Colorado’s big-game season so-so as weather fails to cooperate

If you’re busy still making that list and checking it twice, you might want to consider leaving something extra for Mother Nature.

Maybe next year she’ll smile more kindly on big-game hunters.

Colorado’s 2010 big-game season started slow, nearly got snowed out and then ended slow.

Hunters in the early archery and muzzleloader seasons and the first combined season were greeted with near-summer temperatures and mostly blue skies.

Which is fine if you’re looking for a picnic site but not so welcome if you’re thinking about elk roasts and venison steaks.

Some hunters were successful, which might be more the benefit of hunting early rather than anything weather related.

There’s something to be said for the element of surprise, of catching the animals standing around and wondering, “What’s with all those guys in orange, anyway?”

But animals tend to disperse in mild weather and it makes for some long days looking for the right target when there’s no reason for the elk or deer to gather around and wait for you to show up.

The weather finally gave us a shot of winter just before the start of the second season but it proved to be too much winter all at once for many hunters.

Camps and roads were snowed in and most of those hunters who could make it out left in a hurry.

At least one group of hunters was stranded and needed a helicopter assist to, well, let’s not call it safety since the biggest danger they were facing consisted of spending a few days in a wall tent.

I understand that might not be comfortable but it’s all part of being there and usually makes for some great stories.

Those brave souls who decided to stick it out found themselves, once the snow stopped, in the right place at the right time.

“That huge snow storm chased a lot of people away but the guys who stayed did well,” Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton said.

Hunters in the White River area and in northwest Colorado learned, once again, that snow makes hunting a whole lot more fun.

“I think the guys who stayed around did pretty well, considering the conditions,” said Darby Finley, the division’s area terrestrial biologist in Meeker. “Once they got moving around, they were able to get into some pretty nice animals.”

The third and fourth seasons reverted back to late-fall hunting conditions, with the expected result in hunter success.

How many ways can you say “average?”

“That’s exactly how it was,” Hampton said. “Average, pretty average, really average, nothing special.”

Hampton noted the final results won’t be known until the agency’s biologists finish their aerial population surveys, after which they’ll have some idea of how hunters actually fared.

One certain impact on overall harvest numbers will be the drop in license numbers this year as the division continues to pare licenses in areas where elk numbers are approaching desired population levels.

That trend is going to continue in future years and hunters looking for a particular limited license may have to start hoarding preference points.

However, there’s already one bright spot in the early results.

Fewer licenses and fewer hunters mean more bulls and bucks live another year and have time to sprout another antler.

Hunters found plenty of good antler growth again this year, thanks also to abundant forage last spring when antlers were just starting to bud.

“From everything I’ve heard from our field officers we saw some pretty good antler growth this year,” Hampton said. “Similar to last year when we had such good forage, the bucks and bulls this year were in pretty good shape.”

Outfitter Joe Keys of Collbran said his hunters in game units 42 and 421 on Grand Mesa were very pleased with their bulls.

“We had some great elk hunting on Grand Mesa this year,” Keys said. “My hunters got a couple of 5x5’s, a 5x6 and a 6x6, which is a real nice bull on Grand Mesa.”

Most units on Grand Mesa are managed for high-opportunity hunting, which means most bulls are harvested before they get old enough to add that fifth or sixth antler point.

However, even though some areas have seen more licenses rather than fewer, recent stories tell of some bigger bulls coming off the mesa.

Keys says the division’s management and license policies deserve some praise.

“They’re producing a lot of nice elk up there and kudos to the Division of Wildlife for what they’re doing up there,” Keys said.

And don’t forget to say thanks to Mother Nature, too.


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