Colorado Early Rifle Options

Brad G

Member
Messages
13
I've got 10 points that I'm ready to cash in for a Colorado early season high country rifle hunt. I've made several trips out west to hunt elk and pronghorn but I'm pretty new to hunting mule deer. I've made 2 archery trips to NM trying to get all the experience that I can before I cash in my points. At 50 and a non-resident I don't want to waste these points. One of my biggest limiting factors is that I will not have a 4WD vehicle (college tuition is killing me). All that being said, I'm looking at units 43 and 65. With 10 points I could definitely draw 43 but I might have to wait another year or two to draw 65.

Success rate is higher in 65 than in 43, but 43 appear to have a slightly higher buck/doe ratio. 43 also looks like it might be more accessible in a 2WD vehicle. Is 65 worth the wait? I would love to get to some feedback from some hunters who are familiar with these units. Thanks.
 

WoodsD9

Active Member
Messages
109
I was in your similar situation last year with a few more points. I drew a high country tag scouted my tail off all summer and found several really good bucks. As luck would have it my target buck vanished before the season opened and after smoke and snow hit early in the hunt things got extremely difficult! I still had a blast and ended up killed a cool, big framed 3x3 and would do it over again in a heartbeat!

I personally don't have experience in 43 but did scout and hunt 65 a few years ago for my wife's archery tag. We did not find a lot of bucks or big bucks but did turn up a few decent bucks 170-180.

If you do go forward with the early rifle tag the advice I would give you is to scout as much as possible, including several days before the season and plan to kill you buck opening day. The longer you get in the early rifle hunts the tougher they get(especially those limited to above treeline).
 

Brad G

Member
Messages
13
I was in your similar situation last year with a few more points. I drew a high country tag scouted my tail off all summer and found several really good bucks. As luck would have it my target buck vanished before the season opened and after smoke and snow hit early in the hunt things got extremely difficult! I still had a blast and ended up killed a cool, big framed 3x3 and would do it over again in a heartbeat!

I personally don't have experience in 43 but did scout and hunt 65 a few years ago for my wife's archery tag. We did not find a lot of bucks or big bucks but did turn up a few decent bucks 170-180.

If you do go forward with the early rifle tag the advice I would give you is to scout as much as possible, including several days before the season and plan to kill you buck opening day. The longer you get in the early rifle hunts the tougher they get(especially those limited to above treeline).
Thanks for the feedback. I'm a long way from CO so I'll have to do a lot of Google Earth scouting and them get there several days before the season for some in-person scouting. I've never killed a mule deer so I definitely not trophy hunting. I doubt I would pass up any decent 3 x 3s or 4 x 4s.
 

Brad G

Member
Messages
13
The main places to hunt in 43 are in Maroon Bells wilderness. You won’t be driving any vehicle in there. But lots of shoe leather.
No doubt. Big nasty country but it looks like amazing country. I always enjoy the restricted access provide by the wilderness areas. I spent 8 days on a solo archery hunt in the Pecos Wilderness in NM last September. Deer were hard to find but I saw tons of elk and bighorn sheep. More amazing country.
 

jims

Very Active Member
Messages
2,337
The learning curve on early high country hunts is extremely high! Do yourself a favor and spend time getting to know the unit during the summer. You'll learn that it's usually a lot more challenging than you may think, There is a lot of alpine country with very few deer so keep that in mind. You'll also be hunting 8,000 to 14,000' elevation. Pretty thin air up there! The next thing to remember is that bucks are usually fairly predictable when in velvet. You can often find them in the same bowl all summer long. Once velvet is shed they become a totally different animal and will likely vaporize into the thin air! They often head into the trees where they are nearly impossible to find. Unfortunately muley bucks in Colo often shed velvet before most of the early high country rifle seasons start.

With that said, there is a reason these tags are a little easier to draw. There are great bucks harvested during these seasons but you better be in shape and be ready for a tough hunt (both mentally and physically)!
 

Thomas11

Active Member
Messages
295
I wouldn’t rule out a muzzy hunt in some other units. I’m just sayin prolly some better tags/units and I would think getting inside 150 yds would be more than doable
 

Deerlove

Long Time Member
Messages
5,248
Nothing is easy in the highcountry, last years early weather moved a lot of the bucks down in the timber. I don't think I'd use 10 pts to shoot any buck.
 

txhunter58

Long Time Member
Messages
7,145
43 can be drawn as a second choice for Muzzy. Why not try that first to see if worth spending 10 points on. Aren’t the dates the same?
 

Thomas11

Active Member
Messages
295
43 can be drawn as a second choice for Muzzy. Why not try that first to see if worth spending 10 points on. Aren’t the dates the same?
Most units have same dates for both units. I def would have a hard time burning 10 pts on those two hunts when I could draw a 21,54,66 or 67 muzzy. I like your idea though
 

Brad G

Member
Messages
13
Thanks for the great feedback. I will definitely look into some of the Muzzleload hunts in some of the other units. I'm primarily a bowhunter and would actually have to buy or borrow a rifle for this hunt. I bought one of my sons a Muzzleloader a few years ago. If I burn these points, I'll probably start applying for some CO archery tags so I can hunt more frequently.
43 can be drawn as a second choice for Muzzy. Why not try that first to see if worth spending 10 points on. Aren’t the dates the same?
Thanks for the feedback. I checked and if I looked at it correctly, it is possible to draw the MZ tag as 2nd choice. Only down side is that the MZ hunt doesn't runs 9/14 - 9/22. Early rifle is 9/7 - 9/15.
 

Brad G

Member
Messages
13
I wouldn’t rule out a muzzy hunt in some other units. I’m just sayin prolly some better tags/units and I would think getting inside 150 yds would be more than doable
Based on your comments and some others, I'm definitely going to look into some of the better MZ hunts. Thanks again.
 

BRETTPSU

Member
Messages
22
Had the 65 early rifle tag this year. Between drought, freak snow storm, and 10,000 hikers the hunt was pretty much a bust. Freaking hikers and their dogs every single day in every basin I was watching. Some of these hikers had to be 6-8 miles from vehicles. Can't remember if it was 21 or 31 total deer glassed up and most deer stayed at or below the 11,000' line. Just bad luck drawing that tag this year. I've been in 65 during the summers before and always located small amounts of deer and some 160-170 type bucks so it's not always terrible but not very good in general.
 

txhunter58

Long Time Member
Messages
7,145
Thanks for the feedback. I checked and if I looked at it correctly, it is possible to draw the MZ tag as 2nd choice. Only down side is that the MZ hunt doesn't runs 9/14 - 9/22. Early rifle is 9/7 - 9/15.
Not sure where you looked up dates for the hunts, but they both started on Sept 12th last fall and should both start on Sept 11 this year.
 

Thomas11

Active Member
Messages
295
Thanks for the great feedback. I will definitely look into some of the Muzzleload hunts in some of the other units. I'm primarily a bowhunter and would actually have to buy or borrow a rifle for this hunt. I bought one of my sons a Muzzleloader a few years ago. If I burn these points, I'll probably start applying for some CO archery tags so I can hunt more frequently.

Thanks for the feedback. I checked and if I looked at it correctly, it is possible to draw the MZ tag as 2nd choice. Only down side is that the MZ hunt doesn't runs 9/14 - 9/22. Early rifle is 9/7 - 9/15.
U can’t draw 2nd choice obviously for tags that take pts? The units I mentioned take a few pts. Honestly I think u can draw every muzzy tag in the state w 10 pts w the exception of 1,2,201 and 55. And I’d say 66 and 67 would be just as good as any of those
 

txhunter58

Long Time Member
Messages
7,145
This past fall, unit 43 could be drawn as a 2nd choice at 70% odds

That fact alone tells me the early rifle will be a decent quality hunt, but probably not really a trophy hunt
 

Brad G

Member
Messages
13
U can’t draw 2nd choice obviously for tags that take pts? The units I mentioned take a few pts. Honestly I think u can draw every muzzy tag in the state w 10 pts w the exception of 1,2,201 and 55. And I’d say 66 and 67 would be just as good as any of those
I didn't dig to deep into the data, I just saw that 100% of NRs drew the MZ tag with 0 points last year on Taghub. I just assumed that there was a chance to draw as a 2nd choice based on some of the other comments that have been provided. I'm leaning toward one of of the other MZ hunts that I have enough points to draw. Thanks again for the info.
 

Brad G

Member
Messages
13
Not sure where you looked up dates for the hunts, but they both started on Sept 12th last fall and should both start on Sept 11 this year.
You are correct, I got my info off of TagHub map feature, which incorrectly lists the Early Rifle Hunt as 9/7 -9/15 and the MZ season as 9/14 - 9/22 for 2020. I went back and looked the TagHub spreadsheet and it matches up with last years CO hunting guide that lists both season as running from 9/12 - 9/20. thanks for pointing the error to me.
 

Brad G

Member
Messages
13
Had the 65 early rifle tag this year. Between drought, freak snow storm, and 10,000 hikers the hunt was pretty much a bust. Freaking hikers and their dogs every single day in every basin I was watching. Some of these hikers had to be 6-8 miles from vehicles. Can't remember if it was 21 or 31 total deer glassed up and most deer stayed at or below the 11,000' line. Just bad luck drawing that tag this year. I've been in 65 during the summers before and always located small amounts of deer and some 160-170 type bucks so it's not always terrible but not very good in general.
I am concerned about the hikers in some of the areas I'm considering since some of the areas in 43 and 66 seem to be pretty popular based on the number of pics uploaded on Google Earth.

I assume the snowstorm is what pushed the deer below 11,000 feet. Were you hunting the wilderness area? Sorry things didn't work out of your hunt, that's tough pill to swallow.
 

Founder

Founder Since 1999
Messages
10,100
Thanks for the feedback. I'm a long way from CO so I'll have to do a lot of Google Earth scouting and them get there several days before the season for some in-person scouting. I've never killed a mule deer so I definitely not trophy hunting. I doubt I would pass up any decent 3 x 3s or 4 x 4s.
It doesn’t sound like you’re super picky, so just do the 43 early rifle. Plan on packing in a 4-5 miles and 3000-4000 vertical feet and you’ll have a good time. Awesome country. I personally think a 170 caliber buck is quite possible with a rifle if you can spend the entire hunt, hunting. Obviously you could do better.

Dont worry about snow in early September moving them deer anywhere. They’ll still be up there where they live. It’s September!

But just be prepared for hard backpacking work.
 

tkjwonta

Member
Messages
73
I think hikers are definitely a concern in some areas, I've had a few less than positive interactions with hikers up in one of the early rifle areas. If possible, definitely avoid trailheads off of paved roads/highways. If you can start from a random pull-off without a trailhead, even better
 

BRETTPSU

Member
Messages
22
I am concerned about the hikers in some of the areas I'm considering since some of the areas in 43 and 66 seem to be pretty popular based on the number of pics uploaded on Google Earth.

I assume the snowstorm is what pushed the deer below 11,000 feet. Were you hunting the wilderness area? Sorry things didn't work out of your hunt, that's tough pill to swallow.
I'd say drought and Covid layoffs more than the snow. The snow just made it difficult to get around and the drought had burnt up most of the vegetation. I spoke to a hiker who lived in Lake City. He said the traffic on the Alpine Loop this year was up a staggering amount. Don't hold me to this but I think he said 75% increase of traffic on the loop from 2019. Sooooo many hikers in areas that had no trails it just blew my mind. When driving in and out on the Alpine Loop the avalanche shoots had quite a few deer out in them feeding but they was all in a different unit(66) and well below the 11,000' line.
 

Thomas11

Active Member
Messages
295
The bells have the most hikers of any area in CO and my understanding this past fall w COViD it was unreal. I think I listened to a podcast and the guy was saying on one trail one weekend they had over 1800 ppl. Insane!
 

txhunter58

Long Time Member
Messages
7,145
I would doubt most of the hikers would get off the main trails. The deer would have to still be there somewhere, so it might be OK hunting if you went off trail. And for better or worse, the deer would be more used to people
 

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