There’s plenty of reason of set your sights on Western Colorado as your hunting destination.
The Centennial State harbors the two key ingredients all hunters look for: some of the largest elk herds in the country, as well as extensive public lands for hunting. All this spells one of the best chances of filling your tag of anywhere in the country.
“The scale of the elk herds in Western Colorado is unprecedented compared to the rest of the country,” says Brad Petch, Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s senior biologist for Northwest Colorado. “There are very few places in the West where you can pick up a license at the counter and have a decent shot at getting a four-point bull.”
It’s estimated that there are about 280,000 elk in Colorado, the most of any state, with more than 15 percent of those getting harvested every year. Other big game populations are just as strong, with hunters migrating here from across the country to hunt for mule deer, moose, pronghorn, bear, mountain lions and more.
From Grand Junction, you can head out onto Grand Mesa (units 41, 42, 411, 421, 52 and 521 for over-the-counter elk) and the Uncompahgre Plateau (units 61 and 62 for elk), as well as the Gunnison Basin (units 76 and 77 limited elk). After your hunt, take a tour through Grand Mesa or Colorado National Monument.
Farther northwest, Dinosaur National Monument offers a glimpse of the region’s prehistoric past amid world-class pronghorn options. The region also is home to Brown’s Park on the Green River, offering world-class trout fishing in the A, B, and C sections below Flaming Gorge Reservoir.
Just 20 miles off U.S. Highway 40, Rangely is another sportsmen’s hotspot whose hilly landscapes are populated with deer, pronghorn, elk and small game. Craig, the seat of Moffat County, continues to be ranked as one of the top hunting destinations in the country for its vast public lands, private ranches and herds.
From Craig, Colorado Highway 13 heads north toward Wyoming and south to hunter-friendly towns like Meeker. Everywhere you go is as prime of hunting habitat as you’ll find anywhere.
Head east from Craig on U.S. Highway 40 and you’ll arrive in Hayden, also rich in ranching and hunting heritage. Another 30 minutes east is Steamboat Springs, the seat of Routt County and one of the most beautiful resort towns in the Rocky Mountains. Known for its world-class ski area, Steamboat also is home to fifth-generation ranches and some of the best trout fishing and hunting in the state. With sagebrush-covered hills giving way to mountains thick with aspen and pine, like Moffat County, Routt County also is home to large elk and deer herds as well as a booming moose population.
South of Steamboat on Colorado Highway 131 are the towns of Oak Creek, Phippsburg and Yampa, the “Gateway to the Flat Tops” and the wilderness area’s prime hunting habitat.
Then comes North Park, a series of small towns known for its moose and fishing. Located an hour drive on Colorado Highway 14 from Steamboat and Laramie, Wyo., Walden is the largest city in North Park and the best place to load up on provisions. Its public lands are extensive, offering endless hunting opportunities. Farther south are such hunting hotbeds as Kremmling, Hot Sulphur Springs and Granby, which also carry vast herds of elk and deer.
So no matter where you put your crosshairs, set them on Western Colorado and you’re already ahead of the game — in more ways than one.