Second Big Game Rifle Season

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Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) biologists are reporting success rates equal to or higher than previous years for the 2004 deer and elk second rifle season for most areas of the state.

Based on field reports, deer success rates in particular have increased over what had been seen in recent years. The higher success rates could be indicating a comeback for Colorado’s deer population, which has been hindered due to the drought that has gripped the state for the past several years.

If there has been a downside to the 2004 big game season to this point, it has been two fatal accidents that have occurred. Hunting continues to be one of the safest outdoor activities, and the two fatalities have been disheartening for the DOW.

“There have been five accidents so far this year related to big game hunting, two of which have been fatal,” said Mark Cousins, hunter education coordinator for the DOW. “While we are pleased that hunters are experiencing high success rates, we want to take every opportunity to remind hunters to be safe in the field. All of these accidents could have been prevented if these hunters had followed what they learned in their mandatory hunter safety class.”

The DOW is reminding hunters who plan on hunting during the upcoming third and fourth big game rifle seasons to enjoy the high success rates, but, most importantly, to be safe while in the field.

“Hunters have already spent hundreds of thousands of recreation hours in the field this year and hunting is not only one of the safest outdoor activities, but it continues to get safer every year,” said Cousins. “Hunters have the ability to prevent the vast majority of these terrible situations. We are reminding them to do everything possible to ensure a safe hunting trip.”

The following reports provide hunter success and other useful information for hunters throughout the state:

Salida and South Park

Success in the area varied with reports of low harvests to reports of high numbers of bucks and bulls being taken. Elk are scattered throughout all elevations, with the number of cows harvested expected to increase substantially during the third and fourth seasons. Higher precipitation rates through summer provided a lot of forage throughout the area, which led to elk inhabiting different elevations, said DOW Biologist Jack Vayhinger.

Deer numbers, especially bucks, have been increasing over the last three years, and Vayhinger is expecting to see hunter success increase again this year.

More bulls have been checked in the Buena Vista and Fairplay areas, while fewer bulls were harvested in the Salida area. Hunters in the Cañon City and Buena Vista areas also seem to be the most successful at harvesting bucks.

San Juan Basin

“The second season, like the first, has also been very good in the San Juan Basin,” said DOW biologist Scott Wait. “There are many bulls being taken and some cows now.”

While elk hunters are doing well in the San Juan Basin, those who have buck tags for the area have a lot of potential to harvest a large buck. Wait said first-season hunters reported a high number of bucks, with many of the bucks the biggest hunters had seen in years.

Wait said access remained good through the second season, but hunters should be aware that there is the potential for weather to roll in before the start of the third.

Areas Surrounding Steamboat Springs and North Park

DOW biologist Jim Hicks said the elk harvest during the first part of the second season in the Yampa Valley was low due to the fact that many of the elk moved onto private land, and the elk that remained on public property had done a good job of eluding hunters.

Deer hunters were more successful with some large bucks being taken.

Both deer and elk hunters in North Park experienced high success rates.

West of the Front Range

Elk hunters in this area struggled to harvest animals, reported Sherri Huwer, a DOW biologist who works along the Front Range. Huwer said hunter pressure and hunter success were comparable or lower than years past.

Deer hunters were more efficient, with both pressure and success being equal to or higher than previous years, she added.

Montrose Area

DOW biologist Bruce Watkins said elk hunting pressure was up slightly in this area during the second season. Success was mixed with the better elk harvest occurring on private land.

As the second season progressed, cooler temperatures and some snow may have helped hunters by moving elk into areas more accessible by hunters.

The weather also began to move deer to the mountain shrub transition ranges, with some already appearing on their winter range.

“Unimproved roads are becoming muddy in many areas,” Watkins said.

San Luis Valley

DOW biologist Chuck Wagner reported that for the first time in several years, those who hunted the San Luis Valley during the second season found conditions to be cool and moist, which added to success rates.

District Wildlife Manager Jerry Pacheco agreed that conditions were just about optimal for hunting.

“We have gotten snow where we needed it. It is helping with tracking but not restricting access,” he said.

Hunter success with area elk has been good, with a larger cow harvest than bull harvest. Most of the harvest during the first half of the second season occurred above 9,000 feet. Wagner also said that there are still a lot of opportunities for those who have licenses to harvest older buck deer.

Craig-Meeker Area

Hunters continue to do well north of Craig in the Black Mountain, Bear’s Ears and Quaker mountain areas for both deer and elk. DOW Biologist Darby Finley said the same is true in the Williams Fork drainage and in the Indian Run State Wildlife Area south of Craig.

Deer hunting was good on the Cathedral Rim during the second season, but the rest of the Piceance Creek Basin did not provide high success rates. There were some elk taken in the Blacks Gulch and Colorow Mountain areas west of Meeker, but the deer hunting was slow.

Higher elk success rates during the second season were found in the wilderness areas, but overall success rates for both deer and elk were low south of the White River.

“North of the White River, the Jensen and Oakridge State Wildlife Areas have been good for deer and there are still a few elk being harvested in the Sleepy Cat Mountain area,” said Finley.

Hunters with licenses for the third and fourth seasons should rest assured that success rates could jump dramatically if any significant weather events hit the area.

“Thus far the weather has been pretty mild,” said Finley. “We are hoping for weather to start moving the elk around, however. As programmed, the deer are starting to migrate to winter ranges.”

Gunnison Basin and North Fork Valley

The elk harvest looked to be below average during the second season in the northern Gunnison Basin, but hunters to the south are enjoying better success rates, especially those who stay far from roads and all-terrain vehicle (ATV) trails.

“Hunting pressure has pushed elk into more inaccessible places, away from roads and ATV trails,” said DOW biologist Brandon Diamond. “Hunters are having to work hard to find elk. Animals are going to cover early, and staying in cover until near dark, so hunters should get into position early to catch elk moving at first light and stay out until dark.”

Snow fell at middle to upper elevations during the second season, allowing hunters to take advantage of quite tracking conditions.

Deer hunters in the Gunnison Basin have been very successful. In the last two to three weeks, substantial numbers of deer have migrated to lower elevation winter ranges and hunters have been seeing large concentrations of deer across the basin in sagebrush and aspen type habitats, Diamond said.

Hunters in the southern portion of the Grand Mesa and in the North Fork area experienced average to slightly below average success for deer and elk. Hunters are reporting high numbers of elk in oak brush and aspen type habitats.

Secondary roads became muddy during the second season, so third and fourth season hunters should be prepared for all types of weather and poor road conditions.

Moose can be found throughout the Gunnison Basin. There may also be Game Management Units (GMUs) where spike elk are not legal to shoot. Hunters are reminded to positively identify their targets before they shoot.

Middle Park

During the second season, hunters experienced above average success rates with larger than average bulls being taken, said DOW biologist Andy Holland.

“This is likely the result of snow received by the higher country in September and October,” said Holland. “However, most of Middle Park is steep and heavily timbered so successful hunters have generally worked very hard to get their game.”

Elk hunting pressure has been average, but deer hunting pressure and success have been higher than average. This is due to the increased license quota for bucks and does. Second season hunters were also able to take advantage of the deer migration that has begun.

Hunters should be prepared for wet and snow-packed roads at higher elevations. Moose inhabit Middle Park making it very important as always for hunters to identify their game.