The Great Northwest of Colorado is a part of the state that holds true to its Western heritage which was built on, and continues to represent, the hard working American. In addition to its blue collar roots and western Americana this region may be better known for its big bucks and being the Elk hunting Capital of the World. This 10,000 square mile area comprises Rio Blanco, Routt, and Moffat counties and their most recognized towns of Meeker, Steamboat Springs, and Craig, respectively, and offers some of the most diverse and abundant hunting opportunities that North America has to offer.
Immigrants and homesteaders of the late 18th and early 19th centuries began agricultural practices which helped shape how the land is found today. Sheep and grain operations were prominent early on, while cattle and hay productions have seemingly taken over as the preferred practices in the present day. Nearly 150 years of care and effort put into these lands, along with the almost non-existent urban development, have created the ideal habitat and environment for thriving big game populations today. Additionally, the wildlife management programs and conservation efforts put forth from federal, state and private sectors have aided immensely in the area’s recognition of being a top hunting destination.
Home to more than half of the state’s Elk population, the hunting units here have continued to produce some of the state’s highest harvest numbers year after year. Many of these units offer Over-The-Counter (OTC) archery and second and third rifle season licenses for Elk, creating an immense amount of no-draw and no-preference points required opportunities. Although these particular units are not typically known for the biggest Bulls of the state, you will frequently encounter an abundance of young Bulls and quality 5-6 point Bulls. A portion of the area is home to some of the top trophy Elk units in the state, which can require years to accumulate preference points and continued drawing applications, unless you can secure a highly coveted private land ownership voucher (issued by Colorado Parks and Wildlife). In these trophy units, it is not uncommon to discover 7×7’s and 350”+ plus Bulls.
Much like the Elk, the Mule Deer in the great Northwest of Colorado tend to be some of the highest populations in the country. However, the opportunity is not as obtainable being that there are no OTC license options. Most units though only require a minimal amount of preference points, while a few select units require several more. As in most deer hunting units the rifle seasons produce some of the highest harvest numbers in the state which has allowed hunters to become more selective when choosing bucks here. Given your patience and determination, you can expect to find many 3×3 bucks, and if you spend more time and effort, you will discover many 4×4 and 150”+ bucks. The later third and fourth rifle season hunts are historically known for taking place during the pre and peak rut, and have a track record of bringing out the bigger 5×5 and 175”+ bucks. The private ranches of the area tend to be more dense with higher quality bucks, and by securing a landowner voucher from these ranches you can establish opportunities year in and year out.
Outside of Elk and Mule Deer, the area also provides exceptional hunting opportunities for Pronghorn, Black Bear, Mountain Lion and a variety of small game species. The Pronghorn seasons will keep you out of the colder months and provide a thrilling and challenging hunt along with delicious steaks. Colorado’s removal of the spring Bear hunting season has developed a thriving Black Bear population in the area, which in turn has created ample opportunity for the fall hunting season. Mountain Lion hunting, which is usually provided by some of the local guides, creates a hunting experience unlike any other. To expand the hunting seasons even further, Grouse, Coyotes, and Turkey seasons keep the rifles out of the safes and into their cases more often.
When it comes to serving the hunting community, there is nowhere that does it better than the towns that stake claim here. As fall starts peaking around the corner, each town begins their annual ritual of staking “Welcome Hunters” signs across most businesses, roadways, and storefronts, implying a dedication to supporting and embracing the hunting seasons that are about to begin. Whether it’s outfitters, guides, meat processors, taxidermists, gear and equipment stores, to hotels, restaurants, campgrounds, and grocery stores, there is no shortage of resources and services to keep the orange and camo wearing bands feeling welcomed and appreciated all season long.
The Great Northwest of Colorado has been and will continue to be my home away from home and I have been fortunate to have cut my teeth as a hunter in this corner of Colorado over the years. Alongside some of the West’s most experienced hunters; my dad, brother, and cousins, I have learned first hand the hard work and dedication it takes to be a Western hunter. This past fall again provided another rewarding hunting season for my family, friends, and I. On the first day of rifle season, right before dusk, I helped my best friend, Grant, harvest his best 4×4 buck to date. A couple days later, Grant and I spent the morning stalking a group of Elk, which eventually led to my harvest of a very mature 6×6 bull. Later in the rifle season, I got to spend time with my Dad, my brother, Luke and our oldest daughters while we spotted and stalked and eventually harvested a healthy 4×3 buck. To close out the hunting season, I was able to help my girlfriend, Chelsey, harvest her very first buck during the later rifle season, as she also took down a 4×3 Buck, which she still claims was bigger than mine!
Whether it’s the area’s hospitality and care and respect they bestow to the hunter or the opportunity provided for Elk hunting and the big bucks that call this place home, you too will quickly discover the charm and recognition of the Great Northwest of Colorado.