Cooler Weather Could Help Hunter Success Rates

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Colorado’s first rifle elk season begins this Saturday and, as always, hunter success will depend mostly upon the weather. Hunters who have planned their elk hunt for the first season have reason to be optimistic due to cooler, wetter weather in the high country.

Colorado’s current elk population stands at an estimated 279,000 animals, down from more than 305,000 in 2001, thanks to effective herd-management strategies in recent years.

"We continue to make progress in reducing Colorado's abundant elk herds as a way of improving the long-term health of these animals and their habitats," said John Ellenberger, big game coordinator for the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW). "And we will continue to issue a large number of cow and either-sex licenses to further reduce herds where they are over objective."

This year, hunters might have a significant advantage if cool, wet weather persists through the state's four rifle seasons. For the past several years, hunter success has been hindered by drought conditions throughout the state; unseasonably hot and dry weather causes animals to congregate in cool, dark timber, making it more difficult to track them.

Thanks to higher precipitation and cooler temperatures this autumn, hunter success rates for this year's archery season were about normal. Post-season reports indicate that Colorado’s archery hunters may have found it easier to track animals. Even so, weather traditionally does not have as large an effect on archery hunter success as it does on rifle season success.

“From the reports I have heard, we had a normal archery season in terms of hunter success,” Ellenberger said. “Approximately one-fifth of total hunting pressure takes place during the primitive seasons. It tends to be more of a recreational season than the rifle seasons, which play more of a game-management role.”

Harvest statistics show that archers have accounted for a little more than 10 percent of the total harvest in recent years.

Still, there is always the possibility of too much of a good thing when it comes to weather. Continuous heavy snow or rain throughout the rifle seasons, which last through early November, can hinder hunter access and again drive down hunter success rates. DOW biologists are hoping that the 2004 season will have the right amount of precipitation to keep success rates high and equal or crest the 2003 harvest of more than 57,000 elk.

“If this weather persists into the rifle seasons and as long as roads remain in good condition, guys could have some great hunting conditions,” Ellenberger said.

Hunters who want to take advantage of what could be favorable conditions heading into the 2004 big game seasons still have plenty of opportunity. The DOW still has leftover licenses for bulls and cows and there are over-the-counter bull licenses available for many areas of the state.

For a current list of remaining leftover licenses visit:

Over-the-counter bull licenses for the second, third and fourth rifle seasons are available from license agents throughout the state, DOW offices and on the DOW Web site at:

Hunters can also purchase these licenses by calling 1-800-244-5613. The product code for nonresident over-the-counter bull elk licenses is 026. The product code for resident over-the-counter bull elk licenses is 022.

A nonresident bull elk license costs $490.25. A nonresident cow elk license is $250.25. A resident bull or cow elk license costs $30.25. All Hunters born on or after Jan. 1, 1949, must have proof of hunter education to purchase a hunting license in Colorado.