Big Game Success Rate Remains Below Average

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Colorado’s 2003 big-game season continues to be difficult for elk hunters. Low success rates due to a warm and dry start continued through the third season. Recent weather patterns have made access difficult for hunters, keeping harvest rates lower than average as hunters prepare to head out for the fourth season, which began on Nov. 8.

Even so, Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) biologists remain optimistic that harvest rates will rise in the fourth season because elk are plentiful throughout Colorado’s backcountry. In addition, a weather-induced migration of herds is in full gear. In contrast, deer hunters have been successful throughout the state.

Scott Wait, a terrestrial biologist in Durango, said recent weather patterns have produced snow at higher elevations in the San Juan Basin and rain below 9,000 feet, which has spurred herds to migrate from region to region.

“This storm definitely got deer moving, and elk to a lesser degree,” Wait said. “Deer hunting has continued to be very good, hunters are very happy with the quality of bucks and the quality of the hunt. Elk hunting has continued to be surprisingly slow. It’s still not a good harvest.”

The area surrounding Montrose also received snow, but the weather may have come too late for many hunters who packed it in early the first week of November.

“Unfortunately, many hunters had left by Tuesday,” said Bruce Watkins, a terrestrial biologist in Montrose. “Overall, elk hunting pressure and success appeared to be down from last year.”

South Park and the area west of Colorado Springs also saw a lack of hunting pressure and, regardless of the weather, harvest was down for both deer and elk during the first weekend of the third season. Nevertheless, Jack Vayhinger, a terrestrial biologist in Colorado Springs, was optimistic about the remainder of the season.

Snow of 2-to-6 inches at mid-level and higher elevations should significantly improve chances of success for many hunters still in the field this week, Vayhinger said.

“Animals are still scattered and primarily in the timber, but the snow will help in locating them at higher elevations,” he said.

Middle Park received 5-to-10 inches of snow above 9,000 feet early during the third season, but conditions remained unseasonably warm with mostly rain falling below that elevation. The weather helped success rates slightly, but overall harvest rates for both deer and elk remained below average. Andy Holland, a terrestrial biologist in Kremmling, said fourth-season hunters should have more success.

“On a positive note, the low hunting success in the earlier season means more animals are currently available for hunters who are hunting with the improved conditions,” he said.

With the weather came improved success rates for hunters in north central Colorado, said Jim Hicks, a terrestrial biologist in Steamboat Springs.

“The harvest has increased significantly over the second season this year and over the third season last year,” Hicks said. “With more snow in the forecast, the fourth season should be good. Elk and deer in most areas of Routt and Jackson counties will be on their winter range or moving toward the winter range during the fourth season.”

Aaron Linstrom, a terrestrial biologist in Denver, reported a slight increase in success rates, with both deer and elk hunters in the area just west of Denver. A wildfire in game management unit (GMU) 51 just south of Highlands Ranch and north of Castle Rock in Douglas County did not affect hunters much, he said.

“Last I heard, about 1,000 acres of open space burned, so hunters aren’t allowed in there, but they are still killing some elk on other property in the lower elevations,” Linstrom said.

The area surrounding the Poudre River Valley and the Red Feather Lakes saw little improvement in success rates.

“Deer hunters are doing slightly better than elk hunters, but overall the big-game harvest success has been very poor compared to past years,” said Mark Vieira, a terrestrial biologist in Ft. Collins. “Of over 100 hunters contacted on Sunday of opening weekend in one area, only four had animals in their truck.”

Third season started out slow in the Meeker and Craig area, but Darby Finley, a terrestrial biologist in Meeker, said the outlook was better for the second half of the season. He warned that hunters planning to be in the area during the fourth season should be prepared for tough traveling.

“Because of the snow and rain we had, road conditions are poor,” Finley said. “Roads are extremely muddy, some roads are impassable or will require chains.”

It was a case of too much of a good thing in the San Luis Valley. The snow and rain that was expected to bring higher success rates kept hunters out of the field.

“At 11,000 feet and above there was up to three feet of snow,” said Brad Weinmeister, district wildlife manager in Monte Vista. “Along with this there was a lot of wind. These conditions have kept hunters from getting out of their vehicles and have kept the elk in the timber. Thus the harvest for elk during the first half of the third season was poor.”

Still, he remained optimistic for those out hunting at the tail end of the third season and those planing on hunting in the fourth and noted that deer hunters in the valley were highly successful throughout the third season.

“As conditions improve, a higher harvest is expected,” he said.