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Fact-checked by Draque Moran, a lifelong hunter and fisherman, and taxidermist.
Bowhunting in Colorado during rifle seasons can be a very tough but rewarding venture. The upcoming information in this post will answer all your questions and about bowhunting during rifle seasons, and also give you tips and hints on how to have better luck while attempting this feat.
The first thing to know is that you can bow hunt during rifle seasons in Colorado. It is 100 percent legal and a viable option. There are some rules. However, that must be followed. If you are using a bow, you must wear the required 500 square inches or more of hunter orange or fluorescent pink, above the waist, just like all the rifle hunters.
Get the Correct Hunting License
Some of this has to be displayed on a hat or some sort of headwear. Crossbows are an option you can use during rifle season as well, unlike in archery seasons. You must also have a correct license for that unit and season. To apply and buy licenses, you need to go to the CPW website here.
If it is rifle season, you must have the rifle tag, even though you are bow hunting. This would be different if it were an archery season simultaneously as a rifle season, but if it is strictly rifle season, you must have the rifle tag. More information about what laws and requirements you have to follow on a hunt like this can be found here.
Some advantages come with bow hunting during rifle season, but some definite challenges that you will have to overcome. These ideas and facts can make or break your hunt.
One of the main advantages I see is that bowhunting makes the hunt a lot more rewarding. Something about sneaking in close to these animals, and getting a short bow range shot, makes the hunt a lot harder and rewarding in the end.
It may be a lot easier to shoot one at 500 yards from the side of the mountain, but the feeling of accomplishment you get from shooting them with archery equipment up close and personal will, in the end, make the hunt more fulfilling.
Competing with Rifle Hunters
However, one disadvantage is that you will be hunting right next to people who can shoot those same animals from hundreds of yards away. This makes your stalks and setups a lot trickier and means you will have to be on top of your game and willing to put in extra work that most people in the unit will not.
That can make your life a lot harder because they may shoot the animal you are looking at before you even get a chance to go after them. It could also make some of your stalks and setups unsafe. These are all essential things you need to consider if you are going to go on a hunt like this.
Another advantage of this type of hunt is how it will grow your abilities. These deer are going to be skittish. They have every hunter in the unit blasting off gunshots in their direction and are completely turned on.
So, getting in tight on them is going to be a lot more complicated. The good part about this is that if you manage to get it done, it will almost guarantee that you will be a lot better at doing the same things when it is an archery-only hunt.
Another disadvantage could be that you find the animal you are hunting is just a lot harder to find in general during these hunts. They have been shot at and are running around like crazy.
They are a lot more cautious and will be a lot harder to get in tight on for archery range type of shots. There are some tips on how to be successful on a hunt like this, however.
Get a Sense of the Terrain
My first tip is to scout, scout, and then scout some more if you want to be successful.
Get on OnX Maps, Google Earth, get boots on the ground. Know where you want to hunt and have back up plans. If I were to hunt like this, I would have a plan A, B, C, D, and E.
I would have them all color-coded on GPS, and a laminated written out hunt plan, and I would make sure that I know the area the best I could before I ever showed up to the unit. This is going to have you prepared when you walk into your first couple of spots, and there are rifle hunters all over, and it would be pointless for you to try and bow hunt those spots. I would be looking for while scouting areas that are hard for people to get to.
Find grounds that are trail-less and a long way away from roads. Be willing to put in extra work to try and get away from pressure. Your biggest enemy on this hunt is other hunters because they have a distinct advantage over you.
Another tip I would give you is to do a backpack hunt. Many rifle hunters like to have a basecamp, or truck hunt so they can move around a lot and like the idea of hunting camp more than the actual hunt part of the time. Be willing to carry your gear into the backcountry and stay back in further. Most hunters drop off around that 5-mile mark, so get in there 7-10 and enjoy the freedom.
If you find yourself on one of these hunts and can’t get away from rifle hunters, you will have to try different approaches. Get in close on a saddle, or a watering hole, and set up and hunt there all day.
You will be seen because of your hunter orange, so hopefully, that will divert other hunters from where you are, and if you are set up in a high travel corridor, you will significantly improve your odds of getting a shot. A good guide for mule deer rut behavior and where you may be able to set up and find some good luck can be found here.
Adapt to the Environment
Don’t write off taking a rifle on a hunt like this as well. Say you are going on this hunt, and you want to do it with your bow. Why not take both?
If you can travel with both, that would be your best option. Go in for your first couple of days with the bow. If you get in and find that the deer are too skittish, or that there are too many rifle hunters to allow you a fair amount of opportunity, then you can go out and grab your rifle and head back in.
Say you find the buck of a lifetime back in there and not get in close enough for the archery shot. Then use your rifle. It is legal because it is rifle season, and it will not make you less of a hunter. Be a deer hunter and get the job done. Provide for your family.
This is something I would be thinking about if I was on a hunt like this. You can go archery only for part of it and then take the rifle for the other part. Don’t overlook this option.
Going into a hunt like this, you will have to be prepared 100 times better than the rest of the area’s hunters. You are going to go the extra mile, make sure your gear is ready, and be willing to make as few mistakes as possible. Always pay attention to the wind.
Rifle hunters will not care nearly as much about the wind and the thermals, but you will still have to be prepared for them. Make sure your bow is shooting as good as possible and ensure that you have practiced enough to make quality lethal shots on the animal you are hunting. And make sure that mentally you are in the hunt. Focus on the task at hand and be sharp.
Safety Planning for Emergencies
The last couple of tips I want to leave you with could be the most important of them. Make sure you are safe on a trip like this. Have a first aid kit with all the supplies you need to survive if you get hurt. Another useful thing to have is a GPS system that has an SOS button. These work over satellite and will be a lifesaver if you get seriously hurt and don’t have cell phone reception.
The SOS button goes straight to EMS and Search and Rescue and will have a helicopter coming in to help you faster than just about any other option out there. Don’t get too carried away in your hunt and put yourself in dangerous situations.
Be the Predator, Not the Prey
If you see a rifle hunter is careless or not paying attention to what they are doing, get out of there. Don’t put your life on the line just for an animal. We all love hunting, and we all love bagging the animal we are after, but it is no reason to die.
You have people that love you and your family to head back to. No hunt is worth your life. So be prepared and be attentive while out there because nothing can ruin a great hunt faster than getting in a life-threatening situation.
Draque Moran is a hunter, fisherman, and taxidermists from St. Joseph, Missouri. He has been hunting since he was 5 years old and devoted as much time to the outdoors. From Missouri to Colorado and anywhere else, he loves to chase his passion for hunting big game. Draque does taxidermy on the side while working a full-time job and can be found on his Facebook page: Whitetail Canyon Taxidermy in Missouri.