Moose Population Information

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People all around Colorado are asking if that large animal they saw which looked like a moose - really was a moose? According to Colorado Division of Wildlife biologists, the answer is probably yes.

Since being introduced in 1978, Colorado's moose population has increased to over 1,000 animals.

Concentrations of moose are found in North Park, the Laramie River Valley, Middle Park and the Creede area in southwest Colorado. But that doesn’t mean those are the only places moose are found in the state.

In recent years, Colorado’s moose have demonstrated an uncanny ability to wander into areas where one might least expect them.

Wildlife officials have documented moose sightings near Cripple Creek, Salida, Westcliffe, Gunnison, Hayden and Summit County, among other places

In 1978, the Division of Wildlife brought 12 moose from Utah to Colorado’s North Park region near Walden. The next year, another dozen were released in the Illinois River drainage. Those moose expanded their range into the Laramie River Valley and in 1987, an additional 12 animals were brought in from Wyoming.

By 1991, the North Park population was doing so well that some of those moose were moved to the upper Rio Grande drainage near Creede. Continued supplementation with moose from Wyoming and Utah brought the Creede herd to about 100 animals by 1993.

The largest member of the deer family, moose have adapted to a variety of habitats. They do especially well where there are abundant willows along streams and ponds, but can also find adequate forage in areas of lodgepole pine, oakbrush, mountain mahogany, aspen or even sagebrush.

Colorado’s successful introduction of moose comes with its own problems. Each year, the Division of Wildlife receives reports of illegal moose kills occurring during big game hunting seasons. Circumstances vary from mistaken identity by hunters, to animals shot and left to lie in the field, to blatant poaching where only part of the carcass has been taken.

There is no simple answer to accidental moose kills. Studies indicate that it is not always an inexperienced or hasty hunter making the mistake. It turns out the common denominator is the absence of some type of optical aide, such as binoculars or spotting scope, to properly identify the species.

Chuck Wagner is a terrestrial biologist who worked with moose in the Middle Park area and now works in the Creede area. “I found that most hunters do not expect to encounter moose in lodgepole, aspen or spruce fir areas,” Wagner said. “Typically when approached, moose do not flee like elk will, which makes them more likely to be shot. If it sees you and doesn’t run, it’s probably a moose.

“Hunters should take the time to look at the entire animal,” he said. “Most people are familiar with the difference between the broad, flat antlers of a moose and the pointed antlers of an elk, but the antlers on some young bull moose have not flattened out yet, so hunters need to be sure.”

Other identifiable differences between moose and elk are the size of the snout and the color of the coat. A moose has a very large, long nose and a “bell” under the throat, compared to a relatively narrow snout on an elk. Moose are dark brown and appear almost black. Elk are light brown with a pale, yellowish rump.

Wildlife officials stress that if an animal is accidentally taken, it may not count as part of the hunter’s bag limit if the hunter reports the incident before continuing to hunt and as soon as practical.

Each situation is looked at carefully. An accidental kill is unintentionally taking wildlife that is not due to carelessness or negligence. Division officers will do a complete investigation to determine whether or not the kill was accidental.

According to Eric Harper, assistant chief of law enforcement for Colorado, “Anyone shooting a moose illegally and trying to take only part of the animal, or walking away and leaving the carcass to spoil, will have the book thrown at them. We want to stress that we understand that accidents do happen. If the shooter reports the incident as soon as possible to the local officer, and the situation is deemed accidental, the Division is willing to take that into consideration.”

He said good optics should be part of every hunters’ gear. “Optics are essential for locating, observing and identifying wildlife, especially in areas with antler-point restrictions,” Harper said.

A person caught illegally killing a bull moose can be fined up to $11,370 or more.

Year Licenses Legal Illegal/Accidental Issued Harvest Kills 1985 5 3 5
1986 3 3 5
1987 3 3 4
1988 3 3 1
1989 5 5 14
1990 5 5 15
1991 7 7 11
1992 62 57 21
1993 114 101 19
1994 112 92 15
1995 128 104 26
1996 114 90 18
1997 108 75 16
1998 79 54 36
1999 80 56 20
2000 85 64 9


hunter25's picture

I have hunted in Colorado for

I have hunted in Colorado for most of my life now and have applied for moose with no success for what is closing in on 20 years now. I have seen a few moose and it still blows my mind that people claim to have killed one by accident thinking it was a deer or an elk. The first rule has always been to be sure of your target and these people apparently are not even sure of what the target is supposed to look like.

I was surprised at how high the illegal and accidental kill ratio was and now realize how seriously it afects my ability to draw a tag legally with all the extra ones getting shot. Hopefully I will get lucky some day and get a chance to hunt one of these great animals myself.