First Rifle Season Mostly Successful
Hunters across most of Colorado seemed to have good or above-average success during the first rifle elk season, with a few exceptions. Those that ventured off the beaten path seemed to be the most successful, and there are plenty of bulls out there, as hunters are taking larger, more mature animals that had an extra year to grow because of the low harvest last year.
"This first season went as well or maybe better than we had expected, and in some areas, such Craig and Meeker, I think it exceeded our expectations," said John Ellenberger, big game manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. "But as usual, it just depends on the area. Some places around the state saw good success rates; in others the hunting wasn't so good."
For the next three seasons, "some snow definitely would help," Ellenberger said. "But there's not much in the long-term forecast. As a result, hunters will have to work harder. Animals are going to be more difficult to track, and hunters will have to do more walking and look in areas that deer and elk are using for escape cover."
"In the first season, there's lots of shooting going on, and the animals know what's up. They go into the deepest, darkest hole they can find, and stay there until somebody goes in and kicks them out. Hunters will have to get out on foot and beat the bush to get deer and elk."
Over much of the Western Slope, though, Colorado Division of Wildlife officers and biologists report hunting in the first season appears to have been very good. Near Craig and Meeker and in the Bears Ears Peaks and White River National Forest areas, hunting pressure was about the same or above average. Road conditions are good, making access easier for hunters.
In the Craig area, wildlife officers say this might have been the best opening elk season ever.
"We got a bigger harvest than we thought we would, which is very good, because that is an area where we needed a substantial harvest to help us get down to management objectives," Ellenberger said.
In Glenwood Springs, "Things are looking good for the first season," said area wildlife manager Pat Tucker. "We've been checking quite a few animals in camps, and hunters are reporting seeing a lot of animals and a lot of bulls. Our office has been extremely busy, and we're selling out of quite a few licenses."
Hunting conditions also are good around Glenwood, Tucker said. "Most everywhere, it seems to be dry enough for hunters to get in and out, but there still is snow up high that has been melting with the warm weather we've been having."
In the Grand Mesa, Rifle and Book Cliffs area north of Grand Junction, hunters also have met with success.
"Hunters are finding elk scattered through all elevations except very low desert country," said Van Graham, the Division of Wildlife's area terrestrial biologist. "They are having better success in areas away from well-traveled roads and ATV trails."
For the combined elk-deer season, which starts Oct. 19, hunters there have been reporting seeing good numbers of mule deer, including nice bucks, at all elevations except the low country.
Graham said the weather in the area has been cool and dry, with some snow still on the ground on north slopes above 10,500 feet. Most south slopes are dry, and roads are in good condition.
"Aspen trees have lost about 50 percent of their leaves, but oakbrush in many areas still are holding leaves, which might make it more difficult to see game and affect hunting in the mountain shrub areas," Graham said.
In Middle Park, the elk harvest also appears to have been very good, said Andy Holland, a terrestrial biologist for the Division of Wildlife in Hot Sulphur Springs.
"Hunters are getting larger than average bulls because they are harvesting the 3 ½-year-olds, big five-points and small six-points, that survived the slow later seasons last year in record numbers," Holland said. "Hunting pressure appears to be average, which typically means there are hunters getting into most of the country, but not in restrictive numbers."
Weather in Middle Park has been cold and clear, and snow received in September has melted off the south-, east- and west-facing slopes.
From Pueblo west to the Sangre de Cristo and Wet mountains and south to La Veta, the Spanish Peaks, the Upper Purgatoire River and Trinidad, the elk harvest is slightly higher than last year, despite unseasonably warm weather. Wildlife officers report checking some nice bulls in the southern Sangre de Cristos.
"Hunting pressure is about the same as last year, although hunters on public land have declined slightly, while hunting pressure is up slightly from last year," said Stan Abel, a terrestrial biologist in Pueblo.
The warm temperatures may necessitate immediate attention to harvested game, Abel said.
Hunters in those areas are advised to check with the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management for any fire restrictions.
Hunting was average in the Montrose area. "Precipitation that occurred during September has resulted in an obvious improvement in range conditions," said the Division of Wildlife's Bruce Watkins. "Stock tanks and streams that had been dry over the summer now have water, and elk no longer appear to be concentrated around water sources."
"Elk are widely distributed from alpine areas down to the upper pinion-juniper zone with some of the highest concentrations in and around aspen and mountain shrub areas," Watkins said. Temperatures have been warm, and most roads are dry. The snow line is between 10,000 and 11,000 feet.
In the Estes Park, Loveland, Boulder and Golden areas (game management units 20,29 and 38) the first season?s elk harvest was average to above average.
"The rifle seasons kicked off with bluebird weather. An average number of hunters were out, and access wasn't hindered by snow or wet roads," said Division of Wildlife terrestrial biologist Janet George.
The elk harvest was especially low in the area west of Fort Collins (game management units 6, 7, 8, 9, 19 and 191), as was hunting pressure, even though the weather was cool and dry and road conditions were good, said the Division of Wildlife's Mark Vieira.
A few other areas also reported slow hunting. In Durango, the harvest appears down from the past two years, but elk already are in dark timber and away from roads. Backcountry hunters, though, appeared to be doing well, particularly on bulls. Hunting pressure appears to be about average. Weather has been warm and dry and aspen leaves are falling and crunchy.
Missionary Ridge Road, a major access road for hunters to public land in game management unit 75, is closed because of reconstruction efforts after this summer's wildfire. It will remain closed for the rest of the season. The closure has caused a major shift of hunters into other, unfamiliar areas.
The elk harvest and hunting pressure were down slightly in western El Paso County and in Teller County (game management units 59, 591 and 511), probably because of fallout from the Hayman Fire and forest closures, said Bob Davies, a terrestrial biologist in Colorado Springs. The area has received no snow, and roads are dusty.
Hunting also appears to be slow in the San Luis Valley, said Chuck Wagner, a biologist in Monte Vista. "Hunters are having trouble finding animals, especially the ones that haven't ventured very far from the roads, and elk may not be in areas where they traditionally find them," Wagner said. "Elk are fairly scattered from the alpine down to 8,500 feet or lower on the west side."
ressure is up some from previous years, as "additional" cow licenses were issued for the area due to the drought and pending lack of winter forage. There still is some snow remaining at higher elevations from several storms in the last few weeks, Wagner said. Daytime temperatures are warm.