Local hunting good, not great | AspenTimes.com

Local hunting good, not great

When the final big-game hunting season ends Wednesday, the Colorado Division of Wildlife suspects it will find sportsmen had good but not necessarily great luck in the Roaring Fork Valley.Statewide, the wildlife division is expecting one of the best elk hunts ever. “It’s possible we could be approaching the record year of two years ago,” said spokesman Todd Malmsbury.An estimated 61,000 elk were killed by hunters in Colorado in 2002. Last year’s harvest was about 57,000. Final numbers for this season won’t be known until after the wildlife division surveys hunters who went out in each of the four seasons, then runs the sample results through a computer model.Locally, the hunt for big game was hindered in two of the four seasons, according to Pat Tucker, wildlife manager for the region that includes the Roaring Fork and Eagle river valleys.The fall hunt started with a bang during the first season, Oct. 9-13. Hunters had widespread access in the backcountry because of a lack of snow. Tucker said it seemed like a higher than usual number of out-of-state residents came for that first season, which was elk hunting only.The second season, combined deer and elk from Oct. 16 to 24, was “pretty slow” because of heavy snow, according to Tucker. He noted the forecast called for even heavier snow, so many hunters feared getting stuck.”I think that discouraged a lot of hunters,” said Tucker. “Some of them pulled up and left.”The third season was more successful, Tucker said. Hunters benefited as deer and elk were moving to lower elevations because of the previous snow.The current season, which started Nov. 6, has suffered the opposite problem as the second season, according to Tucker. The warm weather and lack of deep snow have allowed deer and elk to hang out on steep slopes and in heavy timber.”At this time of year they’re seeking a safe haven away from the hunters,” Tucker said. And with fewer hunters out at this time of year, the big game isn’t getting flushed out from those hiding spots as frequently.Tucker said the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys remain popular places to hunt because of all the national forests and other public lands surrounding them. “You’ve got a place to go, and you’ve got good elk herds,” he said.Of course the names Aspen and Snowmass Village and Vail and Beaver Creek conjure up visions of tree-hugging outdoor enthusiasts and power shoppers rather than burly hunters.Malmsbury said about 40 percent of hunting licenses sold in Colorado are to out-of-state residents. There were 247,000 licenses sold for elk hunting last year and 90,000 to deer hunters. Numbers were similar this year.Nonresidents pay higher fees – $250 for a cow elk and $490 for a bull – so they supply a disproportionately higher amount of the wildlife division’s budget, Malmsbury noted.He noted that overall this hunting season is bound to challenge the record because conditions were so favorable and because the elk population is so high. There are an estimated 300,000 elk in the state.”Colorado is clearly the elk capital of the world,” Malmsbury said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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