 (there are many more) from the 2020 limited elk draw results, it shows nearly 50% of limited elk tags went to nonresident hunters last year in unit 41– Grand Mesa. Over 500 resident and resident youths were not able to draw the tag for their 2nd, 3rd or 4th draw choices because all the tags (over the 35% nonresident cap) went to nonresidents in the 1st draw. This is the result of what is called the “outfitter loophole” from the last time Colorado passed legislation regarding big game tag caps for nonresidents. Another example of this is unit 43 mule deer in Colorado, in 2019, 60% of the muzzleloader limited deer tags in this Gunnison Basin area went to nonresidents. There are many examples like this whether deer or elk limited big game units in Colorado, especially with muzzleloader and 1st rifle seasons.
- Colorado needs to keep the non-resident 20% cap in place for the “trophy tags” that are hard to get (6+ points) and the draw system needs to be updated every year – it has not been updated since 2009! Nearly all other western states only allocate 10% of big game tags to nonresidents (this is for all tags regardless of how long it takes to draw). New Mexico gives only 6% of its tags to nonresidents; AZ, UT, CA, OR, MT, ID, WA, only allocates 10% of tags to nonresidents; South Dakota gives 0% to nonresidents. WY is the only other state that gives up to 20% to nonresidents and they are the least populated state in the Country at 450,000-there 20% cap is not always met because of a quota limit that includes OTC tags. Only Colorado offers limited tags over 20% and the population of the State of Colorado is over 7 million.
- The limited big game tags requiring less than 6 preference points need a hard cap with no loopholes. SB 21-150 proposes 33.3% (1/3), this is not much better than the current 35% cap for non-residents. This should be a hard cap of 20% for non-resident hunters as well. Colorado’s population continues to grow and it’s millions higher than nearly all other western states, resident and resident youth hunters need to be protected. The other states are doing a much better job ensuring tags for their residents. Based on tag allocation percentages no state treats resident hunters worse than Colorado. This Bill is a step in the right direction, but Colorado can do much better. Let’s face it, someday Colorado will have to join the other western states and reduce all nonresident big game tag allocations to 10%, it’s only fair.
Last but not least, at some point, Colorado is going to have to address the unlimited Over-The-Counter (OTC) big game tag crisis in Colorado. With over 94,000 OTC elk hunters in 2019, of which about 42,000 are nonresidents, the state is overhunted and becoming unsafe. Did you know that in 2019 there were more nonresident OTC archery elk hunters in Colorado than resident OTC archery elk hunters (19,000 vs 17,800)?
It appears statistically, no other state treats its resident big game hunters worse than Colorado. From tag allocation percentages to using outdated draw results data that short changes resident hunters. On the surface, Colorado appears to be more interested in money than serving its resident hunters and resident youth hunters. Colorado needs nonresident tag caps like Wyoming, which limits its nonresident elk hunting sales to about 7,250 tags regardless if they have met the 20% nonresident cap or not. Colorado sells more over-the-counter (OTC) elk nonresident archery tags (19,000 in 2019) than most western states sell “total” of all big game species to nonresidents. The numbers are simply staggering. It appears likey that Colorado may sell more nonresident western big game licenses each year than all other western states combined. The vast majority of these are the result of the unlimited OTC tags.
Wyoming and Montana have transitioned non-residents to a draw system for the “general” tag rather than an over-the-counter tag. This would be a good option to help balance the number of non-residents in the field, but ultimately there needs to be a cap on all non-resident tags issued, and this number should be based on herd management and safety goals rather than financial goals. A resident elk tag in Colorado costs $56 vs a nonresident elk tag which costs $688. A resident deer tag costs $41 vs a nonresident deer tag that costs $412.
The intent of use is no longer a consideration when fleecing big game hunters in Colorado. All big game hunters hoping to hunt in Colorado are now required to purchase a small game license and a habitat stamp before they can even apply to hunt big game. In order to treat fishermen equally, CPW should require a state park pass purchase for fishermen before they can buy a fishing license.