Tips for hunting deer in Colorado

Every year, thousands of hunters head to the plains, the foothills and the high country in Colorado to hunt deer. Most hunters stalk mule deer in the mountains and the foothills, but the allure of stalking the wily white tail deer in eastern Colorado is growing in popularity.  

Whichever type of deer you choose, you are sure to face a challenging hunt.

Overall the number of deer in Colorado is growing, with an estimated population of about 620,000. In 2007, some about 98,283 licenses were sold and about 45,026 deer were taken by hunters.

In the late 1990s the deer population declined substantially. The Colorado Division of Wildlife moved to bolster the population by eliminating over-the-counter sales of deer licenses. Now, licenses can only be obtained through the limited draw that takes place on the first Tuesday of April every year.

Limiting licenses has greatly improved the health of Colorado’s deer herds and helped to allow more bucks to grow to trophy size.

The drawing also has made licenses more difficult to obtain in some areas of the state. But hunters who obtain a license are assured of a high-quality hunting experience.

After the drawing, leftover licenses are always available in many areas of the state. Leftover licenses go on sale during the first week of August. Check with any DOW office to check the status of leftover licenses.

Deer hunting tips

A large mule deer buck can reach 400 pounds. Most range from 200 to 300 pounds.

In the mountains, mule deer don’t spend much time in dark, heavy timber, explained Patt Dorsey, an area wildlife manager in Durango. They are primarily browsers and prefer aspen forests where there are plenty of low shrubs and small trees, oak brush and areas along the edges of different forest types.

Mule deer are most active at night and can often be found in meadow areas during low-light hours. During the day, muleys will bed down in protective cover.

In warm weather look for deer along ridgelines, Dorsey explained. They often use those areas because wind is consistent along ridges and can help to keep them cool. 

During the low-light hours of evening and morning, find meadows at the edge of thick cover. If you see where they are feeding during low-light areas, it’s likely they’ll move into nearby timbered areas to rest for part of the day. Deer also tend to move during the middle of the day toward the areas where they feed in the evening. 

Dorsey recommended making a slow stalk.

“I tell people to walk for 10 yards and then look for 10 minutes,” Dorsey said.

Mule deer have an excellent sense of smell, so if the wind is blowing in the direction you are moving, chances are the animals will pick up your scent and move. Dorsey also says that deer go to creeks at night to drink, so there is no advantage to hunting near water sources during the day.

One advantage mule deer give hunters is their curiosity. When mule deer are spooked, they’ll often run a short distance then turn to determine if they are being pursued. That can be a good time for a shot, Dorsey says.

A small amount of snow will get deer moving out of high altitude areas. Usually by mid-October, migrating herds will move to winter range areas, even if there is no snow.

Hunters who get a shot at a deer should realize that the vital organ area for deer presents a small target — about the size of a dinner plate just behind the front quarter.

“Make sure you can make a good shot at that area. And hunters should never try to make a head shot. A lot of deer are wounded with poorly placed shots,” Dorsey said.