First Rifle Season Success Takes Hit From Warm, Dry Weather

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The first season of Colorado’s four big game seasons has ended and in most areas of the state biologists have not seen as high of harvest rates as they were hoping for. Hot, dry weather has helped many of the 350,000 elk that inhabit Colorado avoid hunters. Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) officials believe hunters for the upcoming season will need to concentrate their efforts on higher elevations and areas with dark timber as long as the mild weather continues.

In the Steamboat Springs area, hunters are seeing harvest rates comparable to previous years.

“Hunters seem satisfied, but this will not be a record harvest,” said Jim Hicks, DOW terrestrial biologist in Steamboat Springs.

Hicks went on to say, in North park the elk harvest has been good at higher elevations, but poor in low areas due to the mild weather.

“The elk will still be high for the second season,” said Hicks. “Hunters will have to hunt high and in more remote areas.”

The harvest reported in the South Park area and near Salida is below average according to Jack Vayhinger, DOW terrestrial biologist in the Salida area

“No problems other than the lack of snow meant the elk are scattered in small groups and mostly in the dark timber which makes the very hard to find,” said Vayhinger. “We had some harvest, but overall it was very quiet.”

Janet George, DOW terrestrial biologist for northeastern Colorado, said along the Front Range from north of Interstate 70 to Estes Park to Loveland, there was low hunting pressure due to limited licenses and elk have been difficult for hunters to find because they were scattered and there is no snow for tracking.

"Average moisture over the summer resulted in good forage conditions at all elevations,” said George. “In addition, there has been only a dusting of snow at the highest elevations so elk are scattered and in smaller groups than average for October. Some elk are still using alpine ranges.”

On a positive note, George reported that some bulls were still bugling and several large bulls were taken in that area.

In the Red Feather, Poudre River and Laramie River area, west of Ft. Collins, Mark Vieira, DOW terrestrial biologist in Ft. Collins, reported below average hunting pressure and estimates an average first season harvest.

“There was a little dusting of snow on opening weekend in the mid-elevations with a more significant accumulation at higher elevations and above timberline,” said Vieira. “The Laramie and Upper Cherokee Park areas have not had substantial pressure yet, with elk still in large groups.”

One hunter was particularly fortunate to take a very large bull from the Rawah Range, but there was also lower than normal hunting pressure reported in that area, according to Vieira.

The area surrounding Durango, Dolores and Pagosa Springs is experiencing hunting pressure equal to previous years. Scott Wait, terrestrial biologist in Durango, reported a harvest that seems to be dispersed. He went on to say that meat processors are reporting business to be on par with last year’s record numbers.

Hunters headed to this area should make note that the Missionary Ridge road is still closed from last year’s fire, which restricts access to Game Management Unit 75.

Bob Davies, terrestrial biologist for the DOW in Colorado Springs, has reported hunting pressure to be similar to last year’s first season in western El Paso and Teller Counties. He believes the harvest is either equal to, or a bit higher than last year, but again, the hot, dry and dusty conditions are not helping hunters.

“Hunters are seeing elk sign, but the conditions make getting close to elk difficult,” said Davies. “There still is some bugling occurring.”

The area surrounding Montrose has seen similar hunting pressure with similar results to last year.

“Elk are widely distributed from above timberline to the pinyon/juniper woodlands,” said Bruce Watkins, DOW terrestrial biologist in Montrose. “The majority of the harvest appears to be occurring in the aspen and the oak brush areas where dry fallen leaves can make walking up on elk a challenge.”

Darby Finley, DOW terrestrial biologist in Meeker, has seen a drop in harvest rates compared with last season.

“Fair weather conditions this year have resulted in elk being more scattered than in the past couple of years when drought and snow conditions had animals more concentrated and hunters are having a difficult time finding elk.”

Chuck Wagner, DOW terrestrial biologist in Monte Vista, said the season in the San Luis Valley got off to a slow start, but harvest rates picked up toward the end of the season. Hunters in Game Management Units 80 and 81 reported having good luck. Hunters who put in some effort to get to the elk during the second season will have the best chance of being successful.

“Because of weather conditions and the full moon, animals are not moving around during the day, unless they are pushed,” said Wagner. “Those hunters who are out on foot or horseback are likely to have the most luck.”

Colorado’s elk herd is the largest in North America and is over objective in some areas of the state. For hunter success to increase, Colorado’s backcounty will need to receive some snow as hunters head out for the second big game rifle season this weekend.