Hot, Dry Weather Challenges Big Game Hunters

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Unseasonably hot, dry weather has impeded hunters tracking elk and deer through Colorado’s first two big game rifle seasons. However, sportsmen should not lose hope. Wildlife biologists say cooler days and higher head counts promise to boost success harvest rates in the third and fourth seasons.

Janet George, a Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) biologist in Denver, said the weather report is calling for more favorable hunting conditions by Halloween, with snow in the mountains west of the metropolitan area. That should help hunters who found little success earlier in the region from Loveland to Idaho Springs.

“Elk hunting success was below average, but deer hunters fared better with average to slightly below-average success,” she said.

DOW biologists would have preferred it if winter weather had moved into Colorado after a mild-weathered first season to boost hunter success rates. Unfortunately, unseasonably dry and hot weather plagued most of the second rifle season, which ended on Oct. 26. Wildlife officers said hunters would have to use their wilderness wiles the rest of the year to bag elk and deer that are basking in the warm weather. Harvesting success has been mixed around the state, depending on the hunting skills employed by hunters and the regions they visit, state wildlife biologists said.

In the western portions of El Paso and Teller counties, for example, hunters seem to be having less trouble finding elk than in other parts of the state.

“Cedar Mountain Road is closed, but the Haymen burn area is open to walk-in access. Those who get off the roads and walk into the area are finding success,” said Bob Davies, a Colorado Springs-based DOW biologist.

However, Davies stressed that hunters should contact the U.S. Forest Service for an escort to drive in and pick up any animals they harvest in the burn area and should not expect to drive off area roads to retrieve them by themselves.

Over-the-counter elk licenses are still available for the third and fourth seasons, along with leftover deer and elk “limited” licenses. Hunters who want to take advantage of the third and fourth seasons also should take note of the leftover cow elk licenses available in many game management units (GMUs). With many of these licenses falling into the “extra” license category, hunters who hunted during the first two seasons may be able to purchase one of these licenses and hunt again.

The third rifle season runs from Nov. 1-7 and the fourth runs from Nov. 8-12. For more information about remaining licenses, contact the DOW customer service center at (303) 297-1192, or visit the DOW Web site.

Meanwhile, hunters need to be aware that the hot weather will quickly spoil meat that has not been properly treated. Wildlife officers have been ticketing hunters who allow meat to spoil in the field with “waste of wildlife” citations. In warmer temperatures, it is critical for hunters to quickly dress, skin and hang carcasses in cool places.

Wildlife officers warned that hunters who hunt on all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) are more likely to be successful if they use them responsibly. The vehicles enable hunters to reach remote areas, but wildlife officers advise hunters to sit and watch or hunt on foot to avoid damaging wildlife habitats. U.S. Forest Service rules allow ATVs to be used for game retrieval in certain areas in the afternoon, as long as no land damage occurs. ATVs are not allowed in wilderness or designated backcountry areas. Firearms must be unloaded and in a case when being transported on an ATV. It is illegal to have a load firearm on an ATV.

The second rifle season in Middle Park was below average, but hunters willing to put in a little more effort have had some success. Elk are scattered and hunters willing to hunt timbered areas accessible by foot are having the most success, said Andy Holland, a DOW biologist in Kremling.

“Deer hunter numbers are up slightly due to an increase in license quotas. The deer harvest has been average and the forecast remains excellent for those looking to bag a mule deer,” Holland said. “The biggest problem we are having this year is an increase in illegal and careless moose kills. We have had six moose that were killed illegally or carelessly shot by elk hunters. Hunters need to use binoculars to positively identify their targets and report any moose found dead to the DOW.”

Mark Vieira, a DOW biologist in Fort Collins, said he has not seen the high success rates of the past several seasons in the Red Feather-Poudre Canyon area. Hunters have had slightly more success with deer than with elk, but overall, the harvest season has been below average, he said.

“Many hunters seem to be concentrating lower down, which may have worked better in previous years, when we had already received a few good snowfalls and colder temperatures,” he added.

East of Grand Junction, meanwhile, warm temperatures and dry conditions slowed the second season, making hunting difficult, said DOW biologist Van Graham.

Hunters stalked game, but received little help from nature. Herds refused to budge, hunkering down in secluded areas with little hunting pressure, Graham said.

DOW biologist Darby Finely reported similar frustrations in the Craig-Meeker region. He said elk and deer harvests were down in the first and second seasons.

Those who hunted on private land in the mountains west of Denver, including the Mount Evans region, were not affected by the mild weather as much as those who hunted on public property, said Denver-based DOW biologist Aaron Linstrom.

Elsewhere, hunters have not had as difficult a time in South Park and the area around Salida. “Elk harvest seems to be down a little with elk scattered in the timbered areas throughout,” said DOW biologist Jack Vayhinger. “Forage production this year was very good and elk are spread out in small groups. Deer hunters are having better success in finding and harvesting buck than last year.”

Deer in the area surrounding Montrose have yet to move down to their winter ranges and hunters are having the best success in oak-mountain shrub cover.

Chuck Wagner, a DOW biologist in Monte Vista, said the harvest in the San Luis Valley began to slow as hunters pushed elk into heavier cover. However, there have been reports of hunters taking elk at lower elevations.

Private land in the Montrose region is holding both deer and elk, said DOW biologist Bruce Watkins. However, unseasonably mild conditions are making it harder for hunters on public property. “Hunters on public land are struggling with the warm, dry conditions,” Watkins said. “Elk are staying in dense cover during the day and can be difficult to approach.”

Montrose District Wildlife Manager Ron Harthan said nontraditional hunting techniques have helped some hunters fill their tags.

“Some public land hunters have had success by hunting elk like whitetails,” he said. “They put their nose into the wind and make their way slowly through the timber, spending a lot of time stopping, looking, and listening.”