Colorado hunting: Understanding preference points in pursuit of the right hunt

Got a preference points migraine? Like an elk in a herd, you’re not alone. Fortunately, our friends at Colorado Parks and Wildlife offer the following pointers on understanding preference points.

• Preference points are awarded by species, not hunt code. Points can be used to apply for any type of license available for that species.

• A preference point is awarded only for unsuccessful applications for a firstchoice hunt code.

• Use a preference point hunt code as your first choice if your goal is to accumulate points for use toward a future quality hunt. Points needed can change significantly from year to year.

• For bear, elk, deer and pronghorn, you will accumulate preference points until you are successful in drawing a first-choice license. If you draw your first choice, your preference points drop to zero. There is no “banking” of unused preference points.

• If you do not apply or hold a license for that species at least once within 10 consecutive years for a bear, elk, deer or pronghorn, your preference points for that species will be lost.

• For bighorn sheep, moose and mountain goat, an applicant can accumulate a maximum of three points. Future applications are pooled with other three-point applicants. If you are unsuccessful in the pooled drawing, a “mathematically weighted” point is awarded to increase the probability of drawing a future license. You must apply at least once in a consecutive 10-year period to keep your points.

• Nonresident allocations are determined by the average number of preference points a Colorado resident needs to draw a specific license during a 3-year period. For hunt codes that required six or more points for a Colorado resident to draw an elk or deer license, up to 20 percent may go to nonresidents. For hunt codes that required fewer than six points for a Colorado resident to draw an elk or deer license, up to 35 percent may go to nonresidents.

• A Colorado Habitat Stamp is required to buy or apply for a license. The Habitat Stamp may be purchased online, by phone or at any Wildlife Service Center or license agent.

• A 2021 Qualifying Hunting License is required before applying for a limited license in both the primary and secondary draws.


Statistics from previous years may be used to estimate the approximate time required to successfully draw a license.

For example: If a unit allowed 20 licenses with 60 applicants, zero preference points required, 40 were unsuccessful. These 40 would be awarded a preference point.

Assuming that the quota for this unit remained the same, and these 40 apply, 20 will draw a license using their preference point and 20 will be awarded a second point.

An applicant with no points could expect to draw a license in three years.

Preference-point requirements can be found at