Quick taste of winter leaves hunters empty handed
Blaze-orange hunting shorts, anyone?
What began as a promising and very wintry start to the 2010 big-game season eased noticeably last week and took with it many hunters’ hopes.
It didn’t help that hunters were battling a full moon and suddenly speechless elk, but mid-day temperatures hovering above 40 degrees might have been the final insult.
There’s not much change in the short-term forecast, with mostly clear skies and temperatures above 7,000 feet expected to top out each day this week at around 50 degrees.
And it seemed so promising, too, with the high country getting snow and some places reporting up to 2 feet of snow.
But that quick taste of winter, harsh as it was during the opening weekend when hunters got trapped in camp, wasn’t enough to push the elk out of the dark timber.
“It was miserable those first three days, between the fog and the moisture and the mud,” said Renzo del Piccolo, Montrose area wildlife manager for the Division of Wildlife. “We finally got that snow on Monday but (the hunting success) still wasn’t as great I though it would be.”
Most hunters, if they were seeing elk, saw only small, scattered herds instead of the larger herds you might expect with winter coming on.
Additionally, many hunters said the elk weren’t as vocal this year even during the height of the rut, when the woods should be ringing with bugling elk.
“I was muzzleloader hunting on Grand Mesa and in my nine to 10 days of hunting I chased only one bull that was bugling,” said taxidermist Darryl Powell of Darryl’s Taxidermy (243-2933) in Grand Junction.
“I also went up there during the elk-only season and we never saw a bull in four days,” Powell said. “We were just not hearing the bugles like we normally do.”
Del Piccolo agreed, saying that in his eight days of blackpowder hunting he heard one bull.
“And it made three quick bugles and shut up,” del Piccolo said.
Dean Riggs, Grand Junction area wildlife manager, said hunters in other areas were reporting a similar woodsy silence.
“I’ve heard lots of reports early on that the rut had been a little off, with the elk just not being as vocal as they should have been,” Riggs said.
Some of that might be blamed on the weather, which quickly reverted back to the warmth of late summer once last week’s storm left the region, and the full moon smiling on second-season hunters.
“Saturday, I was in Loma at mid-day and it was almost 70 degrees, which isn’t what you want if you’re a hunter,” Riggs said. “It’s just not deciding to be winter quite yet.”
There are reports that the deer rut is starting, with some hunters already seeing smaller bucks quietly stalking does.
This early, however, the larger and more-mature bucks are still wary and hanging back.
Powell said he’ll have a better feel for deer hunting success after the next season.
“We’ve got our share of deer in but it’s been a little slow,” Powell said. “I’m looking for the deer to pick up in the next season, that’s usually when deer hunting really gets going and I start seeing some real nice bucks.”
The next season, also a nine-day combined (deer and elk) season with two weekends, runs Saturday through Nov. 14.
Powell has several markers he uses to judge hunters’ success and one of those is the handful of locals who regularly seem to harvest a nice elk or deer.
While those locals are the pillars of his business, it’s the out-of-town hunters bringing in trophy animals that really get Powell’s attention and make his year a success.
“So far it’s been a matter of whether our regular hunters are being successful, but we’re not seeing the folks from out of state,” he said. “I definitely think it’s the economy. We’re not seeing the fancy rigs around town and not hearing any talk of anybody getting that really big elk or deer.”
Meat processor Terry Good of Montrose said his business has been “up and down” through the second season.
“We’re seeing a lot of nonresidents coming in but the majority of them are hunting private land,” Good said. “I think that early snow helped get the elk moving, but the deer harvest was way down.”
Andy Holland, the DOW’s Southwest Regional terrestrial biologist, said a little new snow this week could really improve deer hunting for the third season.
“Deer hunting is hard, even in the later seasons, but if we got 6 inches of new snow you’ll look around and say, ‘Where did all these deer come from?’ ” Holland said.
The cold weather, with its increased energy demands which get deer moving around, and the approaching rut combine to put deer out where hunters can get them.
“Deer, generally speaking, are migrating by the end of October and if the weather moves in it’s amazing how quickly they can reach their winter ranges,” Holland said. “But if the weather stays mild, they can hang up in the transition zones, which usually have pretty good forage.”
Powell knows about hunting transition zones but this year his regular places were vacant.
“I hunt right at the transition zone (on Grand Mesa) and some years the elk move into that area and some years they don’t,” he said, with a philosophical shrug. “This year they weren’t in there, but that’s hunting.”