Be on the lookout: Snow brings wildlife to roads in the valley

The sight last week of two vehicle-killed mule deer just off the Interstate 70 business loop brought this reminder from the Division of Wildlife: When your work days start and end pretty much in the dark, it’s wise to use a little more caution when driving to and from home.

Although there hasn’t been a rash of recent accidents, vehicle-animal collisions are “typical for this time of year,” said DOW spokesman Randy Hampton.

The snow brings the animals down into the valley and most of them use the river corridor for thermal cover and feed, said Hampton, and it’s not unusual to see deer ranging out from the river.

“They might be chased up by (waterfowl) hunters and their dogs or someone walking their dog along the river paths or maybe just searching for food,” he said. “So it’s not unusual to see deer in the area.”

He said two winter-specific conditions add to the threat of hitting a large animal with your vehicle.

“First, there’s the concentration of animals that normally are up in the hills around town,” he said. “We see a lot more deer in the valley when the Book Cliffs are snow-covered like they are this year.”

Second, it’s still dark when drivers are on the road, which also happens to be the same time wildlife is heading out to feed.

“The time changes in the winter mean there are more people on the roads at dawn and dusk, which typically are the times animals are most active,” Hampton said. “It creates a situation where you might be driving into the rising or setting sun and visibility can really be difficult.”

That might be particularly true this winter as cold temperatures and the inversion combining to retain the snow cover, making it even harder for wildlife to find feed.

The Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation, in an area where hitting a deer would be preferable to hitting the resident moose, offers several tips for winter driving including these:

Be alert and drive for the conditions. Most accidents happen at times of low visibility - dawn, dusk, night time or in bad weather;

When you see wildlife - Slow Down. If you see one animal cross the road, it is very likely more are close behind. Animals near the road are not waiting for us to pass by — expect them to do something unexpected, like dash in front of your car;

To protect yourself and your passengers, experts advise that you should not swerve off the road to avoid hitting an animal.

Wildlife Commission OKs “hybrid” big-game draw: As if hunting regulations weren’t complicated enough, the Colorado Wildlife Commission this week added another layer to the confusion.

In what the commission is calling a “hybrid” elk and deer draw, a select number of premier elk and deer units will be open to hunters holding five or more preference points.

The units, which the Division of Wildlife estimates there to be about 15 for elk and three for deer, all require at least 10 or more resident preference points to draw a tag.

The idea with the hybrid draw is to allow any hunter with five or more points to select one of the premier units as a first choice in the computer drawing in April. That hunter will be given equal weight in the random drawing with other hunters holding more points.

It’s one way to offset what’s been termed “preference point creep,” which keeps most hunters out of units requiring double-digit preference points.

Doesn’t sound very fair to those hunters who have waited 10 or more years accruing preference points for a particular unit, though.

In other action, the commission extended the moose season to 14 days, opening Oct. 1 and going through Oct. 14. Also, the third combined deer and elk rifle season was stretched to nine days to include two weekends, which are particularly popular among resident hunters.

As elk herds in the Gunnison Basin rebound after the deadly 2007 winter, licenses in units 54, 55, and 551 are starting to reappear.

This year, additional cow licenses and late-season licenses are available in those units although archery tags remain totally limited.

Also, a limited number of over-the-counter, either sex elk tags will be available for unit 54 during the second rifle season.

2010 deer and elk seasons

Archery deer and elk: Aug. 28 - Sept. 26;

Muzzleloader deer and elk: Sept. 11 - 19;

Whitetail-only season: Sept. 9-19;

Special early elk rifle season: Oct. 1-11;

Limited elk-only season: Oct. 16-20;

Combined deer and elk rifle seasons: Oct. 23-31; Nov. 6-14 and Nov. 17-21.

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