Big Game Hunters Experience Normal to High Success Rates

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With the third big game season coming to an end, harvest rates for elk across the state have been good, but not quite as high as division biologists would have liked to have seen.

Deer hunters found good numbers of mature buck and good success in most areas.

John Ellenberger, state big game manager for the Division, believes that overall the harvest has been substantially better than last year, but even with the additional licenses issued, there still will not be the high numbers of elk harvested needed to cull the states elk herd back down to optimal management levels.

"My assessment is that I don't think that even as good as the harvest has been, it probably won't be as good as we had hoped," Ellenberger said. "The elk harvest looks like it will be substantially better than last year, probably more that 50,000 animals, but it would take exceptional harvest rates during the fourth and late season hunts to reach the 60,000 that we had in 2000 which we wanted to reach this year."

While both the first and third seasons have had excellent harvest rates for both elk and deer, the second season saw warm and dry weather which lowered harvest rates similar to the 2001 level.

"When you have dry and warm weather and it isn't the first season, the hunting is going to be tough," Ellenberger said.

The Craig, Meeker area harvest rates have been a model for the state, with high success during the first and third seasons, but a normal rate during the second.

"In that area they took quite a few nice bucks during the third season and the later part of the season hunters took more elk, but again, it didn't quite reach that 2000 level," he said.

In the South Park area hunters are having a harder time finding elk that are scattered in small groups in the heavy timber. The distribution is abnormal and may have to do with the drought and poor forage conditions. While elk hunters are finding the hunting difficult, deer hunters are doing much better.

"Hunters are finding more mature bucks (2 to 4 years old) than the last few years," said Jack Vayhinger, Division biologist in Salida. "The hunting pressure for deer is similar to last year. The unusual distribution of animals due to forage conditions seems to have affected elk hunters much more than deer hunters."

There has been some snow reported in the area. Up to 6-inches of snow is on the ground above 9,000 feet. Most of the south-facing slopes are bare at lower elevation areas.

Both elk and deer hunters in the Red Feather, Laramie, Poudre River area have been more successful than last year. According to Mark Vieira, Division area biologist in Fort Collins, during the third season the area had the right combination of snow and mid-elevation road access to allow hunters to locate and harvest elk in good numbers.

"Hunters in unit 8 have taken a significant number of elk in the upper unit of the Cherokee State Wildlife Area," said Vieira. "Road closures in place since last year have been successful at concentrating elk in areas that have provided great opportunities for hunters willing to walk into the unit instead of driving. This could prove to be a banner season for elk harvest in area northwest of Fort Collins."

The Durango, San Juan Basin and Dolores area is providing some good hunting also. Weather conditions and high numbers of elk are allowing hunters to consistently fill their tags.

"It has been better than last year for sure," said Scott Wait, Division biologist. "There has been some good tracking snow from 9,000 feet on up, but not enough to limit access. This really benefited the hunters."

Hunters are harvesting high numbers of elk in the Middle Park area. The third season saw a higher number of harvested elk than the second season due to the accumulation of 2 to 3 feet of snow in the area before the start of the season.

"Snow pushed elk to lower elevations prior to opening day," said Andy Holland, Division area biologist in Hot Sulpher Springs. "It has now melted off at lower elevations on south facing slopes."

The deer harvest in the area is also above average.

"Deer too were pushed down by the snow and deer hunters have been very successful," Holland said. "Hunters are taking a lot of nice 4 and 5 point bucks."

Hunters should be aware that roads are muddy or are covered with snow. Chains are recommended.

Elk and deer harvest number is the area surrounding Denver have stayed consistent with last year. Lack of weather in the area has made hunting not quite as easy as in other areas across the state.

"Both the deer and elk harvest and hunting pressure are about normal," said Aaron Linstrom, Division area biologist in Denver. "Weather and road conditions are warm and dry."

The Montrose area is also seeing harvest rates similar to last year. Again, lack of weather has kept hunters from significantly raising harvest rates.

"Three-year-old bulls appear to be making up a higher percentage of the bull elk harvest than in previous years, probably due to higher carryover of bulls from last year," said Bruce Watkins, Division area biologist in Montrose. "Fewer deer appeared to be in the pinyon-juniper zone than was typical for the second season. This appears to have made success rates somewhat lower in the second season."

The Gunnison Basin and the North Fork area of the Gunnison has also seen elk harvest rates comparable to last year. Hunters willing to put in a little extra effort are seeing more animals, according to Don Masden, Division area biologist in Gunnison.

"Hunters getting back of the beaten paths and working the heavier timbered areas did well during the second season," Masden said. "The deer harvest has been excellent. Hunters are taking some nice mature bucks."

Fourth season hunters should be aware that there is 1 to 3 feet of snow in the higher elevations and a storm is predicted to drop another 10-16 inches in Colorado's high country making it nearly inaccessible to hunters. Hunters should plan on hunting the lower elevations.

Even though hunters may be limited to hunting the lower elevations, Ellenberger said that in most areas the weather has started to move elk down, which could help those who are willing to put some planing into their hunt.

"Right now elk are moving into heavy cover at low elevations," said Ellenberger. "The elk are tending to stick to heavy cover. The best way for people to hunt it is to organize a drive and work together."