Colorado hunting harvest numbers may be down |

Colorado hunting harvest numbers may be down

John Gardner
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceElk and deer, along with other wildlife, reaped the benefits of plentiful food and water after last winter's snows. The available food, along with warm fall weather, disrupted migration patterns and allowed wildlife to remain at higher elevations through much of Colorado's fall hunting season.

GARFIELD COUNTY ” Unusually warm fall temperatures in northwestern Colorado has the Colorado Division of Wildlife anticipating a lower hunting harvest this year.

According to DOW spokesman Randy Hampton, the temperate weather allowed elk and deer to remain at higher elevations through the fourth, and final, rifle season.

The DOW won’t have an official tally until after harvest surveys are completed in March, but Hampton said he wouldn’t be surprised to hear that fewer hunters bagged a deer or elk this fall.

“We are hearing that people were a little less successful this year than in previous years,” Hampton said.

Aside from the weather, a key factor that allowed animals to linger at higher elevations was last winter’s snows. The moisture created an abundance of available food and water for animals in the high country, allowing big game to remain spread out.

“What we’ve heard were concerns, with last winter’s heavy snow, that a lot of animals had died off,” Hampton said. “That is not the case.”

Instead, herds remained at higher, summer-range elevations well into late fall, forcing hunters to adapt or come home empty-handed.

“It takes winter weather to move animals from summer to winter range in the valley floors,” Hampton said. “We just haven’t had that this year.”

Over the past eight to nine years, northwestern Colorado has been in a drought, according to Hampton. That caused elk and deer herds to stay mainly in large drainages for food and water.

And just like wildlife, Hampton said, “Hunters are creatures of habit.”

Hunters tend to return to places where they’ve been previously successful ” where they’re familiar with the terrain and wildlife patterns. When those patterns are disrupted, it makes the hunt more challenging.

Battlement Mesa Outfitters’ Ron Lewis said he didn’t note much difference in his clients’ success rate, but it’s Lewis’ job to know where the animals are.

“We watch the animals all summer long,” Lewis said. “So we have a pattern on them from spring right into hunting season.”

But, Lewis agreed, out-of-state hunters who expected herds to follow their typical migration patterns may have had a tough time this year. Hunters would have had to head for higher elevations this fall to find their prey, and some probably didn’t get there.

“If they’ve got animals or four wheelers, they can ride up there, but if they don’t have any equipment to ride to the top, it’s a long walk,” he said.

Not only that, but it’s more difficult to carry an animal out on foot from the high country if one does bag a deer or elk.

Hampton said DOW biologists who track elk and deer recorded herds near Meadow Creek Lake ” on top of the Flat Tops, north of Interstate 70 in Garfield County ” nearly a month later than usual.

“It’s a full four weeks after the migration,” Hampton said. “We did see the beginning of the migration weather, but it was well behind schedule.”

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