If you’re looking for a scenic location with plentiful game, then Salida, Colorado, is the hunting ground for you. With high elevations and thick forests, game hunting is plentiful in and around the Chaffee County area. Whether you’re looking to hunt elk, deer, small game, or even bighorn sheep, you should consider Salida for your next hunting trip.
What to Hunt in Salida
Salida is at the meeting point of several Game Management Units (GMUs), the areas designated for hunting deer and elk, so you have several options when applying for a license in the area. The city and everything northeast (including Creekside Chalets) is located in GMU 56. Northwest of the city is GMU 57, south is GM 86, and to the southeast is GMU 561.
Sheep and goat licenses are given out in the same districts, but they have different names. You can also find the smaller game like dusky (blue) grouse, snowshoe hares, Ptarmigan, turkeys, and waterfowl around Salida, so if you can’t secure a big-game license, you can still plan a great hunting adventure in the area.
Salida is best known for its elk hunting and deer hunting, whose seasons run from August to November. It’s always best to attempt to draw an early season because in the later seasons the herds are pressured by hunters and are harder to find.
Elk are most often found at higher elevations—between 8,000 to 10,000 feet—so be prepared to climb because the mountains are a favorite elk habitat, especially in the early seasons. If you arrive at the right time, you may even see large migrating elk herds coming from Rocky Mountain National Park. Look for deer at lower elevations and especially in the south easterly part of GMU 56 (right around Salida).
If you aren’t a local or a regular hunter in the area, you may want to hire a local hunting guide. They usually cost several thousand dollars, but guided hunting trips are run by people who know where you are most likely to find your licensed game and can increase your chances of a successful hunt exponentially.
If you’d prefer to hunt on your own, here are a few tips that can help you find your target:
- If you aren’t a local, you should give yourself a few days to acclimate to the area’s high elevation. You can’t climb mountains and scout if you’re feeling dizzy and short-of-breath.
- Unless you’re incredibly lucky, you will spend the majority of your trip scouting for signs of elk and deer herds and trying to find the best locations for a clear shot. If you’re in the later hunting seasons, the animals will be pressured, more skittish, and harder to find. Be patient with yourself and try to enjoy the breathtaking scenery while you track.
- It’s easier to find game during mating season because the males are vocal. Elk mating season is in early Fall, while deer mating season is in late Fall. If you are skilled at calls, you can pretend to be a cow in heat or another bull to lure your target closer.
- Look for bedding areas among the fir trees and spruce trees (dark timbers) to find elk and deer when they aren’t grazing in vegetation zones. It will likely be difficult to get within range of a bedding area without giving yourself away, but it could be a fun challenge.
- At higher elevations, early snowfall can help you track elk and deer because it’s slow to melt (if it ever does), leaving a snowpack or wet soil to capture their heavy tracks.
- Understand where the private and public lands are. In some areas, they can be trickily intertwined. Unless you have a private land license and the permission of the landowner, you can’t hunt on their land. Ask locals where the confusing areas are.
- Practice shooting in different scenarios before you begin your hunting trip. The last thing you want is to ruin a perfect shot because you’re rusty.
How Do I Get a License?
You can buy licenses through Colorado’s Parks and Wildlife Office using their online application system, by phone (1-800-244-5613), or through an agent. Each animal species requires a different license. You can submit one application per species with up to four hunt choices/codes (public or private land, sex, season, archery or rifle, and GMU preference). License options, as well as rules, regulations, and fees can be found in the official regulations brochures for big game and small game which are updated each year.
Anyone born on or after January 1, 1949, has to complete a hunter education course before applying for a Colorado hunting license. There is a test-out option for military and hunters over 50 years of age and a Hunter Apprentice Program for young hunters who will accompany someone over 18 who has met the state’s hunting requirements. Once you complete your course (or test out), you will receive a hunter education card or certificate that you must have with you at all times when hunting.
Other license and hunting requirements:
- A Social Security Number is required for applicants 12 and older by the Colorado Child Support Enforcement Act. It will be provided, when requested, to the Colorado Department of Human Services, Child Support Enforcement.
- Photo ID
- Proof of residency is required for anyone applying for a resident’s license. If your Colorado driver’s license was issued within the last six months, you will have to provide another proof of residency. If you are military or a diplomat, the six-month waiting period is waived. You should keep your proof of residency with you in the field as you may have to provide it to officials.
- Applicants between the ages of 18 to 64 must purchase a Habitat Stamp ($10). You can also purchase a lifetime Habitat Stamp if you intend to become a regular Colorado hunter. The Habitat Stamp fee is automatically included in any license purchases made through official Colorado Parks and Wildlife licensing systems.
- A $3 application fee is paid at submission.
- Credit card information must be submitted to pay the application fee and to pay the license fees if you are successful.
- Applications are due before midnight (MST) the first Tuesday in April each year.
The fees vary by year, license type, species type, species’ sex, and the hunter’s residency and age. Each hunting brochure lists the fees specific to each species, but in 2022, the hunter license fees for elk, deer, and small game were:
Elk – Male or Female
- Resident: $57.90
- Non-Resident: $700.98 (includes fishing license)
- Resident Youth: $16.32
- Non-Resident Youth: $107.43 (includes fishing license)
Deer – Male or Female
- Resident: $42.01
- Non-Resident: $420.23 (includes fishing license)
- Resident Youth: $16.32
- Non-Resident Youth: $107.43 (includes fishing license)
- Resident: $31.41
- Non-Resident: $86.50
- All Youth: $1.31
- Resident: $14.46 (extra day is $7.05)
- Non-Resident: $17.64 (extra day is $7.05)
Check the “Leftover Draw” box on the online application for limited, big game licenses. If you don’t draw a license in the first draw, you will be sent the list of leftover licenses in June and are again able to choose up to four hunting choices per species.
Preference points help you get VIP status in the drawings. For popular hunting grounds or very limited hunting opportunities (like sheep or bear), you need to build up preference points to have a chance of drawing a license. You gain preference points when you don’t draw your first hunt choice. They are awarded per species and can’t be used the same year they are earned, so if you intend to hunt in a future year, plan ahead. Every year leading up to your trip, apply for preference points (with or without applying for a license) by using the special codes found in the game brochure as your first choice on the application.
You will have to pay the application fee and habitat stamp fee (approximately $13) even if you are only applying for the preference point. Each time you apply for preference points, you will pay a $40 fee per species (residents pay $30 for deer or pronghorn) unless you have an active annual fishing or small game license in Colorado. You are also exempt from the fee if you held a big game license the year before, or draw a license of the same species this year—which means your first choice was a preference point, but you also added license choices to the same application and drew one of them. Because your first preference was the point, you will get the point as well as the license. However, any points you had accumulated for that species will be zeroed out, and you will only have one preference point starting next season.
Types of Licenses
Colorado Resident. These licenses are limited to Colorado residents who have a driver’s license over six months old or have other proof of residence. Military and diplomats stationed in Colorado have the six-month residency waived.
Non-Resident. These are more expensive than resident licenses. Non-residents have fewer options for limited licenses than residents have, but all non-resident, limited licenses come with a free fishing license so you can fish during your hunting trip.
Annual License. These are small-game licenses that cover the entire hunting season from April 1 to March 31 the next year. You must follow all the rules and regulations for each species including when and where you can hunt them.
One Day License. If you only intend to hunt small game for one day (not the entire season), you can buy one-day licenses and buy an additional day or two if you wish to extend your hunting adventure.
Limited License. All big game licenses are limited because every year regulations allow only a certain number of male and female deer, elk, and other big game to be killed in each GMU. This means that every license is for one animal and explicitly states what sex they have to be, where you can hunt them, what weapon you can use, and between which dates you can hunt.
Leftover License. These are limited licenses that have been unclaimed after the initial application process. You can have the first opportunity to claim leftover licenses if you check the “Leftover Draw” option in the online application. You will then be sent the list of leftover licenses in June and can once again apply for up to four choices per species. They go on sale in August and are available in person, online, or over the phone. Learn more about them on the Parks and Wildlife website.
Over-the-Counter (OTC) License. These are unlimited small game or big game licenses (though some have caps) that you can purchase online, by phone, from a license agent, or at Colorado Parks and Wildlife and State Parks locations. Consult the game brochures to find which locations carry OTC licenses for each species. Beginning in August, residents and non-residents can buy OTC licenses up until the day before the season starts. After the season starts, most OTC licenses only are available in CPW offices (see brochures for exceptions).
Private Land License. Limited licenses that are restricted to use on private land or intermingled land. This license cannot be used on public lands (unless it’s considered intermingled land). You must have the permission of the landowner before you apply for a private land license.
Ranching for Wildlife (RFW) License. Colorado residents can apply for limited licenses to hunt at ranches normally closed to public use. If you draw an RFW license, your information will be given to the ranch owners, so they know who will be hunting on their land. There are no participating ranches in the Salida area, but you can learn more about the program on the Parks and Wildlife website.
Youth Hunting License. Residents and non-residents under the age of 18 (no minimum age) can apply for a small game youth hunting license. You have to be over 12 years old to apply for a big game youth hunting license.
Disability License. If you have a disability, you may be eligible for a Mobility-Impaired Hunting License. Your mobility impairment must have resulted from a permanent medical condition and make it physically impossible for you to hunt without assistance. If you have another form of disability that impairs your ability to hunt, you can apply for an Accommodation Permit which may allow you to use your vehicle, an assistant, or a crossbow to improve your hunting experience. Learn more about Colorado’s accessible hunting programs, locations, and licenses on the Parks and Wildlife website.
Veterans License. If you are a resident veteran and have a service-connected disability, you may be eligible for a lifetime fishing and small game combo license.
Waterfowl License. Hunters 16-years or older must buy a Colorado Waterfowl Stamp or a Federal Duck Stamp when hunting migratory waterfowl. You must also have proof of participation in the Harvest Information Program.
Regardless of what you’re tracking, and even whether you’re successful, hunting in Salida is a trip you’ll never forget! If you’re looking for somewhere to park your gear while you’re scouting the area, Creekside Chalets is the perfect place for your hunting headquarters. Located in the mountains of GMU 56, our cabins are conveniently located within walking distance of the hunting grounds and only a short drive to downtown Salida. The best of both worlds. Contact us to find out what we have available for your trip.