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Colorado Eliminates Over-the-Counter Archery Elk Tags for Nonresidents

After complaints of overcrowding and more nonresidents bowhunting elk than residents, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission overwhelmingly voted to restrict out-of-state elk tags
Natalie Krebs Avatar
A colorado bull elk stands in a meadow.
This will be the last season for nonresident bowhunters to purchase OTC elk tags. Sitting Bear Media / Adobe Stock

On Wednesday the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission voted 9-1 in favor of ending over-the-counter archery elk tags for nonresident hunters. The decision comes after extensive public input, particularly from resident hunters who were outspoken about initial recommendations to cut OTC archery elk tags altogether, as originally recommended by agency staff. Colorado is the latest state to acknowledge long-standing tension around elk hunting opportunities amid concerns of point creep, pricey auction tags, shrinking OTC opportunities, and rising tag fees.

Colorado’s decision comes as part of the state’s new Big-Game Season Structure, which is set on a five-year basis and will go into effect in 2025 and run through 2029, according to CPW Southwest Region public information officer John Livingston. OTC archery licenses have increased in Colorado in the last two decades, reports the agency, with nonresident bowhunters surpassing resident bowhunters in OTC tag purchases in the last few years. Under the new system, nonresident elk hunters should be able to apply for archery tags in an annual draw.

Christian Tenerowicz of the Colorado Resident Hunter Association gave a presentation during the Commission’s June 12 meeting that highlighted the differences between Colorado’s OTC tags and other top elk states in the West. He began his speech by stating that “…residents need to be treated differently than nonresidents … we spend money in this state every day unlike nonresidents who might show up for a week-long hunt.”

Colorado OTC elk licenses.
This chart shows that nonresident OTC archery elk tags have surpassed resident tags in recent years.

CPW guessed that limiting nonresident OTC elk archery licenses by 10 percent would reduce its revenue by almost $2 million; cutting them by 25 percent would reduce revenue by more than $6 million. But CPW terrestrial programs supervisor Matt Eckert said, “since we don’t know how hunter behavior will change in response to limitation … we are not able to accurately predict actual revenue loss.”

To keep the state’s outfitters happy — many of whom rely on nonresident business but are also concerned about overcrowding — Tenerowicz suggested Colorado consider Montana’s draw-tag model for nonresidents, in which nonresidents get an extra preference point if they commit to hunting with an outfitter. The only dissenting voice in last week’s 9 to 1 vote was that of Commissioner Marie Haskett, who owns JML Outfitters; she wanted to eliminate both resident and nonresident archery OTC tags over concerns of overcrowding.

While many Western states have historically allocated about 10 percent of limited elk tags to nonresidents, Colorado has allocated closer to 25 percent, according to a document on CPW’s website. It’s also worth noting that Colorado currently has more than twice as many elk than any other state in the West, with about 303,000 animals in the 2023 post-hunt count. Montana is a distant second among Western states, with a statewide population of about 143,000 elk as of 2023.

“In 2023, total rifle license sales for elk have declined to about 126,000, or ~80,000 fewer licenses than in the early 2000s. This decline in license sales is not indicative of a declining elk population,” reads the recommendations from CPW director Jeff Davis. “In fact, the overall statewide post-hunt elk population is projected to be at a 20-year high in 2024.”

Meanwhile, other states are grappling with how to handle demand for OTC tags. In December 2022 the Idaho Department of Fish and Game issued an apology to out-of-state deer and elk hunters after the agency’s website crashed while thousands of hunters were queuing for a chance to purchase tags.

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“We experienced record demand for about 200 different types of nonresident deer and elk tags, and during a 12-hour period sold nearly 27,000 nonresident tags,” reads the statement. “We had about 67,000 customers trying to buy those products … including as many as 49,000 at one time.”

While OTC elk archery tags remain available in a few other Western states like Arizona, they are typically limited by locations and quotas, unlike Colorado’s previous “unlimited” OTC system.