Fourth-season rifle hunters didn't have any better luck with the weather than in previous seasons. Warm and dry conditions continued to hamper hunter success and wildlife officials are estimating that the total 2001 elk harvest could be one of the lowest in 10 years.
Due to the low harvest, the Division is considering increasing the number of antlerless elk licenses available in 2002.
Last year, hunters took 60,120 elk. This year, the harvest is expected to drop to about 40,000 animals. "Given the numbers, there is a good chance we will increase elk licenses for 2002," said John Ellenberger, big game coordinator for the Division.
One option under consideration by the Division is to make all antlerless elk licenses additional licenses. Hunters with additional licenses are able to harvest up to two animals per year instead of one. Currently, additional antlerless elk licenses are restricted to certain hunting units.
The availability of deer licenses is not expected to change much in 2002, as buck and doe harvest rates were only slightly below average this year.
Final license-change recommendations will be presented to the Wildlife Commission this spring after Division biologists complete game surveys in December and January.
Although the 2001 hunting season started on a promising note, unfavorable weather has not let up and pressure has remained light.
"The first season started off pretty good for harvesting elk," Ellenberger said. "Initial success was almost as good as last year, but during second through fourth seasons, everything went downhill."
Hunters had hoped weather would improve during the fourth and final rifle season, which ended Nov. 14. But persistent warm and dry conditions scattered game into thick cover in high elevations, making it difficult for hunters to locate animals.
With no snow to assist in tracking or to cover vegetation and force movement, elk in particular proved very difficult to find, say wildlife managers.
There were also fewer hunters tracking them down. Hunting pressure was significantly down from last year, especially for nonresidents.
Many factors contributed to the drop in hunter participation, according to Ellenberger. "We didn't get the weather - it was too warm and dry," he said. "And the events that took place in New York City put a damper on the hunting scene. People were more concerned with what was going on with the country and the economy."
To lure nonresidents back in 2002, the Division is also considering lowering out-of-state license fees for antlerless elk to about $250 - the fee charged before the increase this year to $450.
Final 2002 license fees will be discussed during a Wildlife Commission meeting in January.