OUT: Sunday Column November 02, 2008

A storm’s promise extends to skiers, hunters

Special to the Daily Sentinel
Colt Jackson, 20, hiked to 13,000 feet on McClellan Mountain in his mid-October hunt for this Rocky Mountain goat. Jackson, his father, Tim, who works for The Daily Sentinel, and uncle Carl Horecky scouted the area near Georgetown for several days before finding this goat in a small herd on the second day of the state’s fourth Rocky Mountain goat season. These goats are true mountain dwellers, rarely venturing below treeline except in the severest winters.

The cold front pressing into the region this week reminds us that somewhere in Colorado it’s already winter.

Skiers and boarders already are aware that Loveland and Arapahoe Basin resorts are open with another handful of resorts scheduled to start this week the long lift ride toward spring.

This lingering fall is markedly similar to last year’s, with an early snowstorm followed by several weeks of unseasonably mild weather.

Last year, fall ended abruptly at the juncture of November and December, too late to do much good for hunters, and by the time the first of the winter’s many storms swept through western Colorado, the result was 2 feet or more of snow plus equal amounts of rejoicing among winter sports lovers.

Only time will reveal whether we enjoy an equally bountiful winter, but just in case, I’ve already had my skis tuned.

The state’s big-game hunters will welcome any change in this reach of endless summer weather.

“Warm, dry and noisy would about sum it up,” said J Wenum, the Division of Wildlife area manager in Gunnison, about the first combined deer and elk season. “We really didn’t get anything that amounted to good hunting weather and there wasn’t much of a harvest.”

A brief storm sluiced about a half-inch of snow on the higher elevations but disappeared as soon as the sun hit it, Wenum said.

“Since then it’s been in the 60s during the day,” he said. “My prediction (for the third season) is it’s going to pretty rough because it’s still warm, dry and noisy.”

Those hunters who manage to fall into an elk or deer then face the task of making sure the meat doesn’t spoil.

Terry Good, of Good’s Processing, LLC in Montrose said the warm temperatures pose particular problems for elk hunters.

“You can tell how warm it’s been by the amount of meat we’ve been throwing away,” said Good.

An elk’s heavy mane and thick hide will retain body heat for hours, more than long enough to spoil some of the choicest cuts.

“A hunter might have a trophy he wants mounted and not be quite sure how to cape it, so they don’t get the hide off fast enough,” Good said. “It’s not just hanging the elk. They need to get the elk cooled off as fast as possible. That first hour is critical.”

Good’s shop provides skinning service, although it requires a facility separate from the regular meat processing facility.

He said business has been “steady” although not quite as good as last year.

“We started out a little slower but we’re going to be up a little, I think,” said Good, who keeps notes about each hunting season. He records weather, hunting conditions and hunter success.

“Last year we had a snowstorm that first weekend of the season and this year it was 75 degrees,” he said. “So if we’re up 5 to 7 percent we’re pretty thrilled.”

Reports from around the Western Slope continue to say there are fewer hunters this year. although how much of that is due to the weather and how much on a sagging economy is hard to gauge.

It’s not unusual or unexpected for elk to hang at mid- to high elevations until weather forces them into heading for winter range, but deer seem more tied to a biological calendar.

Still, their transition to winter ranges this year has been delayed by warm temperatures and the quality of browse available.

“In years past we usually had a big storm to push the deer through the transition zones,” said Darby Finley, DOW biologist from Meeker. “This year that transition has been prolonged because the good moisture from last winter and spring afforded better growth on the browse.”

Finley said the hunters finding elk are those willing to chase through the heavy timber or getting into the backcountry on horseback.

Which reminds us: Orville Peterson of Grand Junction reported in last week after a nine-day horseback elk hunt, saying his group was 100 percent successful in harvesting five bulls in six days.

So the elk are there, it’s simply a matter of finding them.

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